Toshiba Satellite Radius Review: An Amazing 4K Screen on a Frustrating Machine

By Adam Clark Estes on at

For many, a laptop is a deeply personal device, one that gets used and abused even more than a smartphone. So you really want to love using it—especially if you’re going to spend upwards of £1,000 on something like Toshiba’s new Satellite Radius 12. But the impressive hardware doesn’t make this laptop worth the price tag.

With a wildly powerful Skylake Intel Core i7 processor, an incredibly sharp 4K touchscreen display, and slightly overboard Harman Kardon speakers, the Satellite Radius screams super premium—it’s just not a great laptop. It is a very good overpriced portable entertainment system, but that’s not quite enough.

What Is It?

The Toshiba Satellite Radius 12 is built to be a workhorse. With Intel’s best Core i7 processor, 8 GB of memory, an a 512 GB solid state drive, this is a serious machine. On top of that, the laptop features a 12.5-inch 4K touchscreen. Thanks to fancy hinges, the whole thing acrobats around into a tablet mode.

Why Does It Matter?

Laptops are in a weird place right now. With massive tablets challenging increasingly thin keyboard-laden machines, the standard approach to laptops is evolving. Touchscreen machines have been around a while, but the screens are getting so good—maybe too good. The new 4K two-in-one offering from Toshiba tries to do it all and comes up short in a few places. It’s a good idea, but one you’ll want to let simmer a little while longer.

Design

At 1.3 kilos and 15.4mm thick, the latest edition to Toshiba’s Satellite line is very light and thin. Its dark grey, brushed metal case makes it feel a little bit more luxurious than that Lenovo work gave you six years ago. But it’s not quite a work of industrial art like the unibody MacBook or the Microsoft Surface Book. It’s edged with weird bits of plastic and feels confusingly asymmetrical, and the metal parts are also weirdly prone to getting grimy and hard to clean. I actually wiped the laptop off pretty thoroughly before I took the photo below, but you can still see the smudging on the trackpad and case:

Toshiba Satellite Radius Review: An Amazing 4K Screen Attached to a Frustrating Machine

There are a couple of quirks to the design worth noting. Like the rest of the Satellites, the new Radius features an off-centre trackpad. Why? Who knows. The form factor also tapers off on the bottom so that the front of the body is thinner in the corners. It’s sort of an illusion of thinness, though, and makes the laptop slightly wobbly, especially in tablet mode.

Toshiba Satellite Radius Review: An Amazing 4K Screen Attached to a Frustrating Machine

One more little detail: the speakers are built into the bottom of the laptop, so your desk eats half of the sound when you’re using it like a laptop. The placement is fantastic if you fold the screen back and use the body as a stand.

Using It

The trouble starts when you try to open the Satellite Radius. The smooth design is almost too smooth, because there’s nothing to grab onto when you’re trying to open the dang thing. I found myself wedging a fingernail in between the screen and the body. It’s a minor annoyance, but herald of things to come when I actually started used it.

Toshiba Satellite Radius Review: An Amazing 4K Screen Attached to a Frustrating Machine

Before getting into any more details, I need to confess something: I’m a Mac user. This certainly informed my initial impressions of the Satellite Radius, but not necessarily in a negative way. For instance, I loved having a full HDMI port on such a slim laptop, and the 4K screen with a 3,840-by-2,160 pixels really does look phenomenal. (That’s more resolution than a Retina display, by the way, which sports 2,560-by-1,600 pixels.)

Toshiba Satellite Radius Review: An Amazing 4K Screen Attached to a Frustrating Machine

I enjoyed the touchscreen and even the seemingly gimmicky 2-in-1 design that lets you use the laptop like a tablet. You don’t get these features on a MacBook, and you probably won’t for many months/years. You can find most of those things on comparable Windows 10 machines like the Surface Book or the Lenovo Yoga 900. Here’s the Satellite Radius splayed out with a Surface Book for comparison—note how damn dirty the Toshiba looks:

Toshiba Satellite Radius Review: An Amazing 4K Screen Attached to a Frustrating Machine

The brilliant screen and versatility made the Satellite Radius a blast for movie watching and casual web browsing. When it came time to use the trackpad and get stuff done, my enthusiasm quickly fell apart. The trackpad is awful. It’s weirdly off-centre for no reason and weirdly finicky in terms of sensitivity. The flashy face recognition feature, Windows Hello, never worked. And, even though I like it for watching movies on trains, using the laptop in tablet mode kind of sucks. The device sometimes had a hard time switching into and out of tablet mode automatically. Also, because of the dual hinge design, there’s some wiggle when you hold it with one hand. It perpetuates my fear that the hinges will eventually fail on this thing.

Then there’s the battery life. Toshiba says you’ll get 6.5 hours of battery life out of the Satellite Radius. I got around 5 hours which is less than half of the 12-hour batter life that Microsoft advertises for the 13.5-inch Surface Book. It’s very likely that the big battery suck is the fancy 4K screen, but I’m not sure the resolution tradeoff is worth it.

Like

The 4K display is very pretty! The Satellite Radius is also pleasantly thin and light, and thanks to beefy specs, pretty damn speedy.

Toshiba Satellite Radius Review: An Amazing 4K Screen Attached to a Frustrating Machine

No Like

It’s so hard to open! The case is constantly coated in fingerprints, and I’m somewhat convinced that the trackpad is so terrible because it absorbs dirt. Meanwhile, tablet mode feels so awkward in terms of ergonomics that I don’t want to use it for anything except watching movies.

Should I Buy It?

Nah. If you’re ready to spend over £1,000 on a laptop that also works as a tablet, you should check out the Surface Book which serves both roles with astonishing grace. If you absolutely want a laptop, opt for one of Toshiba’s cheaper models without the 4K screen or seriously consider Dell’s XPS 13 (but get the one with Skylake in it.)

The Radius 12 is pretty, but you don’t need it—or its drain on battery life—in a laptop this size. There are good, comparable alternatives out there at a similar price point. And honestly, if you’re going to spend this much money on a device, you should absolutely love it.

Photo by Adam Clark Estes