The best Ultrabook under $850, the Toshiba Satellite U845T-S4168 wows experts with its speed, quality and all-day battery life. Bloatware, a concern with its immediate and otherwise identical predecessor, has been thankfully stripped away.
Speed plus endurance. It's no gaming rig, but the Toshiba Satellite U845T sails through other everyday tasks. Crunching spreadsheets, shifting big files, moderate photo and video editing -- no problem. Its guts (a Core i5 processor and 6 GB of RAM) are pretty par for the Ultrabook course, but it gets a swift kick from its 128 GB solid-state drive; configurations with a small SSD (32 GB) and a 500 GB traditional disc drive are also available, but more expensive.
Experts criticized Toshiba for clogging up the solid-state drive with bloatware, and Toshiba listened: It took the Satellite U845T-S4165, wiped the bloatware, and now calls it the Satellite U845T- S4168. Meanwhile, the Toshiba's battery life blows other cheap Ultrabooks away: Testers clock anywhere from six to 9.5 hours of web surfing or movie watching.
Keyboard feels cramped. According to one major testing organization, the Toshiba U845T is ergonomically one of the best laptops you can buy at any price. Testers there find its full-size, backlit keyboard and nicely positioned multi-touch touchpad exceptionally comfortable to use. At just 0.8 inches thick and 3.8 pounds, it's very light and portable. Other testers don't like the keyboard, though. CNET's Dan Ackerman finds it "oddly squeezed," one of the laptop's few flaws. PCMag.com and Laptop Magazine agree -- the keyboard flexes and the key travel is too shallow. The 14.1-inch touch screen is responsive, though, and all of the usual ports are present and accounted for.
Upscale brushed-aluminum body. Reviewers like the Toshiba's slim brushed-aluminum case. CNET calls it "upscale," Laptop Magazine finds it "elegant," and PCMag.com declares it "handsome." Its display -- a 1366-by-768-pixel touch screen -- proves clear and colorful in tests, and brighter than other cheap Ultrabooks, but the glossy surface does pick up some glare. The bottom-mounted speakers sound clear and loud enough to fill a dorm room.
Improved reliability, but tech support needs work. Toshiba's laptops traditionally haven't been the most reliable, but that is changing: This year, PCMag.com readers report fewer repairs to Toshibas than any other Windows laptop brand (Apple's reliability is still better). Don't expect much hand-holding from tech support, though. When Laptop Magazine staffers phoned and tweeted Toshiba anonymously, reps were polite but didn't thoroughly answer their questions. Facebook questions didn't get answered at all.
Hits the price-performance sweet spot. For a midsize touch-screen Ultrabook, experts agree that the Toshiba U845T-S4168 offers the best deal around, though it's only available through the Microsoft Store. Like other Ultrabooks, it breezes through everyday tasks (web browsing, video streaming, ordinary photo and video editing) but isn't meant for gaming or really heavy jobs. You can certainly get a good laptop for less -- such as the Best Reviewed Dell Inspiron 17 (Est. $450 and up) -- but prepare to trade away some of the Toshiba's slimness and speed.
1. Laptop Magazine
The Toshiba Satellite U845T-S4165 (the S4168's nearly identical predecessor) earns spots on Laptop Magazine's best laptop and best Ultrabook lists. It outdoes rivals in gaming, productivity and other benchmark tests, with long battery life and a sleek design.
Review: Toshiba Satellite U845T-S4165 Review, Lisa Eadicicco, March 21, 2013
Despite a 4-out-of-5 Excellent rating, the Toshiba Satellite U845T falls short of an Editors' Choice pick here. It beats its rivals in nearly every benchmark test, but its "limited storage capacity and so-so keyboard" hold it back.
Review: Toshiba Satellite U845T-S4165, Ahmer Kazi, April 25, 2013
The only budget laptop to make CNET's Best Laptops list, the Toshiba U845T is "exactly what I'd hope for in a midsize $799 laptop right now," Dan Ackerman says. It offers a slim aluminum body, good-sized solid-state drive, better battery life and better performance than the competition in tests here.
Review: Toshiba Satellite U845T Review: Great Battery Life and a Slim Body for Only $799, Dan Ackerman, Updated May 13, 2013
Editors here test dozens of laptops, including the Toshiba U845T. They rate laptops' performance, ergonomics, portability and more before ranking them from best to worst. Each laptop gets a short write-up, describing how it did in the tests.
Review: Toshiba U845T-S4165, Editors of ConsumerReports.org, Not dated
5. Laptop Magazine
Toshiba's tech support could use some work, say Laptop Magazine staffers who ask anonymous questions via phone, Twitter and Facebook. Reps are friendly and prompt, but not always thorough with their answers -- and Toshiba doesn't answer Facebook questions at all. Its C-plus grade is the second-lowest among laptop brands.
Review: Tech Support Showdown 2012, Editors of Laptop Magazine, Sept. 17, 2012
Toshiba wins an Honorable Mention in PCMag.com's reader survey of laptop brands. Toshiba's reliability has improved dramatically within the past year, skyrocketing to third place (behind Apple and Asus) for laptops less than a year old. Tech support has also improved, but it still rates only 6.4 out of 10.
Review: Readers' Choice Awards 2013 Winners: Laptops and Desktops, Ben Gottesman, Feb. 20, 2013