Toshiba U505-S2980 Gets in Touch With Multitouch
At a Glance
Toshiba Satellite U505-S2980-T Notebook
Toshiba's U505-S2980 is a solid, attractive performer--but the multitouch screen causes some problems.
The Toshiba U505-S2980's main gimmick is a multitouch touchscreen. Outside of that, it is, for the most part, a decent laptop, even above average in many ways. But that one gimmick is the root of my issues with this 13-inch notebook--and helps raise its cost to a somewhat pricey $1050 (as of 11/24/09).
Because the panel is a touchscreen, the U505-S2980 suffers from grainy picture quality. This exacerbates a more basic problem of the screen just being dim. Viewing angles and backlighting are all right--the hinge actually sets the screen to the perfect angle when the unit is fully open--but the screen is really not bright enough. What you wind up with is a display that's made too many compromises for an idea that just doesn't work in practice. (In all fairness the touchscreen variant of the Lenovo ThinkPad T400s and the Dell Latitude TX2 were also a little dim--it's not something unique to Toshiba).
I suspect Toshiba wants you to use the touchscreen more than anything else, but I'm just not sold. The 13-inch screen runs at a resolution of 1280 by 800 pixels, far too fine for a proper touch interface without a stylus. Sure, you can up the font size, but it grossly reduces usable space on an already cramped resolution. Multitouch also seems silly, given how awkward it is to reach forward and manipulate the bundled multitouch application when the notebook is upright. That bundled app--software for posting notes and images like a blackboard--is in itself quite cute, but hardly practical. That said, with the touchscreen, it's a breeze to zoom in and out of images or Websites. And if you want to do some on-screen doodling in something like Photoshop, you can.
If the screen is problematic, the good news is that the mousing touchpad is pretty stellar (though a bit small), offering up multitouch capability, too. So if the using the display via touch turns you off, at least you have a reliable alternative.
Now if Toshiba could just get the keyboard part down. The glossy, flat-surfaced, backlit keyboard is a pain. The cheap plastic used for it squeaks and squeals when you slide your fingertips across it, and it's just not comfortable to use. But the touch-sensitive buttons above the keyboard are nice, and the visual styling with the white LED backlighting is really beautiful and a welcome change from the world of blue LEDs elsewhere in the market. Another user might find the keyboard style to their liking, but to me it remains a gaudy reminder of Toshiba's over-glossed yesteryear.
The performance of the U505 is pretty reasonable--though it's hardly a speed demon--but the now-standard 4GB of DDR2 comes coupled with a meaty 500GB hard drive, which is virtually top of the line for capacity in modern notebook drives. The 2.2GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T6600 processor isn't going to win any awards, but backed with 4GB of DDR2 RAM and that big hard drive, it scores an 87 in WorldBench 6. That's more than adequate for general use. The Intel integrated graphics preclude any real gaming performance, but high-definition media playback worked very well, with no stutters or hiccups.
The trade-off for that performance is reduced battery life--you get 3.5 hours if you're lucky. The average for an all-purpose machine is about 4 hours, 14 minutes.
The speakers on the body below the screen fare at least a little better. Though still tinny as notebook speakers are wont to be, they at least make some effort made to produce at the low end, and you get plenty of volume. At 60 percent volume the speakers are plenty loud enough for either video or music.
I find myself quite liking the overall look of the unit, even though it is a little bulbous for a 13-inch laptop (it measures 12.5- by 9.1- by 1.5-inches and weighs 4.7 pounds). A pleasing texture to the lid and the inside (similar to what we saw on the NB205 line) give a modern, toughened style and a comfortable texture for the palm rest.
The U505-S2980 is very firm, with no creaks or flexing in the chassis. Port selection is excellent, with three USB ports (one of which is a combo e-SATA port), along with VGA- and HDMI-video outputs, speaker and mic jacks, gigabit ethernet, and even an olde-tyme modem port. You'll also find an ExpressCard slot, plus an SD/MMC card reader on the front. These connections are very nicely placed, too, with two of the USB ports near the front. And finally, hats off to employing a slot-loading DVD drive instead of the flimsy tray-loading ones more commonly found in laptops.
Though I find a lot to like about the U505, it's ironic that the main selling point is also what's holding this laptop back--the touchscreen. A user's experience with a notebook is often going to depend chiefly on the keyboard and the screen--the two most direct ways of interacting with it. You can fit all the hardware you want under the hood, but if these two don't hold up their end of the bargain, people aren't going to want to use it. The touchscreen is a cute gimmick whose poor visual quality unfortunately brings the whole thing down a peg.