Finally, a Little Less Gloss

There have been a couple of manufacturers that historically have hit my pet peeves when it comes to notebook design. Clevo and Acer both have dire keyboards that they frustratingly cling to even in the face of the kind of progress Dell and HP tend to get swept up in, and Toshiba seemed to have invested whole hog in glossy plastic for the longest time. Mercifully, while Clevo and Acer still have those same awful keyboards, Toshiba got the hint from the success of the Portege R700, and has proven themselves a little more agile and willing to change.

The end result is an aesthetic that feels a little clunky, but is at least a major step in the right direction. While smooth glossy plastic is still present (particularly in my most hated of places, the screen bezel), it's used largely more as an accent than a style on the M645. The lid, palmrests, and area around the keyboard are all black and feature a pleasant patterning that's comfortable to use. In the most technical sense this is still glossy plastic, but it's heavily textured in such a way that's much more pleasing—it's the same look as seen on the A660-series laptops we've reviewed in the past, only in a smaller chassis.

In keeping with the times and proving that white is the new blue, Toshiba uses white LEDs for nearly all illumination on the M645, including indicators and the keyboard backlighting, with orange as a secondary color for the indicator LEDs on the front rim of the notebook. I can't complain; there are reasons why blue LEDs caught on the way they did, and the white ones are no different. They're just pleasing to look at.

As for the keyboard itself, the chiclet-style seems to be in vogue right now, and that's fine. Toshiba has a solid layout that's easy to use, and the flex that's present is fairly minimal. I'm disappointed that glossy plastic is used for the keys as it produces an odd texture when you slide your fingers across them, but at this point I just appreciate the progress compared to the big, flat, borderline-slick keys that permeated last generation Toshiba notebooks. At the moment the only manufacturer that seems to consistently nail keyboard designs to near-flawlessness is Lenovo; HP's double-high left and right arrow keys on their modern keyboards are downright bizarre, and Dell seems to still be trying to figure out exactly what kind of key surfaces to use. It's strange the kind of alchemy that continues to occur when it comes to keyboard design; the one part of the notebook that should be seeing the least change over the decades continues to see reinvention. But I digress; Toshiba's keyboard on the M645 is a major improvement on its predecessors, and a change in materials would finish the job.

Touchpads are also tricky things, but Toshiba wisely gets the texture right. These seem to be a matter of taste, but I've found two dedicated buttons along with a mildly textured surface is oftentimes the right call for me, and I had no trouble using the touchpad on the M645. The dedicated touchpad toggle is a constant and appreciated inclusion.

Unfortunately there are still a couple of places where I feel like Toshiba could stand some improvement in their overall designs. The M645 feels curiously bulbous compared to notebooks from competitors, machines that have generally gotten progressively sleeker and eschewed these rounded corners. That's a minor complaint; my major gripe still lies with the use of glossy plastic. It just doesn't belong on the bezel, but at least it's gradually phasing out of the market. The capacitive control strip above the keyboard also feels passe, and most people I know would rather use actual physical buttons than touch-based controls.

Finally, on the feature side, Toshiba made too many perplexing trades here. I appreciate the inclusion of a USB 3.0 port and a Blu-ray drive, and dedicated graphics in a 14-inch form factor are still all too rare in the mainstream notebook market, but why no gigabit ethernet? I'm also sad to see Samsung's hard drive division get sold off to Seagate while Toshiba's continues to plug away at producing mediocre notebook drives. Maybe it's a cost-saving measure, who can say? However, my experience with Toshiba drives is that they've always been the slowest of the slow (alongside Fujitsu). 640GB of space is generous, but most users would probably be willing to sacrifice some of that capacity for at least a higher spindle speed. Notebooks in the price bracket Toshiba targets with the M645 almost always include 7200RPM drives as a matter of course, making the dog slow 5400RPM drive in this notebook an outlier.

Introducing the Toshiba Satellite M645 Mainstream Performance
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  • james.jwb - Friday, April 29, 2011 - link

    There are plenty of corporations that behave exactly the same, in fact most do. Prepare to buy amost nothing ever again on that position. But i do agree with your general theme, it's just i can think are far worse companies to get angry with than intel, so i hope you have also informed yourself on some of those and are staying away, like coca cola, for instance. Reply
  • bji - Friday, April 29, 2011 - link

    I will never read a notebook review past those awful, horrendous display specs. Which cuts out alot of reviews. Reply
  • alephxero - Friday, April 29, 2011 - link

    Any word on when HP plans of releasing the Sandy Bridge update to their Envy14 line? I know the 17-inch models have had it for awhile now. Reply
  • TrackSmart - Friday, April 29, 2011 - link

    This keyboard looks suspiciously similar to the keyboards on the Toshiba Portege series laptops, yet the Porteges don't have backlit keyboards. It makes you wonder why their high-end ultraportable models are lacking this feature. Reply
  • LoneWolf15 - Friday, April 29, 2011 - link

    I don't call the glossy plastic still there, or the lack of a 1600x900 display or Intel wireless for a grand progress. My ThinkPad T420 didn't cost a lot more (it would have cost less had I skipped Optimus graphics) and I got all of those and a real Intel gig NIC instead of Realtek. I also got the extra features of a Core i5-2520M processor.

    The one thing I didn't get that the Toshiba has is Blu-Ray, but to me, that's a questionable need. I'd rather carry video around on my hard drive instead of discs.

    Jared, does the Toshiba still have the insane amount of bloatware (mostly in the form of multiple utilities, each taking the form of an individual executable rather than a few unified control-center type apps) they used to have? I found that highly annoying in the past, because it was extremely hard to tell what you did and didn't need, and the apps munched heavily into RAM because of the number of them.
    Reply
  • Maccollector - Friday, April 29, 2011 - link

    I might buy one of these as they don't look like too shabby. It is a bit pricey for what I would use it for though. I would definitely prefer a faster hard drive though. Thanks for the review! Reply
  • yyrkoon - Friday, April 29, 2011 - link

    If you're going to review a product, and compare it to others, you really should have some hands on with what you're comparing it to. Your guiding light seems to be performance, and features. Despite obviously never have laid hands on what you suggest as alternatives.

    What good is a feature, if the system using said feature is either quirky, or just completely unstable. Is having GbE eithernet more important than having drivers for every version of windows since Windows XP ? Probably, because that Sony VAIO you suggest is going to be down so often, you're going to need it to make up for lost time.

    Anyway, yes, if you're going to claim something is better than another, googling prices vs features is not going to cut it.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Saturday, April 30, 2011 - link

    So, um, "There are two laptops we'd seriously consider in the 14-inch market." And, "There you have it: six viable alternatives, but none of them comes off clearly superior in every category." Having not had a chance to review the Sony (or any of the other alternatives, other than the Dell XPS 15), we wouldn't actually states something is better or worse -- just an alternative to consider.

    As for your complaints, have you actually used the Sony we mentioned, or have you just had a bad experience with Sony in general? Because if it's the latter, you're doing even less than "googling prices vs. features". I can't find a good review of the Signature Collection C Series at present, but I wouldn't suggest Sony's consumer laptops are any worse than Dell, HP, Toshiba, Acer, etc. offerings. It looks reasonably nice at least, so maybe I'll see about looking around local stores to get an idea of what they're like in person.
    Reply
  • yyrkoon - Tuesday, May 3, 2011 - link

    No I have not put hands to that given model. However after being in the business of repairing systems for a living. You come to realize there are brand names that are reasonably consistent, and those that are not.

    After that. Go to Toshiba's website, and look at any laptop driver list. Every_single_driver_for_any_OS_since_WinXP. That is, concerning Windows. It does not matter if the laptop was a $400 budget model or not. *That* is what I call pride in a brand name. Have you ever tried retrograding/upgrading an Operating system on a Sony laptop ? To put it nicely, it is a very inconsistent experience. Acer, also is very inconsistent from my experiences.. But Dell, and HP both usually are decent so long as the "normal wear and tear" did not include treating the laptop as a Frisbee, or football. Most are not built with this in mind.

    Stability is a personal major concern. As I believe it is for anyone. However, after reading some of the reviews of this site. Apparently performance, and features matters more( to you ). Yes, yes, we all buy something because it has something we want. This is understood, and implied. However, if laptop-a is not consistently stable, but has GbE, where another laptop(laptop-b) is rock solid stable, but only has fast ethernet. Does that make laptop-a "better". No, it makes laptop-a *potentially* faster in networking. Assuming you can keep the system up long enough to use that luxury.

    The funny thing here, is that most of the time, GbE is no where near as fast as it should be. Even after protocol overhead. Most of the time, GbE ethernet on a home network runs at about 20-30% of its full capacity. Which as it turns out is 2-3x as fast as a good performing 100Mbit network. The average user would be better off transferring large amounts of data over USB2, or firewire. I would say eSATA, but eSATA can be very flaky from one device to the next. Sadly.

    So anyway. When this user gets ready to research a product for himself, a friend, or customer. Reading your reviews has nothing to do with the decision. Frankly, newegg user reviews offers more in that respect. If that fact cuts deep, then be glad in knowing you can do something about it. If not, then maybe you think I am a racist, or something, Since that seems to be the trend lately for anyone who does not agree with another's methods.
    Reply
  • randinspace - Friday, April 29, 2011 - link

    Right when SB came out Toshiba crept a few i7 models (with a nvidia card, though which one fails me) into retail stores with the 15.6" version of that chasis for $900. It didn't have blu-ray and I didn't care, and US 3.0 would have been nicer than eSATA for me but I snagged it anyway. Then it was recalled. Then my ancient laptop stopped working and since I needed SOMETHING I picked up a heavily discounted MSI notebook (not netbook...) with AMD's E-350 in it and uh... I kind of wish I'd taken my chances with the eSATA failing on me at some point and kept the Toshiba. Mostly because of the horrible screen on this laptop which actually has NO viewing angle no matter how much I tinker with the Catalyst Control Center, but it also somehow started trying to boot from my external hard drive and I barely figured out how to stop it from doing that before having to take it back.

    Eh hem sorry to vent there, it's just been a stupid year for me and laptops. At least this thing doesn't have a tendency to freeze when I have Word 07, Chrome, and Foobar2000 open like my old laptop would. At the end of the day that's all that matters, right? Now if only I could do something about the 'A' key's tendency to not register my presses...
    Reply

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