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Review: Toshiba Satellite P840

By Leigh D. Stark | 1:04 pm 29/01/2013

Toshiba’s first touchscreen Windows 8 machine that we’ve managed to get our hands on, the P840 isn’t thin or light like an Ultrabook, and it isn’t small and sexy like the hybrid tablets we’re beginning to see more of.

Instead, Toshiba has taken one of its mid-to-high end machines and given it the gift of touch, bringing a multimedia machine into 2013 with the usefulness of multipoint touch that Windows 8 feeds on.

Features

Advertised as a computer suitable for multimedia users, the P840 features the tech for people who used their computer to watch movies, play games, and – thanks to Windows – need to touch their workflow.

Inside the P840, you’ll find enough hardware for Toshiba to work in that “multimedia hub” claim from the Toshiba website, including a third-generation Intel Core i7 processor, 8GB RAM, 1TB of hard drive space, and two video cards at your disposal: Intel’s HD4000 graphics for the lighter activities, with Nvidia’s GeForce GT630M with 2GB RAM taking over the heavier duties.

Unlike the Ultrabooks we’re so used to seeing, the Toshiba Satellite P840 is more a multimedia friendly machine, with a DVDRW drive loaded in, so you can watch movies and even burn some 4.5GB discs.

Ports are reasonably plentiful too, with Toshiba including three USB 3.0 ports, an SD card slot, HDMI, VGA, and a headphone and microphone jacks sitting alongside each other.

Connectivity is fairly standard, with 802.11 b/g/n supported for WiFi, Bluetooth 4.0, Gigabit Ethernet, and even support for DLNA.

The screen measures 14 inches diagonally and sports an HD capable resolution of 1366×768, while still being touch friendly.

Just above the frame, you’ll find a high-definition web cam and microphone, for those times when you desperately need to Skype someone.

Windows 8 is, of course here, designed to work with that touchscreen, and running in 64-bit, to take advantage of the 8GB RAM in this machine.

Toshiba also includes its own software to help your computer, such as the PC Health Monitor for monitoring component temperatures and health, and the 3D Hard Drive Sensor which will stop the drive and park the heads if they sense the machine moving, a step that can prolong the life of hard drives.

Performance

The first of Toshiba’s Windows 8 machines that we’ve seen, the P840 attempts to bring some decent multimedia power to a not-quite-15 inch machine that can still be carried with you.

Pick it up and you’ll find that this obviously isn’t an Ultrabook, with a weight that makes it nearly impossible to pick up one hand. Toshiba says the P840 weighs just over two kilograms, and we’re inclined to believe it, given how heavy it is to carry.

The casing is a little better than the typical plastic bodies we’re used to seeing on laptops, with an aluminium frame carrying a texture that looks like little Tetris blocks up close, but just comes off feeling like tiny little ridges.

Your fingers should be able to grip onto this easily, but the weight doesn’t help, so just make sure to hold the laptop with both hands if you’re in transit.

Open it up and you’ll see a colour scheme that’s offers an almost dotted silver with black keys, and a wide grey trackpad mouse.

Typing on the keyboard is comfortable enough, and while there’s a bit of flex in the entire frame as you press, it’s easy to get a lot of typing done here. Working in the dark is also possible, with backlighting included on this laptop.

We will say that some keystrokes appeared to go missing, but the number was small, with merely one out of every five hundred keystrokes disappearing, hardly enough to be concerned about. To Toshiba’s credit, the trackpad here is actually one of the better ones we’ve come across for Windows, with multitouch gestures working quite well.

Interaction on the touchscreen also works efficiently, though sometimes the applications may need to catch up to what you’re doing, with a little bit of lag coming from the computer as you zoom in with fingers or run things by selecting them directly on the touchscreen.

Operation of the computer is helped by the reasonably high end processing power, and an Intel Core i7 with four cores is a useful addition, though the graphics could be a touch better, with the relatively light graphics chip GeForce 630M taking care of the heavy lifting.

We didn’t need to tax this too much, and most of our testing kept us using Intel’s own graphics system, which stays in use for most activities. The moment you start to play heavy games, expect the GeForce to kick into gear.

The hard drive is generously sized here, with 1TB of storage, although you’ll only find just under 900GB available to you. Sure, it’s not the speedy solid state drive that an Ultrabook has, but if you need space, you’d be hard pressed to find more than the large sized hard drive in this machine.

For the most part, it’s the specs that make this laptop look good, but it’s what happens when you start using it that can change your mood a little.

While the screen does have touch enabled and makes Windows 8 just that much easier to use, the display appears to be low grade, especially in comparison to other laptops available today, and offers the HD resolution of 1366×768 in a 14 inch screen size.

A few years ago, this would have been seen as a decent resolution for a laptop, but when we’re seeing 13 inch touchscreen notebooks offering 1080p (1920×1080), the use of 1366×768 in a display is just plain poor, and it’s impossible not to notice the lack of clarity here, with pixels showing up in everything you’re doing.

Viewing angles aren’t crash hot either, and unless you’re sitting at 90 degrees dead on, you’ll find washed out colours and weak intensity (above).

It doesn’t help that this is a highly glossy screen, with loads of reflectivty and not a whole heap of brightness to balance it out. Basically, if you’re trying to do that old trick of compensating for the glossy screen by jacking up the brightness, there simply isn’t enough to work with here, and you’ll still end up with reflections.

The combination of the lack of clarity, angles, and reflectivity can even give you some eye aches, and it’s one area where we wish Toshiba had concentrated more effort in.

Unless viewed dead on, this screen leaves a lot to be desired.

The battery isn’t amazing, either, managing a maximum of five hours of light usage in our tests with WiFi switched on, brightness turned all the way up (mostly to deal with the ongoing reflection issue in glossy screens), with web surfing, typing, social networking, and downloading going on as the main activities.

That’s not an amazing performance for such basic uses, and we’d suggest to keep this thing plugged in most of the time.

The power charger also hasn’t changed much, and while it’s still blocky and hasn’t managed to be designed with that same level of convenience other companies are adapting to – you can thank Apple for this one – it is at least smaller than the big bricks we’re used to seeing.

If only the battery performed better, though.

Sure, it's a little smaller than the big bulky ones we used to carry around with laptops, but Toshiba hasn't reworked the design one bit.

Toshiba has also kept with the relatively old DVD drive in this machine, a surprise given that it’s labelled and advertised as a “multimedia hub.” If the emphasis were truly on multimedia, we would expect a Blu-ray player here, although given the low-end screen, can see why the DVD drive is all Toshiba has packed in.

One other thing bugs us immensely, and that’s the price.

While the Satellite P840 range starts at a recommended retail price of $999, the model we’re reviewing chimes in at $1699 which, in our opinion, is just too much for the technology on offer here.

Even though the underlying specs aren’t bad, it doesn’t feel like Toshiba has done a good job marrying the processing technology with a decent screen or usability experience, and without that, we’re just left to view this machine as an overpriced Windows 8 computer, and you could probably do better.

Conclusion

Carrying a $1700 price tag, we expected more from a Toshiba multimedia machine and hoped this would be better. The addition of a touchscreen in a mid-range machine is certainly welcome, but with a price tag this close to the $2000 mark, it’s hard not to ignore the missing features, such as a better quality screen and Blu-ray drive.

If you need a lot of power and none of the problems here bother you, take a look, but we’d say there are probably better choices out there for this asking price.

Price (RRP)

$1699

Pros & Cons

Product Pros

Intel Core i7 equipped touchscreen machine; Three USB 3.0 ports; Responsive trackpad and decent typing experience;

Product Cons

Low quality screen; Mediocre battery performance; No Blu-ray drive; Overpriced;

Ratings

Overall

Features

Value for money

Performance

Design

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