by Jerry Jackson
The Toshiba Satellite U500 and U505 series laptops feature 13-inch displays, the latest Intel Core 2 Duo processors, and a range of customizable options that will certainly impress most college students looking for a general use notebook. We absolutely loved last year's U405 model, but is Toshiba's latest 13-inch laptop equally impressive? Read on to find out.
Toshiba Satellite U505 (Satellite U500-ST6321) Specifications:
Build and Design
The all-new Toshiba Satellite U500/U505 series notebook offers a conveniently compact footprint similar to most laptops with a 13.3" display, but you really can't call this notebook an "ultraportable." With a thickness of 1.5 inches (2.25 inches with 12-cell battery) the U505 is probably one of the larger 13-inch laptops currently on the market. Not only is the U505 is thicker than the Apple's MacBook Air or Lenovo's ThinkPad X301, but the U505 is also thicker and heavier than the Dell Studio XPS 13 or the 13-inch MacBook Pro.
The exterior of the U505 is constructed of plastic with some flex around the left palmrest and the LCD lid when heavy pressure is applied. The chassis itself doesn't suffer from the "squeaks" that are common with cheaper plastic notebooks. Toshiba wisely decided to abandon the high-gloss "Fusion" finish used on last year's Satellite notebooks in favor of a matte textured finish. Our review unit features the upgraded texture finish in "Luxe Brown Premium" that also includes chrome highlights around the edges of the notebook.
Build quality is nice when compared to low-cost netbooks, but doesn't measure up similarly priced notebooks like the Apple MacBook Pro and Dell Studio XPS 13. Although most laptop manufacturers have started to transition their notebooks over to displays with a 16:9 aspect ratio (because LCD fabricators are switching to 16:9) Toshiba managed to keep a traditional 16:10 ratio widescreen display on the U500/U505 series. This gives the U505 a more square-shaped profile compared to the more rectangular competition.
Screen and Speakers
While we're on the topic of the screen, the 13.3" glossy display features a WXGA resolution (1280 x 800). There were absolutely no problems with the screen on our review unit: the CCFL backlighting was nice and even and there are no stuck pixels. As is common with glossy screens, colors and contrast are quite good and both images and video "pop" off the screen. Just like with last year's U405, Toshiba seems to have struck the perfect balance between gloss and matte. The screen is glossy enough to produce that added richness to color and superior contrast inherent to glossy screens, yet the surface isn't so glossy that reflections become problematic unless you're working under direct sunlight with the screen brightness turned down.
The screen is simply beautiful when viewing from straight ahead. Horizontal viewing angles are good, but you will start to notice some color shift at extreme wide angles. There is also some color inversion when you view the screen from sharp vertical angles (bright colors when viewed from above the notebook or dark, inverted colors when looking up at the screen from the floor) but most people rarely view a screen from these extreme vertical angles.
Speaker performance is good despite the dime-sized stereo speakers located above the keyboard. Granted, a dedicated subwoofer would have provided better bass response rather than the "tinny" sounding bass but the highs and midrange are good for a 13-inch notebook. Peak volume levels were loud enough to fill a room with sound before heavy distortion becomes obvious. Still, like any laptop, headphones are probably a good accessory for this notebook.
Keyboard and Touchpad
Once again, Toshiba made the decision to stop using the "Fusion" finish on the keyboard keys and used a less glossy paint that gives each key a durable finish and good texture. Unlike the more traditionally shaped keys used on last year's keyboards, the U505 uses flat keys that feel a little smaller than usual because Toshiba decided to make them shaped like an upside down "T" for some unknown reason. This doesn't create much of a problem for touch-typists, but it might take a few minutes to get used to the size and feel of the keys. Key presses are smooth, perfectly deep, well cushioned and quiet. The entire keyboard has some flex under heavy typing pressure, but almost no flex when normal pressure is applied. The keyboard backlighting is nice and even and helps you see what you're typing in a dark classroom.
I was a huge fan of the touchpad on the U405 last year, which was quite simply one of the nicest I used on a 13-inch notebook last year. The surface was flush with the palmrests but there was a light application of what felt almost like soft sandpaper over the surface. Toshiba opted for a more traditional ALPS touchpad this time around and I'm not nearly as impressed. The recessed surface is small compared to the touchpads on most modern 13-inch notebooks and the sensitivity was only average. Toshiba was good enough to include a white LED backlight above the touchpad that not only looks cool but helps you locate the touchpad quickly in a darkly lit room.
The touchpad buttons on our review unit have a chrome look with shallow feedback and a sharp click when pressed. The buttons are nice and large with a clear separation that makes them very easy to use ... though I wish the feedback was a bit deeper when you press the touchpad buttons.
Ports and Features
The port selection of the U505 is pretty good for a 13-inch notebook. Here's a quick rundown of what you get:
We would have liked to see Toshiba include IEEE-1394 (FireWire) on this notebook, but considering that you're getting an eSATA/USB combo port for high-speed data transfers and HDMI for sending HD video to your HDTV we can't complain too much. You'll find a tour of all the sides below:
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