Toshiba Satellite U920T £899
19th Dec 2012 | 14:50
Can Toshiba's hybrid take the market by storm?
The hybrid laptop-tablet form factor has well and truly kicked off, and you'd be hard pressed to walk into your local electronics superstore and find a bog-standard laptop between the rows of flipping, sliding, swivelling, touchscreen, Windows 8 hybrids.
The Toshiba Satellite U920t is the Japanese company's interpretation of a single device that crosses the laptop and tablet divide.This convertible Ultrabook starts as a flat 12.5-inch tablet before the screen slides back and lifts up to transform it into a traditional laptop.
There's been no stand-out design or winning form factor in the hybrid's race to public acceptance, so manufacturers are still producing wildly different designs. Other such touchscreen Windows PCs are the Sony Vaio Duo 11, Dell XPS 12, Asus Taichi and Asus Vivobook S200, to name but a few.
At £899/AU$1,699/US$1,149, the Toshiba is well priced for a hybrid Ultrabook, undercutting the Dell XPS 12 and Sony Vaio Duo 11 significantly.
It's designed for anyone who wants the portability of a tablet and access to a range of apps. Windows 8 comes with its own marketplace for apps, which is filling up fast. There are over 20,000 available, with new titles being added all the time.
This offers a genuine option for people who don't want to carry two devices, and puts the hybrid form factor in a race for supremacy against the software ecosystems of ARM-based competition.
The Satellite U920t's 12.5-inch screen sits back flat when closed. It feels weighty, at 1.5kg (3.3lbs), but it's comparable to the likes of the Dell XPS 12. Frankly, it's too heavy to be used comfortably in the same way you'd use an iPad or Android tablet, and this will colour people's opinions immediately.
However, being a dubious tablet is somewhat remedied by its excellent transition to laptop mode. Slide the screen back and it looks like most other laptops - and you get all the benefits, too.
Windows 8 review
The full QWERTY keyboard is larger than the Sony Vaio Duo 11, and conveniently there's a full trackpad with two click buttons, which is extremely useful when the touchscreen won't suffice.
It's unrealistic to judge the Toshiba Satellite against Ultrabooks and the iPad, and you'll read many reviews which do just that. However, the question is whether the Toshiba Satellite U920t can be more portable, usable and convenient than its competitors and can it persuade anyone to leave their iPad at home.
The Toshiba Satellite U920t features an Intel Core i3 3217U processor in the UK model, which is relatively underpowered when compared to the competition. The US and Australian versions come with a Core i5 3317U as standard, which is better but still not the best.
The Sony Vaio Duo 11 and Dell XPS 12 both come in Intel Core i7 flavours, which offer substantially improved performance over the i3 chip. While the Core i3 is your average family car, the Core i7 is the racing version with nitrous oxide.
Needless to say that people looking for top performance will find the Toshiba Satellite falls short of their needs, and if you expect to run a full version of Photoshop and use other demanding and creative applications, then you should look elsewhere.
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The price also means that the Toshiba may not offer the best bang for your buck. £899 for the Intel Core i3 version is some way behind the Sony Vaio Duo 11, which offers the same form factor and Intel Core i5 processor for just £100 more. The Duo 11 costs AU$1,499/US$1,199.99 compared to the AU$1,699/US$1,149 price of the Core i5 Toshiba U920t.
The Toshiba Satellite U920t also features 4GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD drive in the UK and US models, which is again identical to the Sony. The Australian version features 256GB SSD storage.
The 4GB of RAM is more than enough for Windows 8, but the operating system's footprint wipes 20GB from the installation, and the formatting also eats 20GB. That means you start with an 80GB hard drive (in the UK and US), which is tight for anyone with large amounts of apps, programs and files.
The Toshiba Satellite U920t also only features a 1366 x 768 IPS touchscreen, which is eons behind the competition in terms of quality. The Sony Vaio and Dell both pack in 1080p panels, which is great for apps and movies.
And to make things worse, the Toshiba's screen is dull and lifeless. There's no problem with graininess and you won't notice the difference working on text documents, but our movie tests looked flat in comparison.
The panel is Gorilla Glass, making it resistant to drops, falls and scratches. This is extremely important, because the tablet-like form factor of the Toshiba when it's flattened means that the screen is open to damage, unlike normal laptop screens that are hidden inside the clamshell design.
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As a touchscreen, we also found that it didn't pack the sensitivity we've become accustomed to on other hybrid computers. Hitting small elements within the 'classic' Windows 8 design was sometimes hit and miss, and we were glad to have the trackpad as a backup.
Being from the Satellite range, the Toshiba U920t is a consumer-focused laptop rather than business. However, that doesn't mean it's short of connections. There are two USB 3.0 ports, which is good news for people with compatible external storage. One of these also has the power to charge devices when the U920t is asleep. Aside from the USB connectivity, there's a full-sized HDMI port and an SD card slot.
If there's one black mark against the Toshiba's name, it's the general build quality. The textured finish might be grippy, but it looks dated, and the rounded curves aren't exactly eye-catching. It's chunky when closed, and being able to see the notched runners at the back doesn't offer an alluring look.
One detail that typifies the whole build is the power button. It's used to wake the Toshiba U920t from sleep, firing up the Windows Start Screen after a period of inactivity, but it's small, sharp and tough to find. It shows that the whole Toshiba Satellite U920t screams function over style, and that feels like a backward step in the world of super-desirable PCs.
The keyboard itself is backlit and well spaced, but the keys have minimal travel. They do feel noticeably smaller, and it took us time to master typing at speed without making regular mistakes.
It's more comfortable than the Acer Aspire S7, which is an achievement given that the S7 is a full-form Ultrabook that doesn't offer tablet functionality. However, it's far less comfortable than the Dell XPS 12, and regular typists might find the drop in comfort is a deal-breaker.
Packing in an entry-level Intel Core i3 processor in the UK version tested here meant that the Toshiba Satellite U920t was never going to ace our benchmarks. The results reflected the lower speeds. A Cinebench score of 6,881 is middle of the road for a modern laptop, yet we were pleased to report that there didn't seem to be any lag in the system.
To put that in context, the Sony and Dell rivals scored over 9,000 in the same test, which shows how much difference the lesser chip makes in terms of raw number-crunching.
However, the longer battery life was a positive knock-on effect of the less demanding chip.
We test laptops using a strenuous mix of looping HD video and simultaneously simulating a word processing test. While most laptops last around 180 minutes, the Toshiba Satellite U920t lasted a whopping 235 minutes.
This means that you could watch four hours of videos while travelling or relaxing before reaching for a charger. This pay-off certainly comes at the expense of power and screen quality, but for many, over an hour of extra time away from the mains is more than worth it.
Battery Eater: 235
3D Mark 06: 4528
In terms of 3D performance, the Toshiba U920t relies on the SoC Intel HD 4000 graphics core. This is a standard feature of Intel Core chips, and the higher the model, the more performance you can expect.
An Intel Core i7 could power games, if at lower frame rates, but with the Core i3 you'd be lucky to get advanced image editing and 3D rendering.
As expected, the Toshiba Satellite U920t managed a disappointing 3D Mark score of 4,528, so don't expect to play the latest games.
However, if you are looking at hybrids, don't expect an obvious powerhouse alternative. Their small form factors means that a discrete graphics chip is the first feature to get canned.
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The Toshiba Satellite U920t's form factor might be the future of laptop-tablet hybrids, and it's one of the most simple and effective mixes of tablet and laptop we've seen. However, the chunky build, questionable quality and bland looks mean that the Toshiba U920t has missed its opportunity to become a market-leading PC.
At £899/AU$1,699/US$1,149, the Toshiba isn't a bargain Ultrabook, and with the likes of the Asus Vivobook S200 offering touchscreen Windows 8 for around half the price, there's no way we can let the Toshiba off the hook for its shortcomings. The performance is average, carrying significant bulk and a disappointing build.
However, we can't fault the longevity of the battery, which aside from the nice mix of laptop and tablet functionality, represents the key reason to buy the Toshiba U920t. What it lacks in style it makes up for in pragmatic benefits, but in the days where looks count, it isn't enough to make a hearty recommendation.
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Fantastic battery life makes the Toshiba a real proposition in our eyes. Four hours of looping HD is a great score by any standard, and since we didn't notice any performance issues when running Windows 8 apps, we'd say that Toshiba has balanced the needs of its users perfectly.
The form factor also makes a lot of sense, with the tablet mode giving way to a usable and natural laptop experience that's better than many of its competitors. We'd encourage Toshiba to stick with the design and refine the build, weight and screen on future models.
The lack of attention to the finer points of the Toshiba U92t0t's build quality is frustrating. While it feels solid and tough, the pill-sized power button, the slight flex in the keyboard, the low travel keys and average screen make us pine for the kind of high-spec superior build quality we've seen elsewhere.
The Toshiba U920t could have done with a crash diet in order to really excel as a portable device. As a tablet it's a little too chunky to be used comfortably.
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Slash £200/$300 from the price and the Toshiba Satellite U920t is one of the best value hybrids on the market. Add a better screen and refine the mechanism and it's one of the best quality. But as it stands, the Toshiba Satellite U920t under delivers in both categories.
However, the excellent battery life and great usability make it a strong entry to the world of Windows 8 hybrid laptop-tablet devices.
The trouble is that the bulk of the Toshiba laptop isn't going to convince many people to down their iPads and choose this as their primary go-everywhere device, and that's a problem that hybrid manufacturers must address.