Design and Ergonomics
Given the aspect ratio, the screen is very wide but short (13.25 " x 5.75"). Psychologically that makes you feel like you're getting fewer vertical pixels than a standard notebook, but you're getting the same 768 pixels as the non-W Satellite U845, Sony Vaio T and Toshiba Portege Z835. Beyond the movie and productivity appeal, Toshiba designed the U845W with airplane tray tables in mind where you've got a reasonable amount of width to work with but very little height (especially after the person ahead of you reclines the seat).
The notebook is 14.5" long, as is the 15" MacBook Pro. That means plenty of room to spread out your hands, but you'll need a standard 15" notebook bag to carry it despite the reduced height. In comparison, the Toshiba Satellite U845 is 13.3" long and the Asus Zenbook Prime UX31A is 12.75". The 15.6" HP Envy 15 is 15" long. The U845W is considerably shorter than these notebooks, and it's fairly thin at 0.83". It's one of the most unusually shaped and portable tweeners that offers some of the benefits of a 15" notebook in a (mostly) compact size befitting the Ultrabook moniker.
Keyboard and Trackpad
The Chiclet keyboard is roomy and Toshiba makes use of the extra space with page navigation keys on the right, a dedicated arrow pad and oversized shift, tab, enter, backspace and right control keys. There's no room for a number pad, and you won't usually see one on 15.6" and smaller laptops. Rather than squeeze one in, Toshiba placed large and impressive Harmon Kardon speakers under grilles that flank the keyboard.
The black keyboard keys are backlit in white that illuminates the letters and provides gentle rings of light around the keys. The backlight works on a programmable timer. The top row functions by default as convenience keys for multimedia, brightness, trackpad, wireless and display control. If you prefer these to function as F1-F12 without having to press the Fn key first, you can change the setting. Tactile and auditory feedback is very good, but as with most skinny notebooks, key travel is short compared to larger and thicker notebook keyboards. I'm accustomed to Ultrabook keyboards so low key travel doesn't bother me much and I found the Toshiba's keyboard easy and efficient to use.
The Synaptics multi-touch buttonless trackpad works very well with good palm rejection and reliable touch and multi-touch response. A tactile ridge separates the virtual button area from the main trackpad, and the beveled edges of the slightly recessed trackpad help prevent fingers from wandering off the trackpad.
The 14.4", 1792 X 768 gloss display is the centerpiece: it's strikingly wide, colorful and bright at 300 nits. Alas, it's not an IPS display but rather the usual TN panel. Viewing angles are above average for a TN panel and that means a larger sweet spot before colors and blacks invert. Given the price, we're not surprised Toshiba went with a TN panel, and we're happy that it's thoroughly above average for horizontal viewing angles and brightness. Side viewing angles are good and two people can share the notebook for a movie-watching session. I find the display more pleasing in terms of viewing angles than the standard Satellite U845W, the Sony Vaio S 13.3 Premium and most other Ultrabooks on the market. Horizontal viewing angles aren't quite as good as the 13" MacBook Air's (though the Toshiba wins for resolution) or the IPS display on the Asus Zenbook Prime UX31A and Zenbook Prime UX32VD (the best panels on an Ultrabook).
Performance and Horsepower
As with most Ultrabooks, the Toshiba Satellite U845W is available with Intel Core i5 and i7 ULV (ultra low voltage) CPUs and Intel HD 4000 graphics. What's interesting is how Toshiba managed to get better benchmarks from the HD 4000 despite its significantly higher resolution compared to other Ultrabooks. Chalk it up to excellent display driver tuning and the added RAM (6 gigs vs. 4 gigs, shared). That doesn't mean the U845W is going to be your gaming rig, but it does mean that Adobe Photoshop and even some of the more civilized 3D games will run nicely. In fact, Photoshop CS 5.5 ran beautifully, and we found it tolerable to edit some 1080p video footage on our Core i5 1.7GHz unit using Windows Movie Maker. Though the widescreen begs for video editing, if that's a daily endeavor for you, we'd still recommend laptops with full mobile CPUs to speed up the export process.
How about general synthetic benchmarks? Machines with a standard spinning 5400 RPM hard drive always score lower on PCMark since that app puts great weight on HDD performance and SSDs benchmark much faster. Even with the 32 gig caching SSD, the Toshiba's drive performance doesn't rival machines with full SSD drives, so PCMark Vantage numbers are lower (for more money you can get this machine with a 128 or 256 gig SSD). In real life? The machine boots in under 20 seconds and the drive seems quite fast, so we're not concerned, especially if you need the space that a regular hard drive offers. The Toshiba Satellite U845W feels fast with the dual core 1.7GHz Intel Core i7-3317U that's used in most Ivy Bridge Ultrabooks. There's a 1.9GHz Core i7 ULV option if you want more speed. Honestly, the Core i5 gets the job done just fine when using the notebook for video playback (local and streaming including 1080p over WiDi), MS Office, web, email and photo editing.
As noted, the U845W has 2 gigs of RAM soldered onto the motherboard and a standard RAM slot (SODIMM, DDR3 1600MHz), for a total of 6 gigs of RAM. If you wish, you can open the notebook by unscrewing the Torx T5 screws on the bottom to upgrade the RAM. Our unit has a 32 gig SSD caching drive to speed up Windows and a 500 gig 5400 RPM SATA hard drive (also upgradable). More expensive versions ship with a 128 or 256 gig SSD drive.
3D Mark Vantage: 3245 (GPU 2703, CPU 8138) on Performance test preset
PCMark Vantage: 6837
TV and Movies: 3852
Windows Experience Index:
Graphics (for Aero): 5.2
Gaming Graphics: 6.3
Benchmark Comparison Table
In a world where every notebook is accused of looking too much like the MacBook Air or MacBook Pro, we give credit to Toshiba for coming up with a very attractive and unique design that's not in the least Applesque. And we give another dose of praise for thinking outside the box. Every laptop overall looks and acts much like every other laptop. One size doesn't fit all, and Toshiba's willing to take a chance to see if different aspect ratios and shapes might work for some folks. They make a large number of notebooks after all; why not try a few novel designs among those 50 or so models?
And the Toshiba Satellite U845W offers a lot of bang for the $999 list price compared to many other Ultrabooks, including a higher resolution display of good quality, 3 rather than the more common 2 USB ports, Ethernet and full size HDMI. Performance is very good, particularly graphics for an Intel HD 4000 machine, and the hard drive caching makes for very fast boot times despite the spinning hard drive. Speaking of that drive, it offers lots of space compared to SSD Ultrabooks, which will come in handy for movie buffs and those who edit photos and video (likely the target audience for this Satellite).
Price: Starting at $999