Toshiba Satellite U405 all-purpose laptop

Ultraportable laptops priced under a grand are still relatively rare. The same can be said for slim, sexy notebooks that weigh close to four pounds. That’s changing, though, and Toshiba’s $949 Satellite U405-S2854 satisfies in all the important areas: It offers decent performance, an enormous hard drive, and even bundled Microsoft office applications.

Let it be said, up front, that the U405’s most distinguishing feature is its preternatural gloss. I kept looking for the edge of the just-out-of-the-box protective coating to peel off so that I could get a look at the real keyboard, but nope, that’s the real finish. The thick sheen, Toshiba’s “Fusion with Horizon” pattern, doesn’t get in the way of typing; it just takes some getting used to. Add in the hot-white status LEDs that pierce the dark case like searchlights, and it’s quite a head-turning combo. Can the same be said of the 13.3-inch 1280-by-800-pixel screen? Absolutely. Glossy and bright, it’s plenty readable in most lighting conditions, indoors or out. Viewed dead-on, it looks great. At wider angles, it isn’t quite as sharp–but, really, we’re talking about a tiny screen here.

At 4.6 pounds, the U405-S2854 just misses out on qualifying as an ultraportable. (The way our standards are right now, a laptop must have a screen smaller than 13.3 inches and weigh under four pounds to count as an ultraportable.) The power adapter adds almost another pound. Considering that its battery life tested a bit below average at about 3.5 hours (the Lenovo ThinkPad SL400 lasted a hair over five hours, by comparison), you’ll want to take the adapter along. Even with that part in the bag, this isn’t an onerous machine to carry, weighing a total of 5.5 pounds.

Speed is fairly average on the U405-S2854. Equipped with a 2-GHz Core 2 Duo T5750 processor and 3GB of RAM, this Windows Vista Home Premium laptop earned a score of 80 in our WorldBench six tests. It kept in line with Lenovo’s ThinkPad SL400 (which garnered an 84), but it didn’t match the ability of Micro Express’s JFL9226 monster machine to power through tests (as that model notched a 103). In short, Toshiba’s U405-S2854 is no speed demon by any stretch, but it is fast enough to handle basic applications, with the exception of fancy, high-end games (thank the lackluster integrated graphics for that).

Well equipped overall, the U405-S2854 offers a recordable-DVD drive, three USB ports, a FireWire port, and a Webcam with a built-in microphone. Dedicated SD Card and ExpressCard/54 slots, the latter with a nice spring-loaded blank, keep your expansion opportunities open. Both the memory slots and the hard drive are user-upgradable, too. The generous 320GB hard drive should delight data pack rats. The included Microsoft Works 9.0 suite will keep small offices happily computing.

Toshiba, of course, offers better sound on its laptops than you can find on the average notebook. The company has been consistently committed to good mobile audio. But from a laptop this small, it’s difficult to eke out good sound, and as a result, you get a slightly tinny–but forgivable–experience. That’s what headphones are made for, right?

The biggest concessions you might miss: gigabit ethernet and a modem port, two wired-communications options that most laptops still offer. The U405-S2854 is fully equipped for wireless communications, though, with both Bluetooth and 802.11g Wi-Fi antennas.

The U405-S2854 is not a crème-de-la-crème ultraportable or a bargain-basement all-purpose laptop, but it is a reasonably affordable–and reasonably slick–consumer-class laptop. It’s light enough to take along every time, and a decent performer. And if you like your electronics bright and shiny, you’ll love this flashy-looking unit.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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