Toshiba Satellite Radius 12 Review: An Affordable 4K Hybrid

One of the things I really like about the Microsoft Surface Book isn't how useful it is as a tablet, but how useful it is as a laptop. Given that I type and browse the 'net a lot more than I watch video and play touchscreen games, it's important to me that a 2-in-1 laptop be good at the laptop part. Enter this particular bad boy: Toshiba's Satellite Radius 12 is a 12-inch notebook, with a beautiful display and powerful hardware, and also a versatile screen hinge that lets it flip around into tablet mode.

Specifications

The Toshiba Satellite Radius 12 is a $2399 or $2799 12-inch laptop with a 360-degree rotating hinge that lets it transform from a productivity-focused, business-friendly laptop into a kiosk, or tent, or tablet for watching media content. Built around an Intel Core i7 processor, designed for Windows 10's Hello face recognition, and pared back to its simplest form, it's built for portability without making too many sacrifices in battery size or processing power. (It's like the Apple MacBook on steroids.) Oh, and it has a super-detailed 4K display bringing the whole thing together.

That screen is what you get for spending the extra $400 on the $2799 premium model, as well as a 512GB solid-state drive. And it's a doozy (bit more on that later on). The premium Radius 12 is finished in a dark brushed aluminium finish, while the lesser (but still impressively specced) Full HD $2399 variant is a lighter brushed silver. Both models have 4K-capable HDMI A/V output, a headset jack two USB 3.0 ports, a USB 3.1 Type C port, full-size SD, and tactile tablet-style power and volume controls. Harman Kardon speakers make for surprisingly loud — if not super-rich — sound from a skinny laptop.

Display 12.5in, 3840x2160 pixels
Processor Intel Core i7-6500U, 2.5-3.1GHz
Memory 8GB DDR3L
Graphics Intel HD Graphics 520
Storage 256GB or 512GB M.2 SSD
Connectivity 1x HDMI, 3x USB Ports, 1x Bridge Media slot, Bluetooth 4.0, Wi-Fi 802.11(ac/a/g/n)
RRP $2799
Dimensions 299.5x209x15.4mm, 1.32kg

It's a thin laptop with a metal body, like a MacBook or Surface Book; it's a 2-in-1 convertible like a Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro; it's an Intel-powered chunky tablet like a Surface Pro. It's all of these, but with a skew back towards being a laptop that you can actually use for everyday computing tasks — anything Web-based is a breeze, obviously, but the fast SSD, decent allotment of RAM and powerful dual-core, quad-thread Core i7-6500U make for a machine that can actually handle video or photo editing, transcoding or other moderate-duty tasks that you'd prefer to be on a desktop for — no gaming, though.

Toshiba has clearly put a lot of effort into making the Radius 12 competent in just about every area you can ask it to be. It's tough — metal body, Gorilla Glass Display. It's powerful — Core i7, fast SSD, 8GB of RAM (although that's DDR3, which is an interesting choice given the up-to-date Skylake's processor supporting DDR4). It's versatile — it can spend 90 per cent of its time as a laptop, but also run double duty as a tablet for handheld work or viewing, or any degree of leany-screeny touch-and-swipey in between. All that means its thin body does need a heat and fan exhaust at the back, but it's otherwise quite sleek.

Design & handling

I cannot sing the praises of the Satellite Radius 12's 3840x2160 pixel, 10-point multitouch, Technicolour-certified, Adobe RGB and sRGB gamut-beating, Gorilla Glass-covered 12.5-inch display enough. It is beautiful. It blows away its Retina-quality rivals from Apple and Microsoft in the pixel density stakes; the 12-inch MacBook is 226ppi and the Surface Book is 267ppi, but the Radius 12 blows them well out of the water with 352ppi. At the same time, its colour accuracy is excellent, hardware-calibrated and Adobe RGB standard-equaling, and that's even before you think about the fact that you can twist it around 360 degrees and watch movies or TV on the Radius 12 as a tablet.

With a screen this good, I can actually finally see the utility of a 2-in-1 convertible laptop — for almost the first time. It's a similar situation to what I experienced with the 13.3-inch Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro; when you have a beautiful display and adequate speakers, you put aside the iPad or Android tablet and use your laptop for Presto, Stan and Netflix instead. The curved base of the Radius 12 means there's a little gap between screen and case in tablet mode, but the hinges are free to move to their fullest extent. It's not something that I'd use every day, but I would use it.

For the money, you're getting a pretty damn solid specification in your Radius 12. My premium $2799 test sample had a relatively gutsy Intel Core i7-6500U (albeit an ultra-low-power part), 8GB of nonreplaceable DDR3L RAM, and a 512GB M.2 (replaceable) solid state drive. The $400 cheaper variant only sacrifices its display — down to a 12.5-inch Full HD touchscreen — and its SSD — down to a 256GB, but still M.2 and still upgradeable model. These are two genuinely good value machines, despite being over two thousand dollars, because as well as being good tablets and being well built, they're great laptops at the same time.

Outside of Microsoft's Surface family, the Toshiba Radius 12 is one of the first devices to be fitted with an infrared camera setup for Windows Hello facial recognition login on Windows 10. It's flawless. Windows Hello, and the software and hardware that accompanies it, is one of the biggest reasons to buy a new laptop. Annoying login passwords or PINs — although you will have to set a four-digit PIN as a backup if you're going to set up Hello for the first time — are genuinely just a thing of the past. The Radius 12 has a double infrared blaster, so it's even superior to the Surface Pro and Surface Book in this regard.

The battery inside the Satellite Radius 12 is a 43Wh one, and Toshiba claims up to eight hours of life from it under ideal conditions. I'm sure that's possible with some scrimping and saving and Battery Saver enabling, but over my couple of weeks with the Radius I experienced a five and a half hour run-time consistently with my moderate-duty workload. A lot of that is due to the extremely bright 350-nit display, and the fact that I prefer to have my laptop screen actually readable whenever possible. When you're driving a super-bright, super-high-resolution display, you're going to have to make some compromises.

This is an especially strange niggle to have, but during all my time with the Toshiba Radius 12, I continually noticed that the touchpad was position what I'd call too far to the left. As someone whose hands are almost continually hovering above the keyboard, I'm used to doing a bit of navigating with the side of my right thumb rather than taking my hands away entirely and using a forefinger; the odd trackpad placement makes that a lot harder and actually makes it a lot easier to accidentally tap the trackpad with your left hand. As with other aspects of the Radius 12, you get used to it.

At the continuation of this minor complaint, I like the Radius 12's keyboard, but I don't love it. It's a little shallow to type on; it's not as bad as the Macbook's keyboard for someone used to a proper, deep-dish mechanical keyboard, but it's a little too close to the skinniness of Microsoft's Surface Book and Surface Pro 4. You can certainly type quickly and accurately on it, and it's backlit for those dim evenings on an intercontintental plane journey, but it just takes some getting used to. But this is a device ostensibly meant for computing professionals, so I'm being a little more demanding of it than I usually would be.

Every other complaint I have about the Satellite Radius 12 is even more minor. I want to applaud Toshiba's move to include USB Type-C, and the fact that it's actually USB 3.1 compatible is even better, but part of me would have preferred Thunderbolt or another full-size USB port. The hinge, while perfectly versatile and functionally very similar to those on Dell's 2-in-1 Inspirons, isn't quite as cool or skinny as the Lenovo Yoga 3's and not as attractive as the Surface Book's. These are barely even complaints, but they're being brought up because the Radius 12 is otherwise solid.

Conclusion

The $2799 Toshiba Satellite Radius 12 is built around the 12.5 inches of beautifully detailed 3840x2160 pixel, LED-backlit touchscreen display, covered in sturdy Gorilla Glass for tablet-mode tapping. And it is a beautiful display in every way — it's pixel-dense, vibrant, more than bright enough for outdoor use in its brightest mode, incredibly colour accurate across both sRGB and Adobe RGB. I'd go so far as to say that it's the best laptop display that I've ever used, although the tabletesque Surface Pro 4 and Surface Book come very close, and Apple's Retina MacBook may be slightly brighter when push comes to shove.

But more than its 360-degree-capable touchscreen display, the Satellite Radius 12 is built around some entirely capable computing hardware. In its top, 4K-displaying spec, a top of the line ultra-low-voltage Intel Core i7 — and its capable Intel HD Graphics 520 chipset — makes for more than enough power for any travelling professional. It's more than powerful enough for everyday productivity, and the addition of a fast M.2 SSD and 8GB of RAM mean that video or photo editing is entirely possible too, as long as you don't spend too far away from a power point. But when you do, the Radius 12's battery is capable.

If you can deal with the offset trackpad — some people love it, some people hate it, some people couldn't care less — then the Radius 12 is a perfectly adequate typing and swiping computer experience. And the Radius is certainly compact for the amount of power and level of performance that you're getting out of it — like the Portege, it's a genuine ultraportable in everything down to the power adapter. I'm always looking for a laptop that I can take on a plane and actually use, and the Radius fits that bill perfectly.

If you're looking for a portable business machine, then the Radius 12 will suit you well. If you think you'll flip around the screen and watch the occasional 4K movie or high-def Netflix stream, then all the better for it. The Toshiba Radius 12 feels like it's built to suit Windows 10, and built to last with excellent Windows Hello face recognition and a sturdy silver or dark silver finish. If you're willing to overlook a few small complaints, and if portability slightly trumps battery life for you, then go for it — you won't be disappointed.

This article originally appeared on Gizmodo.


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