Toshiba Satellite U840 £650
21st Nov 2012 | 12:15
Toshiba's U840-10V is a lower priced Ultrabook
The Toshiba U840-10V comes in at the lower end of the price scale for Ultrabooks. Available online for around £650 (around AU$998/US$1,034), it beats the price of the likes of the Asus Zenbook UX31 by a couple of hundred pounds, and the likes of the Samsung Series 9 by enough to buy a whole second laptop.
But Toshiba hasn't skimped on the laptop's specs, considering the low price. There's an Intel Core i5 processor, 6GB of RAM and a 14-inch screen, for example.
The flip side is that there's little here that's unique, or that even makes it particularly stand out over its competitors. It's all about fitting the machine to the price, which is fine by us.
So while you get 500GB of storage, it's a hard drive, rather than an SSD. Yes, you get 6GB of RAM, but not Intel's top-of-the-line processor (though it is still an Ivy Bridge model). You get a 14-inch screen, but it's not flashy 1080p.
At 19.9mm (0.78 inches) thick and 1.58kg (3.48lbs), the Ultrabook is also noticeably thicker and heavier than the likes of the MacBook Air 13-inch.
When you consider the extra size the 14-inch screen adds, it does come across as less portable than the high-end Ultrabooks, but it's still far lighter and smaller than your average budget home or work laptop (and a huge amount easier to carry than something like a gaming laptop).
The design of the Satellite U840-10V is simple, but generally nice. It's got a brushed-slate finished, and wouldn't look out of place in the average office.
There's a black plastic lip at the point where you lift the lid for some reason - perhaps to avoid fingerprints? The Toshiba logo on top feels extremely cheap, but it's the only outward sign that this laptop is targeted more towards the budget end of the spectrum (for Ultrabooks).
Inside, the brushed slate continues across the lower half, while the screen bezel is glossy black. It's adorned with the usual collection of brand stickers (sigh), and a glowing power button at the top. The keyboard is backlit, which is great to see at this price.
The Toshiba Satellite U840-10V Ultrabook has a theme going for it when it comes to specifications: good, but breaking no new ground.
It's no surprise to see an Intel Core i5-3317U in there, the same that you'll find in the Lenovo IdeaPad U410, Asus Taichi and Toshiba's own Satellite Z930. It offers dual-core power, running at 1.7GHz, though it can go up to 2.6GHz through Intel's Turbo technology.
It's not the top-of-the-range chip from Intel - you won't get the same level of performance as the Core i7-3517U, which features HyperThreading and higher speeds, but that processor is used in used in machines such as the Asus Zenbook Prime UX31A, which costs hundreds more.
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Even if you don't get Intel's best mobile processor, you do get its best mobile graphics, thanks to the fact that the 3317U is an Ivy Bridge chip.
The built-in Intel HD Graphics 4000 should be capable of running most games, though will be defeated by the flashiest graphics - but Ultrabooks were never meant to be gaming machines.
The processor is combined with a generous 6GB of RAM, actually besting many similarly priced Ultrabooks. This is more than enough for home use, and should offer headroom for some slightly higher-end programs (or just for letting you keep 600 tabs open in your web browser).
One of the core tenets of Ultrabooks is speed, and the Toshiba U840-10V has a solid-state drive for rapidly accessing Windows. However, it's only 32GB, meaning that while it will help to make the laptop very quick to boot and resume from standby, it won't make something like your iTunes library load that much quicker.
Of course, 32GB isn't a lot of space, so it's paired with a 500GB hard drive, running at 5,400rpm.
The advantage of this is that you get a lot more space than you would for the money, if the Toshiba Satellite U840-10V only had an SSD (flash memory being much more expensive), but it's inevitably slower than if you had all-flash storage.
In the end, it's a balance between cost and price, and Toshiba's solution of a good-size hard drive and small SSD is one a lot of manufacturers have used. Much as we wish it just had a 500GB SSD, the Toshiba Satellite U840-10V would definitely cost more if it did.
The screen is 14 inches, which is slightly larger than most Ultrabooks, contributing to it being slightly heavier than the likes of the 13-inch MacBook Air.
The resolution of 1377 x 768 is exactly what we'd expect for the price. While there are similarly-sized laptops with 1080p displays, they cost hundreds more.
When it comes to ports, you get a fair selection on the Toshiba Satellite U840-10V. There's one USB 3.0 port, and two USB 2.0 (which is slightly disappointing), along with a card reader, a full-size HDMI port, an Ethernet port, and a mic-in and headphones-out.
Cinebench 10: 9305
3D Mark 06: 5194
Battery Eater 05: 133 minutes
The fact that Intel gives a careful specification for Ultrabooks is something of a double-edged sword. Limiting what components you find in laptops has the effect of making it difficult, and even pointless, to try to differentiate too much between them. But it also means you can reliably say you'll get decent performance, even at the lower end of the price scale.
That's what we see with the Toshiba Satellite U840-10V, and it's no surprise. The Cinebench score of just under 10,000 puts it in line with other mid-range Ultrabooks, and just behind the high-end ones, such as the Asus Zenbook Prime UX31A.
You might feel the difference in particularly intensive tasks, but for general computing, the Satellite U840's CPU feels more than capable.
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It's the same situation with graphics. The Ivy Bridge chip from Intel offers its HD 4000 GPU, meaning that mid-range gaming is well within grasp. Portal 2, for example, plays perfectly well, but Crysis 3 is likely to be out of the question. That's expected, though.
While the Core i5 CPU and 6GB of RAM combine to make applications feel snappy, it does feel like there's a bit of a bottleneck: the hard drive. When you need to access files and information from the hard drive, it does feel like seeing a graceful dancer trip over their own feet.
The Asus Zenbook Prime feels much faster across the board in operation, thanks to it having an SSD instead of a hard drive. The Satellite U840 might have a small SSD, but it only helps for Windows system operations.
As soon as you need to retrieve files you've stored, especially lots of them at once, like you would opening something like iTunes, you're back to the slow, 5,400rpm hard drive.
Toshiba's own Satellite Z930 actually features all-SSD storage, and it's not too much more money - though still enough to make you pause. There's also the difference in capacity, of course - this offers 500GB, while the Z930 only offers 128GB.
It's a balance, but there's no getting away from the fact that the Toshiba Satellite U840-10V's HDD does hold it back from feeling as slick as Ultrabooks should all the time.
However, it does manage to be as fast as you'd expect when turning on or coming back from standby - the longest we had to wait was around two seconds. We've got no complaints from that perspective.
The screen feels like another area where sacrifices have had to be made for the price. The resolution of 1366 x 768 isn't surprising, but at this size, it does leave text and images looking visibly blocky.
It also suffers from below-average viewing angles, especially when it comes to height - you can very quickly find it difficult to see thin text. Even at a good viewing angle, it's not particularly vibrant, though colours do look reasonably natural. It's decent when it comes to brightness, but black levels are fairly weak.
Battery life is a particular disappointment, clocking in at a lowly 133 minutes in our benchmark. Again, we look to Toshiba's own Satellite Z930 as an example of what we're hoping for, since that clocked 210 minutes. The Asus Zenbook UX32A scored 208 minutes. That's what we consider normal for an Ultrabook. The Toshiba Satellite U840-10V only manages two thirds of that.
The keyboard is backlit, which is always nice to see, but that's the nicest thing we have to say about it, really. We're not crazy about the layout, with the likes of Page Up/Down, Home and End on the far right, where you'd expect Backspace, Enter and Shift to be. But you could get used to that.
The main problem is that it offers a pathetic lack of feedback. There's very little travel in the keys, their movement is soft and they're very quiet, which all combine to mean it's hard to tell if you've actually pressed one.
The spacing and size of them is fine, yet you're still not sure if you're typing correctly.
If this was a super-thin laptop, we might understand there not being space for good key travel, but it's not exactly the most svelte Ultrabook around, or the lightest.
We found the trackpad to be fairly decent, though not quite a home run, still. Multi-touch gestures work well on it, including pinching and two-finger scrolling, and sensitivity is good.
Clicking is shallow (echoing the keyboard), but tap-to-click is turned on by default, and doesn't have the over-sensitivity problems we've had on other trackpads, so was our preferred way of getting around Windows.
Our only other little niggle was the lights on the front of the chassis, which are needlessly bright and distracting.
We'll end on a high, though, by noting that while the speakers aren't of knock-out quality, the fact that they're stereo and on each side of the laptop does make them more immersive.
The Toshiba Satellite U840-10V seems very much to be an attempt to balance good Ultrabook specs with affordability, like its brother, the Toshiba Satellite Z930. It's a noble goal, and one that seems to have managed well on paper.
There are few areas where the Toshiba Satellite U840-10V is noticeably worse than its competitors in a spec list, and areas such as 6GB of RAM definitely push it ahead. The problems only come up when you take the experience as a whole, but they do ultimately bring it down from being a great choice.
The design is simple, and hard to dislike. Some may find it boring, but we think the brushed slate is handsome. The build quality overall shows little sign of this being a cheap Ultrabook (save for the keyboard).
The price is probably the main advantage here, offering an Ultrabook with little compromise when it comes to specs, for a reasonable cost. There's a generous amount of RAM, and good Intel chip, and plenty of storage (even if that comes with a downside).
The 14-inch screen and decent array of ports mean it's a good work machine, too.
There is evidence of the cost-cutting when you use the Toshiba Satellite U840-10V, and in some cases, it's hard to ignore. The screen's viewing angles are a pain if you're stuck somewhere like a train, with no way to adjust your angle, while the poor keyboard knocks back its credentials as an office machine - we wouldn't be keen to type on this all day.
Battery life is the other big issue; it's much lower than slightly-more-expensive Ultrabooks, and again harms the Toshiba Satellite U840-10V's business credentials.
The less obvious cuts, such as having a hard drive instead of an SSD and a lower-resolution screen than we'd like, are a shame, particularly since the HDD can impact performance. But we understand why those choices have been made. The 1.5kg weight is also a fair bit higher than we'd like.
The Toshiba Satellite U840-10V just doesn't quite overcome the compromises that have been made to create something a fair bit cheaper than most Ultrabooks. The spec list is good, but it falls down in the more practical aspects.
If you want something smaller and lighter than the average home laptop, but don't want to pay through the nose, it's a reasonable choice. But paying £150 more will get you a much better machine.
If you're looking for a good office Ultrabook, try the Toshiba Satellite U930, which is lighter and has an SSD. Otherwise, the Asus Zenbook UX31 is one of the best out there.