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HANDS ON: Toshiba U840W - an Ultrabook for film fans?

Tom Morgan
5 Jun 2012
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The first Ultrabook aimed at film fans comes with a unique 21:9 aspect ratio display

Toshiba has just unveiled a slew of new Ultrabooks at Computex in Taiwan, including the U840W – the world’s first Ultrabook with a 21:9 aspect ratio display. It’s a 14.4in laptop with an obscure 1,792x768 resolution that makes it perfect for watching films on the go. As this is the same resolution used in cinemas, you’ll be able to watch films without black bars taking up a significant portion of the screen.

Toshiba Satellite U840W

In everyday use, you might not need to use such a widescreen resolution, so Toshiba has added a screen sharing utility which automatically resizes your important windows to 16:9, relegating the less useful ones to the remaining space. It’s unobtrusive, only appearing when you hover over a window’s title bar.

It makes much more sense when watching films, as they fill the entire screen. Even though it only has enough vertical lines for 720p, the trailer for The Dark Knight Rises certainly looked good during our hands-on. The glossy finish brought out vibrant colours and it handled motion smoothly. Our only criticism was poor viewing angles, although we’ll know for sure if this is a real problem once we’ve got one in our labs.

Toshiba Satellite U840W

The U840W is unsurprisingly powered by an Intel Ivy Bridge processor, but eschews an SSD for a hybrid hard disk to keep costs down. This combines flash storage with a traditional mechanical disk to speed up boot times, but still provide plenty of storage capacity. We couldn’t properly test it during our brief hands-on but Windows certainly felt snappy, loading programs quickly and resuming from sleep in just a few seconds.

We were in two minds about the faux leather palm rest and lid decals – they look reasonably slick from a distance but they could lead to sweaty hands if you lean on them constantly while typing. The keyboard itself was comfortable, although the slightly wider keys took a few minutes to adjust to. Toshiba’s trademark black Chiclet-style isolated keys reappear here, as does the white LED backlight we’ve seen on some of its business-centric Tecra machines.

The touchpad is sensibly in proportion with the screen, and although we prefer having physical touchpad buttons, the integrated ones used here felt responsive and firm. Multi-touch gestures were about on par with other Windows laptops we’ve used them on, but still light-years behind Apple’s OS X implementation.

Toshiba Satellite U840W

Even with the large keyboard, Toshiba still managed to fit Harmon Kardon stereo speakers at either side of the chassis. They sound like a welcome improvement over the speakers we’ve seen in other Ultrabooks, although it was difficult to tell over the throng of journalists fighting to get hold of the thing.

Toshiba expects the Satellite U840W to go on sale in the autumn, with a starting price of around £900. We’ll be interested to see if it can generate interest beyond film fans, especially as the 1080p-equipped competition from Asus should have arrived by then. When we’ve spent more time with it we’ll have a full review, so be sure to check back closer to the launch date.

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