Toshiba Satellite M45-S351
At a Glance
If I were in the market for a wide screen, I could do worse than the handsome black-and-silver Toshiba Satellite M45-S351. At 6.3 pounds, it's fairly thin and lightweight for a portable with a 15.4-inch TruBrite screen. It also offers pretty good built-in sound--all the better to enjoy it as a stand-alone CD and DVD movie player. A dedicated CD/DVD button located in a special media panel flanking the left side of the keyboard launches the Toshiba Express Media Player, a Linux application. Pop a CD in the right-side DVD burner and the screen displays date, time, and track information in a pleasantly blue-hued CD Player application. Media panel buttons pause, play, stop, and switch tracks. You can use the media panel's Pause/Play, and Stop buttons with DVD movies, too, but the real media control center is the notebook's keyboard. In both CD and DVD modes, pressing <F1> pops up a fairly complex on-screen cheat sheet of hot-keys. Although I found controlling my music and movies this way annoying at first, I quickly appreciated the convenience it offers in the absence of a remote control. For instance, pressing <Ctrl>-S shuffles CD songs; <Ctrl>-R repeats. While watching a DVD you can quickly jump around chapters by simply pressing the number in the top row of keys. You can also instantly replay a scene, fast-forward the action, or reverse it, among many other options. The Harman Kardon speakers in the top corners of the keyboard ring out loud and clear.
The overall case design is convenient, with a volume wheel, a wireless switch, and a four-in-one card reader all handily located on the front, and with the slots cleverly protected by a sliding door. The remaining connections include everything you could need, including three USB 2.0 ports, a FireWire port, and an S-Video-out port for using a TV as a display. Two accessible memory slots and a removable hard drive should make upgrades easy.
The keyboard offers a soft, shallow typing action that felt fine. I found the dark gray lettering on the black function keys a little hard to read, and I don't like my <Delete> key buried in the lower-right row; otherwise the touchpad-equipped keyboard's layout is easy to use. At its native resolution of 1280 by 800 pixels, the M45-S351's screen icons are large enough to read comfortably, which is not the case on some ultrahigh-resolution wide screens.
The M45-S351 lasted 3 hours, 7 minutes on one battery charge, dead average for laptops we've tested in the last year. Speed with the 1.73-GHz Pentium M 740-equipped portable was less impressive, resulting in a WorldBench 5 score of 69. A 1.7-GHz/600-MHz Pentium M-equipped Sony VAIO VGN-A190 we tested scored 81, about 17 percent faster. Toshiba's own Tecra M3, also tested for our July 2005 issue, earned a score of 77--over 11 percent faster. While minor, those differences could cost you a few seconds if you're doing heavy data crunching.
Although very detailed overall, the M45-S351's Acrobat manual is far from perfect, bungling the location of features such as the optical drive (described as being on the left side). But most glaring is its botched description of the CD/DVD button that turns the notebook into such a nice multimedia machine. The manual mentions it in passing as useful for playing CDs. Even if you figure out that the Media Express Player has a DVD mode, too, there's no way of knowing about the keyboard controls unless you take your cue from the mini <F1> menu always on display in CD mode. Toshiba said an update of the manual is in the works.
In addition to being a fine wide-screen notebook, the Satellite M45-S351 makes a good stand-alone CD and DVD player on the side.
Toshiba Satellite M45-S351
WorldBench 5 score of 69, 1.73-GHz Pentium M 740 processor, 512MB of DDR333 SDRAM, Windows XP Home, 15.4 wide screen, 100GB hard drive, DVD+RW drive, built-in V.92 modem and 10/100 ethernet, 802.11g, touchpad pointing device, 7.3-pound weight (including AC adapter). One-year parts and labor warranty, 24-hour daily toll-free support.