- Review Date: 04/11/2012
- Bottom line: The Toshiba Satellite C655-S5542 is Toshiba's shot at delivering a solid laptop for $400.
- Pros: Inexpensive. Comfortable keyboard. Bluetooth.
- Cons: No USB 3.0, HDMI, WiDi. Only 3GB of RAM. Mediocre performance.
Forget space. The real final frontier is the under-$500 laptop market, where vendors try to match or undercut netbook and Chromebook prices while delivering full-fledged desktop replacements—or half-fledged, anyway, as state-of-the-art features like USB 3.0 and Intel Wireless Display (WiDi) are usually left out for savings' sake. Not long ago we looked at and gave an ultra-budget Editors' Choice to Wal-Mart's Acer Aspire 5349-2635 ($348.98 list, 4 stars). Now we're examining Toshiba's latest entry into this hot corner of the consumer segment, the Satellite C655-S5542 ($399.99 list).
Laptops in this niche don't pretend to be all-around performers like our budget Editors' Choice Asus U56E-BBL6 ($699.99 list, 4 stars). They're intended mostly for word processing, Web surfing, email, and social networking (the Toshiba has a Skype sticker next to its webcam), or as a family's third or fourth PC or a child's homework machine. Like the Aspire 5349-2635, the Satellite C655-S5542 is a 15.6-inch portable featuring Intel's humble Celeron B815 processor and a 320GB hard drive; even more modestly than the Aspire, it carries only 3GB instead of 4GB of RAM.
The Satellite is attractive enough, encased in black plastic with a crosshatched—or what Toshiba calls Trax—pattern. It's not too heavy (5.1 pounds) or bulky (1.6 by 15 by 9.8 inches, HWD) to fit in most briefcases or backpacks, though you'll never mistake it for an ultrabook. The screen shows some minimal flexing when grasped at the corners, but the system feels solid overall.
The keyboard is in the conventional jigsaw instead of island, tile, or chiclet style (i.e., there are no empty spaces between keys). It has a comfortably soft but not mushy typing feel with adequate travel and half-sized but dedicated Home, End, PgUp, and PgDn keys above the numeric keypad, which has a handy LED light to indicate Num Lock. Two speakers above the keyboard pump out adequately loud but nearly bass-free audio.
The 15.6-inch display offers the 1,366-by-768 resolution that's become the universal default for inexpensive laptops (and some not-so-inexpensive laptops), sufficient for 720p video viewing and light image editing. It's not the brightest—white backgrounds look adequately white only on the top backlight setting—but its colors and viewing angles are good.
We mentioned that WiDi is not supported, but Wi-Fi worked perfectly in our browsing and downloading sessions, and there's one wireless perk the Acer 5349-2635 doesn't have: Bluetooth, for syncing data with or downloading MP3s to a smartphone.
The menu of available ports, by contrast, is limited to two USB 2.0, 10/100Mbps Fast rather than Gigabit Ethernet, and VGA, along with microphone and headphone jacks. All are on the left side of the Satellite's chassis, with the DVD±RW drive occupying the right. An SD/MMC card reader hides on the front bezel. Missing in action are USB 3.0 and HDMI.
Toshiba preloads the 320GB, 5,400rpm hard drive with a 30-day trial of Norton Internet Security, Google Chrome, a handy Corel CD/DVD label and jewel case insert printing utility, and 20-odd Toshiba-brand utilities ranging from the usual (a recovery media creator, face recognition for the webcam) to the intriguing (a thumbnail timeline view of accessed files). Toshiba's warranty for the Satellite C655-S5542 is one year.
Intel's Celeron B815 is a 1.6GHz dual-core CPU without Turbo Boost or Hyper-Threading. Given its pairing with only 3GB of memory, we expected leisurely performance, but the Toshiba proved tolerable for Web and office productivity work—and even completed our multimedia benchmark tests a few seconds quicker than the Acer Aspire 5349-2635, which has the same processor with 4GB of memory (3 minutes 2 seconds versus 3:05 in Handbrake; 7:36 versus 7:40 in Photoshop CS5).
Neither of the ultra-affordable laptops could complete our PCMark 7 test, as they got stuck in a video loop that benchmark maker Futuremark attributes to a known issue with some low-end integrated graphics. And gaming is pretty much out of the question, with the Satellite managing only 10.9 frames per second (fps) in Crysis and 12.8fps in Lost Planet 2 at medium (1,024-by-768) settings.
The thrifty Toshiba was, however, one of the few laptops we've tested to exceed its advertised battery life—the vendor's website rates it at four and three-quarters hours, but our test unit's 48Wh battery lasted for 5:31 in our MobileMark 2007 rundown test. That's 35 minutes longer than the Acer survived, but shy of the 6:16 posted by the Acer Aspire 5750-6667 ($499.99 list, 4 stars) and 7:42 of the Asus U56E-BBL6 .
We think the Acer Aspire 5349-2635's fourth gigabyte of RAM, third USB 2.0 port, HDMI port, and $50 lower price outweigh the Toshiba Satellite C655-S5542's Bluetooth, so we're keeping the Acer as our Editors' Choice in the under-$500 category. But the Satellite is a solid contender for shoppers on a tight budget—as if there were any other kind of shoppers in this segment.
This review is in partnership with Ziff Davis Media.