When you first take the Toshiba Satellite U500-1EX out of the box, you know there’s something a little different about this laptop. In an age where slimness and lightness in notebooks are the ultimate goal, Toshiba seems to have forgotten the rules while at the same time coming up with a unique design all of its own.
The lid, for instance, is a dark chocolate brown with a texture just like you’d expect from a range of high-class business briefcases; a welcome change from the ocean of white, silver and black models. The lid is sturdy too, and once lifted reveals a black, full-size keyboard set in the same brown textured base (which even extends to the touchpad). To complete the classy effect, Toshiba had added glistening chrome edging which pours into the middle of the base and forms the mouse keys and the home for a line of brightly backlit indicators. A similarly backlit strip of control buttons above the keyboard is flanked by chrome encircled stereo speakers. The keys are firm and responsive but should have been matt rather than glossy for perfect confidence.
Before moving on to the screen, it’s worth looking round the sides, as this would explain why Toshiba has dispensed with any idea of going ultra-slim in favour of practical business use. Packed into this machine are an ExpressCard slot, a 5-in-1 card reader, three USB 2.0 ports (one a combination eSATA for fast transfer), VGA, HDMI, Ethernet and a DVD Super Multi drive. In total the U500-1EX weighs a solid 2.2kg and measures 29.5mm at the front, rising to 38.2mm at the back.
There’s a powerful CPU under the bonnet as well; an Intel Core i3-330 CPU clocked at 2.13GHz with 4GB of DDR3 RAM. When you know you have an installed DVD player and an HDMI output, you might expect the graphics card to be geared towards game playing or HD movies but although the installed Intel GMA HD is at home with 720p videos, it’s not powerful enough to play graphics-intensive games like Modern Warfare 2. However, used in conjunction with a projector or for showing regular DVDs, the GMA HD is more than up to the task of complicated presentations.
Now as well as its clear emphasis on business use, the primary selling point of the U500-1EX is its multi-touch capability. Yet the display that’s supplied – a 13.3-inch TruBrite WXGA TFT High Brightness screen – can only manage 1280 x 800 as its top resolution and no matter how much you crank it up, it still looks dim. This is a major disappointment, as the capacitive touch system works extremely well when it comes to moving items around the screen, zooming, rotating, drag and drop and scrolling through Websites, documents and slideshows. Only the smaller icons are sometimes difficult to access accurately but on the whole the multi-touch option is a useful addition to your armoury.
Battery life is not ideal, though, with just under two hours being the norm at light usage, so you might have to keep a reserve in your bag for extended use away from home.
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