Toshiba Satellite U500 review: Toshiba Satellite U500

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The Good Lovely brown finish; great keyboard; decent performance.

The Bad Touch panel spoils image quality; poor battery life.

The Bottom Line Laptops with 13-inch displays are usually decent, as they tend to offer a great blend of performance and portability. But this isn't the case with the configuration of the Toshiba Satellite U500 that we reviewed, the U500-1EX. It's heavy, it's cumbersome and its gimmicky touch-sensitive display spoils the image quality so much you'll think there's something wrong with the laptop

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6.5 Overall

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Earlier this year, the Toshiba Satellite T130 wowed us with its sleek, ultra-portable design and gorgeous looks. Now, its slightly more advanced brother, the Satellite U500, is looking to do the same. This laptop also packs a 13.3-inch display, but, unlike the T130, it has an optional touch-sensitive screen, giving it some extra va-va-voom. There are three configurations of the U500 available. Our review sample, the Satellite U500-1EX, is available to buy now for around £765.

Brown is the new glossy black
The U500 is a gorgeous machine. Instead of the traditional glossy black or shiny white you get on most laptops, it's finished in an elegant brown, with a contrasting, matte black keyboard. These colours are complemented perfectly by the chrome piping that runs around the circumference of the laptop, dipping elegantly into the palm rest to form the mouse buttons.

The U500's keyboard is extremely comfortable, and contrasts with the brown chassis in a pleasing fashion

Unfortunately, the U500 is let down by its unforgiveable obesity. The unit is a whopping 38mm fat at its thickest point, and weighs 2.2kg -- that's 19mm thicker and over 800g heavier than an Apple MacBook Air.

Touch me, tease me
The U500's optional touchscreen display is one of its biggest selling points. It lets you prod, finger and fondle your way through Windows 7 using your fingers instead of a mouse, which is a neat trick. It also recognises gestures and multi-touch gestures, so you can pinch your fingers together and stretch them apart to zoom -- as you can on an iPhone -- or scrawl drawings in Microsoft Paint with up to four fingers simultaneously.

There are a couple of huge problems, however. Despite being more aware of touch inputs than its predecessors, Windows 7 just can't compensate for the inaccuracies caused by fat, fleshy human fingers. We found ourselves having to concentrate very hard to accurately hit many of the smaller icons in the operating system, and often resorted to using the mouse.

You might find the U500's media keys useful, but they emit an annoying beep when you press them

We could probably get used to the fiddly nature of touch inputs on the laptop after some practice, but we can't get used to the poor image quality of the display. The picture appears grainy and has such low saturation that we actually thought there was something wrong with the laptop at first glance. Cranking up the brightness remedies the situation slightly, but it's not sensible to pay a £135 premium for rubbish image quality and the option of prodding haphazardly at icons that respond more accurately to a mouse.

Feature presentation 
The U500 is pretty fat, so it probably won't surprise anyone to learn it comes with a wealth of bits, bobs and doohickies festooned about its chassis. Three USB ports are present, one of which doubles as an eSATA port, and Toshiba has thrown in both D-Sub and HDMI video outputs.

You also get a front-mounted memory-card reader that supports the SD, Memory Stick and xD-Picture Card formats, an ExpressCard/54 slot and a DVD Super Multi drive. Just above the keyboard, which is extremely comfortable to use, lies a set of shortcut buttons. These let you as launch your favourite media application, adjust the volume, play, pause, and skip forwards and backwards between multimedia files. Unfortunately, they also issue a very annoying beep when pressed, which can get on your wick.  

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