- Review Date: 9/17/2013
- Bottom line: The Toshiba Satellite S55t-A5277 offers category leading performance and a healthy feature set, but the ho-hum design and short battery life keep it from ranking higher.
- Pros: Great performance from fourth-gen Intel Core i7 processor and Nvidia graphics. Touch screen. DVD drive reads and burns to disc. A sizeable 1TB hard drive offers lots of storage capacity.
- Cons: Display is only 720p. Battery life is a little short.
Looking for a desktop replacement notebook for less than a grand? The Toshiba Satellite S55t-A5277 has plenty to offer, like a 15.6-inch touch screen, a rich feature set, and superb performance thanks to a fourth-generation Intel Core i7-4700MQ procecssor and Nvidia GeForce GT 740M discrete GPU. It may not be the most portable laptop around, but for the user who is likely to keep close to home, the blend of performance and features make it a smart buy.
The Toshiba Satellite S55t weds mostly plastic construction with a layer of brushed aluminum across the lid and palmrest, adding a luxurious note to an otherwise utilitarian design. The combination of plastic and aluminum is a little thick and bulky, measuring 1.2 by 15.2 by 9.9 inches (HWD) and weighing 5.3 pounds.
The 15.6-inch display is a bit plain with only 1366-by-768 resolution, but for a touch-capable system, we wouldn't expect more without a bump in price. The HP Spectre XT TouchSmart Ultrabook 15-4010nr, for example, offers a 1080p touch screen, but costs considerably more.
Just below the display is a speaker grill concealing two Harman/Kardon speakers. Paired with DTS Studio Sound, the overall sound quality is very good, with a wide volume range and clear sound even when turned up high. The bass was a little weaker than I'd like, but you'll still be able to enjoy a bass-heavy song. You can also tweak the sound to your liking with the DTS Sound Studio, which includes several audio optimization tools.
The Satellite S55t features a full-size chiclet keyboard and 10-key numeric pad, complete with LED backlight. Unlike the compact numeric pad seen on the Asus VivoBook V551LB-DB71T, the Toshiba keeps the same key shape and spacing as the rest of the keyboard, which should make things a bit more comfortable for anyone doing data entry or working in spreadsheets.
The accompanying clickpad has a plasticy surface, but it's responsive and the integrated right and left buttons didn't give us any trouble during testing. The touchpad also gestures like two-fingered scrolling and zoom, along with Windows 8 gestures, such as swiping in from the edges to access the Charms Bar or cycle through open apps.
On the front edge of the laptop is an SD card slot. Two USB 3.0 ports are on the side, with a third USB 2.0 port featuring Sleep-and-Charge, letting you use it to power and charge your phone or media player even when the laptop is powered off. A LAN connection gives you wired Gigabit Ethernet, while the laptop is also equipped with 802.11n Wi-Fi.
A tray-loading optical drive (DVD+-RW dual-layer) is on one side, and features video upscaling to make standard definition content look better on the 720p screen or when connected to an HDTV through the HDMI output. A VGA output also lets you connect to a second monitor or projector.
Internally, the Satellite S55t is outfitted with a 1TB hard drive, offering copious space for all of your stuff, even a sizeable media collection. Toshiba regularly includes a number of preinstalled programs and apps on its systems, and the Satellite S55t is no exception, with more than a dozen proprietary and third-party apps already on the system at purchase, including regular Microsoft offerings, like Skype, Internet Explorer 10, and a 30-day trial of Office 365. There are additional 1-month trials of Norton Anti-Theft, Norton Internet Security, and Norton Online Backup. Toshiba also throws in its own app store (Toshiba AppPlace), ebook store (BookPlace), and some game extras from EA Games and WildTangent Games. Toshiba covers the Satellite S55t with a one-year limited warranty.
The Satellite S55t is equipped with a fourth-generation quad-core processor, the Intel Core i7-4700MQ (2.4GHz), paired with an impressive 12GB of RAM. The new CPU is a full generation ahead of the Ivy Bridge processors found in the HP Spectre XT TouchSmart and Dell Inspiron 15z (I15Z-4801SLV), and the extra ram will help keep performance feeling pretty speedy even after a few months, and you likely won't ever need to upgrade the RAM, though you could bump it up to 16GB.
The combination of a quad-core processor and 12GB of RAM produced solid results in our various tests. It finished PCMark 7 with 4,924 points, pulling ahead of the Asus VivoBook V551LB (3,176 points) and the HP Spectre XT TouchSmart (4,720 points). In the processor intensive Cinebench R11.5, it scored 5.84 points, a dramatic improvement over the likes of the Asus VivoBook V551LB-DB71T (2.92 points) and the Dell Inspiron 15z (2.89 points). That difference also translated into dramatically improved performance in Handbrake, finishing the video transcoding test in 39 seconds, while the Asus VivoBook V551LB-DB71T and the Dell Inspiron 15z both took more than a minute to complete the same task.
Performance was also boosted thanks to the inclusion of an Nvidia GeForce GT 740M graphics processor with 2GB of dedicated memory. Thanks to the extra processing hardware, the Satellite S55t completed 3DMark 11 with scores of 3,245 points (Entry) and 560 (Extreme). In our gaming tests, the Satellite S55t eked out 23 frames per second in both Heaven and Aliens vs. Predator, when set to low detail settings. As such, we can't recommend it for any sort of serious gaming, but you should be able to enjoy less demanding games like Team Fortress 2. The graphics card includes Nvidia's Optimus automatic switching, which extends battery life by switching to Intel integrated graphics solution when the discrete GPU isn't needed.
In our rundown test the Satellite S55t lasted 3 hours 41 minutes, which isn't terrible for a smaller 4-cell 43Wh battery, but you will need to bring along the AC adapter for anything more than a long lunch. In stark contrast, the Asus VivoBook V551LB-DB71T lasted a stunning 7:47, but it easily leads the category, which averages closer to 4 hours.
The Toshiba Satellite S55t-A5277 may not be as portable as we'd like--it's a little bulky, and the battery life is on the shorter side--but the overall performance leads the competition, making it hard to ignore. The design is a bit drab, and the 720p display left us wanting more, but it does offer a decent set of features, making the Toshiba Satellite S55t-A5277 worth a good look from anybody in the market for a desktop replacement.
This review is in partnership with PCMag.com.