The Toshiba Satellite U920T is a 12.5-inch convertible Windows 8 ultrabook with a display that slides down over the keyboard to transform into a touchscreen tablet. What we want to know is, does the U920T combine the best of both worlds? Will it succeed where so many other convertible laptops we've reviewed have failed? We'll see...
Pulling the Satellite U920T out of the box, the first thing you see is a glossy screen framed with glossy black plastic. It's good quality plastic, but highly sensitive to finger smudges. A neat freak could spend all day wiping it down, because every time you open it, close it or use the touchscreen in tablet mode, you leave big, fat traces all over the surface. If you're a wanted criminal, you'd better not leave it sitting in a café where anyone can grab it, because the cops will have a field day with it.
To open the device into laptop mode, you slide the display back, exposing the keyboard (as shown above), and then tilt the screen up to whatever angle you want it at (as shown below).
When the screen and keyboard are both deployed, the hinges connecting the two are left out in the open; careful how you handle it!
When in laptop mode, it's best not to grab the U920T by the screen, as you could harm certain parts of the display, such as the black strip at the bottom of the screen that you use to slide it open.
The keys on the keyboard are low-lying chiclet keys that are a tad smaller than usual, but not so much that it makes it difficult to type. They aren't backlit, but they're extra quiet. Even the space bar—usually the loudest key of all—is barely audible.
We weren't as impressed with the touchpad. It's absurdly small, making it difficult to do multitouch gestures. Of the three ways of interacting with this device (the touchpad, keyboard and touchscreen), the touchpad is easily the least practical. However, Toshiba was kind enough to include a video demonstrating the touch gestures in the driver, which is always convenient.
The third way to interact with Windows 8 is the touchscreen. And it works well—both in tablet and laptop mode, the touchscreen understands your commands correctly and precisely.
Then again, the U920T is a bit too heavy (1.5 kg) to hold comfortably as a tablet. We found the best way to hold it was to cradle it in your inner forearm as though it were a baby and then use your other hand to tap and swipe (as shown above).
Another drawback is how big the U920T is as a tablet. In landscape mode, you can't really use your thumbs to type quickly on the virtual keyboard, the way you would on a smartphone or an under-10-inch tablet. You can do this in portrait mode, but then you really feel the weight of the object when holding it from the bottom.
If you move your hands up and hold them closer to the middle of the tablet to get a better weight balance (as shown here), you end up blocking some of the air ventilations on the bottom and sides.
Heat readings with the components under stress.
Images taken with a Fluke Ti25 thermal imaging camera.
The Satellite U920T doesn't get particularly hot when running, but when you stress the components with processor-heavy applications the air coming out of the vents can get as high as 40.6° C (105° F). Watch out for your fingers when holding it as a tablet!
The fan stays quiet when you're doing productivity tasks (Word, Excel, etc.) and browsing the Internet, but once you start using bigger applications it really kicks in and gets noisy—up to 45 dB(A). So in a quiet room you'll notice the constant hum. If you prefer a quiet computer, this may not be the one for you.
The connectivity is rather limited. There are just five ports, spread out on three of the four edges of the chassis: two USB 3.0 ports, an HDMI out, a headphone/microphone combo jack and an SD card reader. While a third USB port would have been nice, an RJ45 port would have been even more practical, for connecting to the Internet or local networks by other means than just Wi-Fi.
Like the Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 11, the buttons are on the right edge of the computer. The ON/OFF button is hard and doesn't stick out, so you're not likely to hit it by accident. Next to it are the volume button and the screen rotation lock button.
One of the great advantages with laptop/tablet hybrids is that brands practically have no choice but to use something other than a TN screen. Usually, that means you can expect to be able to look at the screen from different angles without having the image go dark due to the tight viewing angles produced by TN displays. While there are some entry-level models that have TN screens anyway, Toshiba isn't one. They used an IPS display.
The IPS display (1366 x 768 resolution) gives an excellent contrast ratio of 870:1. Unfortunately, the high contrast is marred by colours that are far from perfect (Delta E = 6.1) and a glossy surface that gives off serious reflections and glare. There's even more glare when you're outdoors because the screen brightness barely goes above 200 cd/m².
The Toshiba Satellite U920T has an Intel Core i3-3217U processor. While it may not be the fastest ultrabook of its kind, it does allow you to undertake pretty much any task, including 3D modelling and video encoding. By comparison, the Toshiba Portégé Z930 costs a bit less and has a beefier Intel Core i5-3317U, which chips about 10% off the average processing time.
The 128 GB solid-state drive (only 101 GB of which are accessible to the user, the rest being taken up by the operating system) combined with Windows 8 makes for good responsiveness. You can especially tell the difference during startup (15 seconds), during shutdown, (8 seconds) and when waking it up out of sleep mode, which is practically instantaneous.
Like most ultrabooks, gaming is where the specs take a hit. The Intel HD 4000 chipset does what it can, but barring a few small games and HD videos, it quickly finds itself out of its element (3DMark06 score: 4330).
The audio through the headphone/mic combo jack is relatively clean. There's no distortion and the volume goes quite high for this type of device.
Frequency response: speakers
Green = good / Orange = tolerable / White = too heavily altered
Green = good / Orange = tolerable / White = too heavily altered
However, the speaker volume is incredibly low. The distortion, which you could describe as the difference between the output signal and the sound that actually comes out of the speakers, stays low, even at low volume.
MOBILITY / BATTERY LIFE
The battery lasts 4 hours and 15 minutes during continuous video playback with headphones plugged in, the screen brightness at cd/m² and Wi-Fi turned off. That's far from catastrophic, but, once again, it's less than the Portégé Z930, which holds out for an extra 45 minutes.