*Updated as of 13th December 2012 - Originally published as a hands-on article on 22nd October, we've spent much time with this convertible Ultrabook to upgrade the article to a full review with a rating. For those who've read our article previously, you can jump direct to our Performance page.
"Touch", is the name of the game these days, thanks to the extremely touch-friendly Windows 8 operating system. We’ve seen existing Ultrabooks updated with touch panels, but there are also some Ultrabooks with peculiar form factors, such as the Dell XPS 12, Sony Vaio Duo 11 and Lenovo Ideapad Yoga. Of the few convertible Ultrabooks we’ve seen so far, the 12.5-inch Toshiba Satellite U920t’s form factor is the closest to that of the Sony Duo 11. They both sport the sliding form factor first seen on the ASUS Slider, with the basic premise being the same.
The keyboard and touchscreen, are held together with a sliding mechanism which lets you slide the screen out to reveal the keyboard when you need to do some serious typing. However, the method in which the screen slides out is different. The Sony Vaio Duo 11’s "Surf Slider" mechanism opens up in one smooth motion, allowing the screen to be propped up in one angle. And because of the way the sliding mechanism is built, there isn’t enough space for a trackpad.
The Toshiba U920t on the other hand, uses a completely different method of sliding the screen out. There seems to be quite a bit of space dedicated to the sliding mechanism, and it is probably responsible for its 19.9mm thickness and 1.45kg weight. From it’s tablet form, you’ve got to push the screen out fully, before tilting the screen up. It requires two actions to set up, but it also has its advantages. Unlike the Vaio Duo 11, the U920t is able to have its screen up at almost any angle. You can have the screen flat down, fully tilted at almost 90 degrees or any other angle in between them. This is thanks to the rail mechanism that Toshiba has implemented on the U920t.
There are a total of three rails on the screen itself. The two with teeth on the left and right of the screen hold a metal bar, connected to the stabilizer rail in the middle of the screen. We haven’t seen this implementation anywhere else as yet, but this method seems to be quite stiff. That means whichever angle the screen is up at, it won’t be wobbly. However the unit we have for review is fairly new. So whether or not this method of sliding the screen will hold up when used repeatedly is still too early to tell.
One problem we noticed is that because the middle stabilizer rail is quite tight (so that the screen won’t flex and wobble much when sliding), it has very close contact with the display. It presses against the display during the sliding motion, and causes a slight but visible distortion on the area in which it is pressing against. Again, while it didn’t cause any problems during our time with the review unit, we can’t say for certain if it will have any long term effects on the unit's display. Also take note that while the screen is in transition to laptop mode, the trackpad and keyboard can’t be used, even if they are exposed. It’s only when the screen is locked into place can you start using the keyboard and trackpad.