With a maximum thickness that barely approaches 17mm and a weight that's only just over 1.1kg, the 13.3in Toshiba Satellite Z930 is clearly one of the shining examples of what conventional Ultrabooks can and should be. It also packs a great amount of power within its thin chassis, thanks to a third generation Intel Core i5 CPU and a fast solid state drive, and it doesn't sacrifice much when it comes to connectivity.
Design and user comfort
Physically, the Satellite Z930 is similar to the Portege Z930 that we have already reviewed, with the main difference being the screen on the Satellite, which is glossy rather than matte, and also the lack of a SIM card slot on the side. The Portege is a business model equipped with a vPro chip that allows it to be more easily managed when rolled out in a corporate setting, and it also features biometric security and TPM. The Satellite is a consumer model and lacks those management and security features, but for anyone who doesn't need those features and who values great portability, it represents great value.
We spent a lot of time with the Satellite Z930 during our test period and used it extensively on a day-to-day basis. It's the type of Ultrabook which, at first, can feel a little bit uncomfortable due to its shallow keyboard (the chassis is only 10mm thick on it's own after all), but the more we used it, the more we comfortable we got with it. In fact, we found it a rather pleasant Ultrabook to use for prolonged periods of typing, whether on a sturdy desk on our lap.
The keyboard has a chiclet style layout with keys that are 15mm wide and very soft to hit. As mentioned, they don't have much travel, but after a while you get used to them and they start to feel quite comfortable. We like the fact that it's a backlit keyboard, which can be always-on or controlled by a timer. It's great for typing in any sorts of dark environments.
Furthermore, the light weight of the Satellite Z930 allows you to use it on your lap with ease — and it's so light you can easily lift it and hold it up with one hand while you fiddle with your belongings or change position in your seat (if taking notes during a presentation, for example). The fan in the chassis doesn't make any noticeable noise when the Ultrabook is used for document creation, basic Web browsing and photo viewing. It does spin very quickly and makes a noticeable rushing sound when the CPU or graphics processors need to work at their maximum load for a while.
We don't think that the screen on the Satellite Z930 is great, primarily because it has a glossy finish that can reflect light sources behind you, and also because it has vertical angles that are narrow. However, once we found the sweet spot viewing angle, it was a fine screen on which to consume photos, videos and documents. It's a bright screen that can be seen relatively easily in all sorts of well-lit environments; at the same time it's brightness can be manually turned down to a comfortably low viewing level in dark environments. However, a low brightness level combined with an illuminated keyboard backlight means you can sometimes see key reflections in the screen while using the notebook at night.
The touchpad is 85x50mm in size and has separate left- and right-click buttons rather than featuring a clickpad style with the buttons housed underneath the pad itself. It's a touchpad that was mostly responsive during our test period, and it performed multi-finger gestures such as two-finger scrolling and three-finger flicks without us having to repeat ourselves. The texture of the pad is a little too resistive for out liking — we would prefer a much smoother finish, and the left- and right-click keys are not the easiest to use because of the way they are set in the chassis; for example, they can be quite difficult to press with your thumb while trying to perform one-handed right-click-and-drag operations.
Even though it's such a thin and light Ultrabook, it doesn't feel compromised when it comes to build quality. The chassis is sturdily constructed and doesn't bend when you handle the Ultrabook with one hand from either corner; the screen itself is only about 4mm thick, designed to flex a little, and is held by hinges that are smooth and not overly stiff. In fact, the screen does sometimes have a tendency to lean forward on its own if you move the chassis up and down with reasonable force — for example, when picking up the unit after using it in your lap.
It's worth noting that because the screen is so thin and flexible, you shouldn't place any pressure on top of the notebook while the lid is closed — you could end up with an ever-so-slight keyboard outline on the screen's glossy finish if you do. Furthermore, the finish on the lid and chassis can be tarnished if you regularly carry around the Satellite in a backpack in between books, for example, without placing in a protective sleeve.
The majority of the Satellite's ports are located along the spine of the chassis. These include Gigabit Ethernet, two USB 2.0 ports, a full-sized HDMI port, a VGA port and the power port. We like the location of these ports, which are convenient when using the laptop on a desk setting to access a wired network and a bigger display. However, we would have liked the USB 2.0 ports to be USB 3.0 ports instead. The sole USB 3.0 port on the Satellite is located on the right side just next to the cable lock facility. The left side has separate headphone and microphone ports, as well as an SD card slot.
On the inside, you get a webcam, Bluetooth and 802.11n Wi-Fi. Unfortunately, the Wi-Fi is an Atheros AR9485WB-EG module, which only supports single-band operation. We would have preferred an Intel Centrino chip with dual-band radios and WiDi support, but if you don't have requirements for dual-band or WiDi, then the Atheros chip will be just fine.
When it comes to performance, the Satellite Z930 won't be a disappointment. It features an Intel Core i5-3317U processor that includes Intel HD 4000 graphics, and you get a generous 6GB of RAM to go along with it. Additionally, storage is provided by a 128GB solid state drive that proved to be very fast in our tests. It's safe to say that for typical office work (think word processing, presentation creation, spreadsheets and Web browsing), as well as photo editing, multimedia viewing and chatting, the Satellite won't let you down. It will even be able to perform tougher tasks such as video encoding and a limited amount of editing if you let it — even though it's not really designed to work hard for long periods of time.
In our Blender 3D and iTunes MP3 encoding tests, respective times of 49sec and 57sec were recorded. These times compare favourably against other Core i5-3317U Ultrabooks, such as Toshiba's own U840W and also HP's Envy Spectre XT. In our AutoGordianKnot test, where we convert a DVD file into an Xvid file, the Satellite's time of 56min shows how capable it is of performing tougher tasks — anything under one hour in this test is a very good result.
The integrated graphics of the Satellite Z930 performed well in 3DMark06, where a score of 5207 was recorded. It will be able to supply more than adequate power for presentation software, image editing and even a little bit of gaming, depending on the games you play (you won't be able to run the latest first-person shooters, for example). The graphics drive the screen's native 1366x768-pixel resolution, but can also be used to output Full HD video through the HDMI port. There is also an analogue video output if you only have older monitors or projectors to hand.
A 128GB solid state drive takes care of the storage needs for the Satellite Z930, and it's very fast. In CrystalDiskMark, it recorded a read rate of 474 megabytes per second (MBps) and a write rate of 236MBps. These results are just shy of the performance shown by the Portege Z930's solid state drive; however, in our own file duplication tests, the Satellite averaged much faster performance than the Portege, recording a rate of 174.5MBps compared to 137MBps. This is even faster than the previous fastest laptop in this test, the Dell XPS 13 Ultrabook.
During everyday workloads, the Satellite Z930 felt very responsive, whether we were opening applications, multitasking or copying files. Its resume time from sleep was just shy of 3sec and it was immediately connected to our wireless network by the time we got to the Desktop. Cold boot time was a mere 16sec. The only thing that diminished the overall user experience was the amount of third-party software that was preinstalled on our test model, including Clickfree Backup, Norton Internet Security and Splashtop Streamer, all of which, at one time or another, required user intervention to get rid of pop-ups and registration notices.
We tested the battery life of the Satellite Z930 using our standard rundown test, in which we disable power management, maximise screen brightness, enable Wi-Fi and loop an Xvid-encoded video until the unit can run no longer. The Z930 lasted 3hr 13min in this test, which is a result that's lower than the average for Ultrabooks, and even non-Ultrabooks with 13-inch screens. The Portege Z930, for example, lasted 4 hours in this test.
When using the Z930 during a typical work day, with Wi-Fi enabled, the screen brightness at medium and running word processing and Web browsing tasks, we got over 4hr 30min out of it before having to reach for a power point. How long you get out of it will depend on your workload and configuration settings.
Despite the lower than average battery life, the Satellite Z930 proved itself to be one of the best Ultrabooks on the market, mainly due to its light weight, slim design and great overall performance. We found it to be comfortable to use once we got accustomed to its keyboard and screen viewing angles and think it's a great model to consider if you want something highly portable to carry with you on a daily basis. With a street price that is sometimes lower than £799, it's also a great deal.
As far as Ultrabooks are concerned, the Satellite Z930 is a beauty. It's only about 17mm at its thickest point and it weighs well under 1.2kg. Despite being so thin and light it still manages to pack in full-sized ports and very good performance. Pick it up if you're interested in a conventional laptop that you will be able to easily carry with you on a day-to-day basis.