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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  • Jmegapac - Friday, April 29, 2011 - link

    If you don't mind a Dell, I'd consider Dell Vostro 3450. It has the same configuration as the Toshiba laptop mentioned above except for a) Radeon HD 6630M, b) 320GB 7200RPM HDD, c) DVD writer instead of Bluray drive.

    It does have backlight keyboard and a fingerprint reader.

    I believe the total cost is around $780 or so excluding tax. If you can find a Dell coupon, you should be able to reduce the price even further.
  • JarredWalton - Friday, April 29, 2011 - link

    Thanks -- I've added a mention in the conclusion. Not seeing the $780 price for those features, though; where did you find that? I'm coming up with $964 at the time of writing, though perhaps you're talking about using a Dell business account to get a lower price?
  • Eidorian - Friday, April 29, 2011 - link

    I remember Laptop Magazine had a link through Logic Buy that discounted $220 the Vostro 3450 back in early April. It was rather tempting to get one of those with a Radeon 6630M and a three year warranty for $779.
  • ekerazha - Friday, April 29, 2011 - link

    About upcoming 14-inch notebooks with Sandy Bridge and a more powerful NVIDIA GPU (I've had too much issues with ATI GPUs), I'm aware of:

    - Acer Aspire TimelineX 4830T (GT 540M), but some reviews say that it has overheating/throttling issues and poor build quality.

    - Lenovo IdeaPad Y470 (GT 550M), but only 4 hours of battery life?

    - Asus U41SV (GT 540M)

    Unfortunately I think that they lack backlit keyboard.

    Did I miss any other notebook?
  • LoneWolf15 - Friday, April 29, 2011 - link

    You missed the main trifecta of business laptops, though they are now available for order.

    Dell Latitude E6420
    Lenovo ThinkPad T420

    The HP EliteBook 8460p has ATI Radeon Mobility 6470 graphics, but to me it qualifies as well. nVidia isn't without its issues on the mobile graphics front either.

    Both the Dell and Lenovo can have Optimus graphics. The Lenovo is lighter, and smaller; the Dell probably has better customer support. Both are built toughter than the models you mentioned, though. The Dell can have a backlit keyboard, and the ThinkPad has its ThinkLight which can shine down on the keyboard to illuminate it, and works well.
  • royalewihcheese - Friday, April 29, 2011 - link

    It's a pretty frustrating time to be in the market for a notebook. My previous one just bit the dust, and I'm on a five year old Acer now during the search. They're really dragging on getting Sandy Bridge notebooks to market, and when trying to browse for them, they're all grouped in with the older Core i3/i5/i7 models. It seems like there's a total lack of interest in putting out new notebooks.

    How much stock do you guys put in the Squaretrade reliability ratings? I've been happy with my two Acers, the last failure being the result of four years of pretty rough use, and they're rated pretty dismally there. Is it worth holding out for an ASUS (which I have a good impression of from using their motherboards for decades) or Toshiba (decidedly less favorable impression) to put out the dream-specced notebook?
  • jabber - Friday, April 29, 2011 - link

    ...all the stickers?

    Note ot manufacturers (including Microsoft) I really dont care or want them on my laptop!

    Just makes your products look cheaper out on the shelves, not smarter or better.

    Joe Average user doesnt have a clue what most of those "Turbo Boost" "Sonic Tunnel" i5" strickers mean anyway.
  • Ushio01 - Friday, April 29, 2011 - link

    WD40 is your friend here, it easily removes the loathsome sticky residue after you peel off all those annoying stickers.
  • jabber - Friday, April 29, 2011 - link

    Oh its not the taking off that bothers me its just they look so damn ugly and tacky stuck all over the chassis.

    You dont see that crap stuck all over Macbooks so why do it on non Mac kit?

    A simple spec sheet on the store shelf will do.

    Also most kit is probably bought online so it makes them even more pointless.
  • erple2 - Monday, May 2, 2011 - link

    Perhaps that's part of the Macintax - no labels costs a little bit more?

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