Toshiba makes laptops like Volvo makes cars: sturdy, well-featured, but not always inspiring. Midsize Toshiba Satellite laptops tend to blend together in terms of design, and the Satellite M645-S4055 falls into that camp. Yet, it’s also a higher-end midrange laptop that focuses on what Toshiba seems to do best: namely, offer high-quality audio and video in a package with good hardware specs.
If you’re looking for a laptop that doubles as a portable home theater and game center, the Satellite M645-S4055 is worth a look. At $1,049, it’s not cheap, but its specs are very competitive with offerings from other manufacturers. An upscaling DVD player, fast graphics, and excellent built-in speakers almost make up for a lack of Blu-ray player or Intel Wireless Display (we’d expect one or both for the price), and an underperforming included battery also mars the package a bit.
The thick chassis of the Satellite M645-S4055 shares a lot in common with other Toshiba Satellites of late, using a slightly new design template. Both on the outer lid and throughout the keyboard deck, a raised patterned texture on the black plastic (official called Fusion X2 Finish in Charcoal) gives the unit a slightly glossy look without attracting too many fingerprints. The look seems to work better on the outer lid than on the inside, where the busy texture clashes a little with the LED-lit media keys and touch pad. Still, the patterned texture felt good under our palms; in fact, the raised palm rest seemed cooler and more comfortable than in other recent Satellites.
A raised Chiclet-style keyboard, originally seen on Toshiba Netbooks but now an across-the-line standard, feels great when typing, and is also backlit. On the negative side, keys are slightly small and tightly positioned, with a glossy finish that doesn’t offer great traction. A line of dedicated right-side keys for home, page up/down, and end also shorten the Enter and Shift keys, making them harder to find.
Next to the power button, a row of touch-sensitive media keys positioned between the speakers control start/pause, volume, Wi-Fi on/off, and an energy-saving mode toggle. The volume button is nice to have but is not quite sensitive enough, as touch volume controls often are.
The matte multitouch touch pad has good sensitivity and felt comfortable under our fingers, midsize and perfectly adequate–although it exhibited the same slightly laggy multitouch we find on many Windows 7 laptops. An odd LED above the touch pad did nothing but distract. Curved buttons on the bottom were well-sized and had a solid click.
The 14-inch LED-backlit glossy 16:9 LCD display on the Satellite M645-S4055 doesn’t stand out at first glance (it has a native resolution of 1,366 x 768 pixels, standard for this size), but its colors seem true, and graphics seem to pop a little more than normal. Viewing angles are also better than average; it’s a very good screen.
Even better are the Harman Kardon stereo speakers, situated above the keyboard. Boomy, rich, and very good for music, they’re easily some of the best we’ve heard on a midrange laptop. Simulated surround actually works, and the whole audio package makes this Satellite an excellent little home theater.
There’s even a bonus for travelers looking for a portable speaker system; it’s called Toshiba Sleep and Music. When activated, this laptop can be used as a portable speaker system for a connected music player such as an iPod, activating its speakers even when the laptop’s sleeping or turned off. It’s a clever trick that makes the most out of those Harman Kardons.
The Satellite M645-S4055 doesn’t have a Blu-ray drive, but it has a slot-loading DVD burner located on the front left side of the system. A small physical button beneath ejects discs, and the included Toshiba DVD-playing software upscales content to look better than on most systems.
A 640×480-pixel Webcam offered crisp-looking resolution for video, but contrast levels favored the background and often led to overly dark faces.
As befits the price of this laptop, there is an above-average collection of ports and connectivity features. Bluetooth is included, as are less-common extras such as an ExpressCard slot and an eSATA combo USB port. That port also acts as a sleep-and-charge port for recharging devices when the laptop is asleep or turned off.
The CPU and GPU on this Satellite are both above-average, too. A speedy Core i5 processor handles nearly every task thrown at it pretty speedily, and offers excellent video streaming. This laptop also has an Nvidia GeForce GT330M GPU, which gave us some of the fastest-performing graphics we’ve seen outside of a “gaming” laptop. Unreal Tournament III ran at a blazing 105.4 frames per second at native 1,366×768-pixel resolution, beating out the HP Envy 14 by comparison. This Satellite also has Optimus automatic-switching graphics technology, which powers down the dedicated graphics automatically when not in use to conserve battery life. It’s a useful trick that we’re seeing in more and more laptops with graphics, and though it’s nothing you’ll notice (it’s an invisibly working technology, after all), for laptops with graphics it’s a nice add to have. We wouldn’t call this Satellite a gamer’s laptop, but it handles mainstream gaming extremely well.