The Satellite Pro U500 is part of Toshiba's Performance Mobile range, which also includes Portégé and Tecra models (with screens sizes ranging from 12in. to 14in.). Prices for the Satellite Pro U500 start at £599, rising to £699 (ex. VAT). It's a slightly chunky 13.3in. notebook with a flashy aspect to the design that won't appeal to all.
We generally expect a 13.3in. notebook to be a compact and lightweight system. However, the Satellite Pro U500, at 31.7cm wide by 23cm deep by 3.19-3.88cm thick and 2.2kg, is on the chunky and heavy side. On its web site Toshiba says the Satellite Pro U500 is a 'thin and light portable laptop', but we'd really rather not carry more than 2kg unless absolutely necessary.
The Satellite Pro U500 isn't the lightest or most compact 13.3in. notebook: it weighs 2.2kg and is nearly 4cm thick at the back.
There is some good news on the build front, as the casing is very solid. There is minimal flex in the lid section and the base seems very tough. The chassis has a mostly matte finish (unlike the shiny plastic of the recently reviewed Satellite Pro T130), but there are some telltale signs that this notebook also has a consumer alter ego (the Satellite U500).
Two speakers sit above the keyboard and deliver reasonable volume and fair quality. They lack the rich bass tones that music aficionados require, but should be fine for delivering multimedia presentations to small audiences.
Between the keyboard and the screen is a pair of speakers and a strip of touch-sensitive buttons.
A strip of touch-sensitive buttons provides media playback controls and access to the notebook's power-saving Eco mode. Several places on the keyboard section have bright white backlighting, including a strip atop the wrist rest and the strip of touch buttons. You can turn these off by hitting one of the touch buttons, and they're automatically turned off in Eco mode.
The touchpad incorporates vertical and horizontal scroll zones and supports pinch-to-zoom. You have to make very definite contact for the latter to work, and we never really got comfortable with it. An alternative zooming feature, involving the Fn key and spacebar, you accesses two full-screen zoom levels. A button sitting just below the spacebar disables the touchpad — a feature that more notebooks should adopt.
The touchpad supports pinch-to-zoom and can be disabled at the touch of a button.
The keyboard could be better. There is a fair amount of flex and the keys do not feel as solid under the fingers as we would like. Reaching normal touch-typing speed was not a problem but we are not fans of the design.
The 13.3in. screen has a native resolution of 1,280 by 800 pixels — an aspect ratio of 16:10, in contrast to the 16:9 1,366 by 768 display seen on the Satellite Pro T130. For professionals, those few extra pixels of height may be a help when it comes to document creation.
A TrueBrite coating on the screen boosts clarity and brightness for media viewing but is quite reflective. Whether or not you like this kind of screen finish will be a matter of personal taste.
There's a webcam above the screen, and a slide-out menu on the left edge of the screen gives access to its various features. These include face-recognition-based login. The camera shoots stills and video resolutions up to 1,280 by 800 pixels.
Our Satellite Pro U500 review sample had a 2.2GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T6670 processor. Newer versions listed at Toshiba's web site run the latest Core i3-330 (2.13GHz) and Core i5-430 (2.26GHz) processors. HyperThreading and, in the i5-430, TurboBoost helps those processors run faster. Graphics are integrated in the Core i3 and i5 processors. Our review sample used the chipset-integrated GMA 4500MHD module.
The Satellite Pro U500 comes with 4GB of RAM, expandable to 8GB. For storage, our review unit had a 320GB hard drive, spinning at 5,400rpm. Other models go up to 500GB.
The Satellite Pro U500 range runs Windows 7 Professional, with an Professional downgrade available on DVD. For wireless communications there's Wi-Fi (802.11b/g/n) and Bluetooth (2.1+EDR), but not 3G/HSPA. Gigabit Ethernet is available for wired networking.
Ports and connectors are spread around three sides of the casing. The front carries a reader for SD- and Memory Stick- compatible media plus a manual switch for the Bluetooth and Wi-Fi radios.
The left edge has VGA and HDMI ports for external displays, plus a combined eSATA/USB port and a pair of audio jacks. The right side adds a second USB port, the Ethernet (RJ-45) connector and the optical drive (a dual-layer DVD rewriter).
Like many vendors, Toshiba is liberal with additional software. The shortcut to eBay on the desktop is simply irritating; you may find the Skype shortcut (for downloading the application) useful, but you could just as easily find Skype's web site yourself. There's also a 60-day trial of Microsoft Office plus a McAfee security software trial.
Toshiba also includes its own Bulletin Board software which offers you a selection of virtual notice boards on which you can place lists, application shortcuts and more. This could be useful for managing small projects. There is also a Toshiba application called ReelTime which indexes recently created files using thumbnail graphics. It's not rocket science, but it is graphically rich.
Toshiba's Eco utility records power consumption in real time.
More interesting, perhaps, is Toshiba's Eco utility, which lets you tweak various settings to conserve power. Geeky types will like the constant recording and graphing of power consumption. The spike in the graphic above shows the effect of logging onto the web and doing a bit of Googling from a standing start.
Performance & battery life
The Satellite Pro U500's Windows Experience Index (WEI) of 3.4 (out of 7.9) was brought low by just one rating — Gaming Graphics (3D business and gaming graphics performance). All of the remaining component scores are pretty respectable.
The other graphics element, Graphics (desktop performance for Windows Aero), scored 4.1, while Primary hard disk (Disk data transfer rate) scored 5.2 and both Processor (calculations per second) and RAM (Memory operations per second) rated 5.7.
Toshiba rates the battery life of our review sample at up to 3 hours 35 minutes. This is far from stellar by today's standards — although models running the newer Intel i3-330 and i5-430 fare worse with maximum battery life quoted at up to 3 hours 15 minutes.
We tested the battery life by setting the power plan to Eco mode, which results in a fairly low screen brightness. We then played a DVD movie for as long as possible. Under these conditions we got 2 hours 6 minutes, with a pre-hibernation warning time of just 3 minutes. Taking this and Toshiba's estimates into account, we doubt you'd get a clear half day's work away from a mains socket.
The Satellite Pro U500 is a chunky but solidly built notebook. Unfortunately its weight and disappointing battery life make it less portable than a 13.3in. thin-and-light system should be.