The monochrome, sunlight-readable displays remain largely synonymous with e-readers, but they're moving into other devices large and small.
Caption by: Sandra Vogel
Toshiba's Portégé notebooks tend to pretty conservative design-wise — the Portégé R830 is a case in point, the chassis barely differing from its R700 predecessor. The Satellite range, by contrast, has to appeal to both consumers and professionals — hence the Satellite and Satellite Pro split — and can be a bit more adventurous.
The C850, for example, has both Satellite and Satellite Pro incarnations and there's a little more panache in its appearance than business users might be used to. There's also a wide array of specifications and prices — we counted eight Satellite and six Satellite Pro variants at Toshiba's UK web site. The Satellite Pro C850 starts at £289 (ex. VAT), but our review sample was the top-end £459 (ex. VAT) 10N model.
The Toshiba Satellite Pro C850-10N has a 15.6in. LED-backlit screen with a resolution of 1,366 by 768 pixels. The screen is wide enough to comfortably accommodate two application windows side-by side — in fact, pushing our Word document into as small a space as possible left ample room for a wide web page display.
The screen has a matte finish, so it can be used in a wide range of lighting situations. Viewing angles are fine on the horizontal plane, but less good on the vertical. You can push the screen down to around 145 degrees, so there's plenty of flexibility, but at this angle text can look decidedly fuzzy and images lose their integrity.
We could have done with a bit more punch from the LED backlight. And given the relatively low price of even the most expensive model in the range, we wonder whether Toshiba might have splashed out on a higher-resolution screen for some of the models.
The Satellite Pro C850-10N measures a generous 38cm wide, 24.2cm deep and 3.35cm thick. It isn't light, either, with a starting weight of 2.3kg.
Still, that extra width allows Toshiba to fit a number pad into the keyboard area. With full-sized keys, this could prove very useful if you're a regular spreadsheet user.
There's room in the Satellite Pro C850's wide chassis for a separate number pad on the keyboard
There's the standard row of horizontal number keys too, of course, sitting above the QWERTY keys. Toshiba uses old-fashioned contiguous keys, which are a little on the large side for our taste. More worrying is the amount of flex in the keyboard: this was apparent even under our light touch — heavy-handed typists will notice some quite serious bowing, particularly in the centre of the keyboard area.
There's a set of small cursor keys to the right of the space bar. These have no secondary features for things like media playback, but there is a row of small keys above the number row that more than make up for this. Three sets of four keys control screen brightness and external monitor switching, media controls, audio controls, Wi-Fi toggling and touchpad disabling. Unfortunately there's no backlighting option for the keyboard.
The touchpad and the wrist rest both have a stippled finish. The touchpad is slightly recessed, with a shiny black plastic frame to give it visual and tactile separation from its surroundings. The touchpad features scroll zones and multitouch zooming, and both are comfortable to use — particularly zooming.
The aforementioned stippling also appears on the area above the screen housing the on/off button, behind which lie the stereo speakers. The screen bezel is smooth, but the stippling is also present on the lid. It's a straightforward design feature that enlivens an otherwise dull expanse of black plastic.
Build quality is acceptable for a notebook costing under £500 (ex. VAT). You can flex the lid between two hands if you hold it at the far corners, and it can be depressed far enough to affect the screen when laid flat. However, the lid is fairly thick and seems reasonably resilient.
The base also feels solid — we needed to press quite hard to flex the wrist rest, for example. Even the hinges, which can be a weak spot on an affordable notebook, seem sturdy. However, there's no clasp to hold the lid and base sections together when you're lugging the C850 in a travel bag.
As noted earlier there are many variants of the Satellite Pro C850 and also several consumer-oriented Satellite versions. The latter all run Windows 7 Home Premium and cost between £299 (inc. VAT) and £419 (inc. VAT). The entry-level Satellite Pro versions also run Windows 7 Home Premium, with only the two top-end models running Windows 7 Professional. These include our review sample, the flagship £459 (ex. VAT) Satellite Pro C850-10N.
A couple of processors are used across the range, our review model running a 2.3GHz Intel Core i3 2350M. This CPU is used in four of the six available models, while the entry-level models running a 1.6GHz Celeron B815. Our review unit had a decent 4GB of RAM, expandable to a maximum of 8GB. Graphics are handled by the CPU-integrated Intel HD Graphics 3000, and that's the case across the board.
The 500GB, 5,400rpm hard drive in our review sample isn't top flight, but it should prove adequate for most users. The lowest they go is 320GB in the Satellite Pro range, but there are a couple of 640GB options in the Satellite range if you need the storage and are prepared to forego Windows 7 Professional.
Connectivity is available in the shape of Gigabit Ethernet and Wi-Fi (802.11b/g/n), with Bluetooth 4.0 for short-range wireless links. At this price it won't come as a surprise to learn that mobile broadband is not integrated. You can always use a USB 3G dongle, or connect to a smartphone or 3G modem via Wi-Fi, of course.
There's no biometric login, and although our review sample sported a webcam (all the models across both the Pro and non-pro range do) there's no login via face recognition either.
Every model has an optical drive, which, unusually, is on the left-hand side of the chassis along with a USB 2.0 port and the power input. There's a slot on the front edge for SD-compatible media. The front slopes inwards and this slot is not visible without craning your neck or lifting the notebook; it's easy enough to find by touch, though.
The right edge of the chassis houses the remaining ports and connectors, namely: a pair of audio jacks, a second USB 2.0 port, a USB 3.0 port, HDMI and Ethernet (RJ-45) ports and a VGA connector.
Toshiba bundles a range of applications and services including: Skype, Google Chrome; time-limited McAfee Internet Security; the free, function-limited, ad-supported Microsoft Office Starter (Word and Excel); and Toshiba's own Eco Utility, PC Health Monitor and Tempro update checker.
Performance & battery life
A Windows Experience Index (WEI) of 4.7 (out of 7.9) is reasonable for a notebook with the Satellite Pro C850-10N's specifications. It compares favourably with the AMD A6-3400M-based Dell Vostro 3555 and matches Intel Core i3-based Lenovo ThinkPad X121e.
As with many notebooks, including the two just mentioned, the WEI-defining lowest subsystem score is for Graphics (desktop performance for Windows Aero). The remaining scores are more than respectable: 5.9 for both RAM (Memory operations per second) and Primary hard disk (Disk data transfer rate); 6.1 for Graphics (3D business and gaming graphics performance) and 6.7 for Processor (calculations per second).
The Satellite Pro C850 should handle mainstream business workloads quite happily. If you're expecting impressive graphics performance with an integrated GPU, you shouldn't be.
Toshiba's headline battery life claim for the Satellite Pro C850 range is 6 hours, but delve into the specs of the Satellite and Satellite Pro models and you'll find 5.5 hours listed every time. We tested the C850's battery life by setting it to play a DVD continuously, which it managed for 3 hours and 38 minutes. This is a demanding workload, so with a range of typical business tasks and judicious power management settings, you should get the claimed 5.5 hours. A full 8-hour day's use may be stretching it, though.
The Toshiba Satellite Pro C850-10N delivers decent performance at a reasonable price. The keyboard flex is a concern, but build quality is generally robust. Overall, it's a good basic business workhorse.
Caption by: Sandra Vogel
Caption by: Sandra Vogel
Caption by: Sandra Vogel