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Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Short Review Of Toshiba Satellite L655-S5107 Laptop

My mother's old desktop was dying a slow and painful death, so it was decided that she would replace it with a laptop. No more bundles of wires running all over her desk, and in fact, perhaps, no desk to hold the computer at all. After much research, I settled on the Toshiba Satellite L655-S5107 laptop.

The laptop was ordered from and delivered within a few days. It cost $529 when I ordered it, but the price has since gone up to close to $600. I got to open up the package and set the computer up before repacking it and sending it off to my mother. I did not want her to be befuddled by the process of setting the computer up for the first time, hence this arrangement. The review is short because I got to play with the laptop for only a couple of days before it got shipped off again.

The package it came in was quite sturdy and held the laptop securely without any damage. But the power cord was not tucked in securely, so when I tilted the package from side to side, I could hear the power cord move around inside. I was a little concerned about what could have come loose and be rattling around inside the box, but was relieved when I opened the box and found it was just the power cord.

Apart from the laptop itself, the package contains a quick setup card, a 2-piece power cord, lots of promotional material from Toshiba, and a very slim user manual that was sealed in shrink-wrap. Most laptops nowadays seem to come with practically no instructions whatsoever, so the size of the manuals did not surprise me overly. I still remember 3 years back my Dell laptop came with 3 thick manuals that explained every aspect of the working of the laptop. Laptop manufacturers nowadays seem to want the user to figure everything out by trial and error, playing around with the laptop! There is no recovery media of any sort included either.

The laptop is a reasonably powerful 15.6" model. It has a dual core Intel Core i3-370M Processor, running at 2.40 GHz. Since each core of this processor is capable of hyperthreading, the computer effectively has 4 CPU's to spread its computing burden over. The computer also has 4 GB of RAM, 500 GB of hard disk space, and comes preloaded with Windows 7 Home Premium.

The 15.6" screen has a native resolution of 1366 x 768. Laptop screens are becoming flatter and flatter, and this is the latest stop in that process. My 3-year old 15.6" laptop has a 1280 x 800 screen. Eventually, 15.6" screens will be about 3 inches high and 15 inches long! But the shorter, wider screen means that there is enough space to accommodate a full-size keyboard on the machine that includes a numeric keypad on the right. The screen is glossy and gorgeous. It is LED-backlit, so it is bright and vibrant with great contrast.

The outside finish is called a fusion finish, and is black with small grey squares or rectangles in it. It is hard to describe, but the surface is very smooth. Two problems with this: be careful when you carry it around closed. If your fingers slip on the smooth surface, you are looking at a laptop bouncing around on the floor or crushing your foot! Secondly, keeping the surface of this laptop smudge and fingerprint-free is a full-time job. Better to not even try.

The laptop comes with a built-in 1.3MP webcam in addition to the usual stuff like 802.11 b/g/n wi-fi, a fully capable DVD/RW drive that can read and write anything short of blu-ray discs, 3 USB ports, and one e-SATA port that also doubles as a USB port. The battery is rated at 48 Wh (6 cells), and Toshiba claims a battery life of 5 hours and 31 minutes. But at the settings I tested it at (screen at full brightness, wi-fi on, etc.), it lasted only about 3 hours.

The built-in speakers are so-so for laptops. Laptop speakers have been on a downhill slide for the last several years, so I am not surprised by the weak, tinny speakers on this laptop. There are earphone and microphone plugs on the left hand side of the laptop, close to the front edge, so hooking up headphones to listen to stuff from the laptop should be straight-forward. The computer also has a built-in array microphone on either side of the webcam (that is built into the top frame of the screen, which is the usual position for webcams on laptops).

The hard disk does not have a recovery partition built-in. All of the 500 GB (actually the operating system reports about 453 GB for the reasons outlined here) is in one giant partition, fully accessible and useable by the end-user of the laptop. There are instructions on creating a recovery disk when you start using the laptop, but I did not have time to do so before the laptop got shipped out again. Oh well, if it crashes, I am sure Toshiba will be happy to ship out a recovery disk for some outrageous price!

Setup was quite easy with Windows 7 guiding me through the steps. The first time I turned the laptop on, the wi-fi did not come on for some reason. After fiddling with the settings for some time with no success, I rebooted the computer, and the wi-fi came on with no problems. I have not had any problems after that with the wi-fi, but I still do not know why it did not turn on the first time. The laptop is quick and responsive, and programs ran snappily and crisply.

There was a little bit of junkware on the computer when I set it up initially, but not as much as I expected. Toshiba has a bunch of utilities of questionable value pre-loaded on the laptop, but most are not intrusive, and do not nag about anything. The laptop already has Adobe Reader installed, ready to deal with PDF files. I cleaned out the rest of the junkware (such as Norton Internet Security suite) quickly and easily.

The rest of the laptop was pretty much standard as far as laptops go nowadays. Do not look for any hardware buttons to control things like speaker volumes, media playback, etc. Everything is controlled by function keys and software. The front of the laptop has a series of LED's that indicate things like whether it is on or off or in standby mode, whether the wi-fi is turned on, whether the hard disk is being accessed, the charge state of the battery, etc. These LED's are arranged so that they can be seen whether the laptop is closed or not. The laptop has no latches: the hinges are designed so that the laptop closes snugly after you close it beyond a certain point.

There is no clear demarcation of the touchpad from the rest of the case. You can tell where it is by the presence of the mouse buttons below it. I prefer some tactile boundary for the touchpad so that I can keep my eye on the screen while moving fingers on it without having to shift my eyes back and forth, but I was not overly put off by the design. There is a middle mouse button above the touchpad that provides a scroll-lock like functionality. The touchpad is multi-touch capable, so you can zoom in on images and webpages by using movements with multiple fingers at the same time. You can also scroll up and down without the presence of any specific scroll area on the touchpad, simply by moving up and down the touchpad with more than one finger.

So, overall, I liked the laptop quite a bit. Fast processor, lots of memory and hard disk space. Beautiful screen, wi-fi, lots of USB ports, built-in webcam and microphone, etc. Extras like the eSATA port. Quite a small amount of junk and bloatware on the hard disk as shipped, and what is there is easy to get rid of. The build seems solid, and if the computer is handled with care, I don't see any reason why it can't last for several years.

There were a few minor annoyances though. The main things I did not like about the computer, to summarize are:
  • Fingerprint-magnet finish
  • Weak speakers
  • The power cord plugs into the left side of the laptop rather than at the back. This means that the wires run all around the laptop if the power supply is not on the correct side of the laptop
  • No USB ports in the back of the laptop. Again a minor annoyance that could have you stringing wires all around the laptop to reach a useable port. But there are USB ports on either side of the laptop, so this is mitigated to a large extent
  • No recovery media or detailed user manual
  • No hardware control buttons for speaker volume, media playback, etc.
I would say it is well worth the price paid for it. Probably worth at least 4 stars out of 5.

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