Review: Toshiba Satellite Radius 11 L15W

Best to think of Toshiba’s new Satellite Radius 11 not as a cheap laptop but as a cheap Windows tablet that happens to have a keyboard attached to it.

The distinction is important. As a laptop, the Radius 11 is barely functional. But as a tablet—albeit a somewhat awkward one—it is at least capable enough to merit a cautious and tentative recommendation.

At first glance, the Radius 11 has a bit of the appearance of a netbook from yesteryear. Pint-sized, with chicklet keys and a utilitarian design, the device is made for tossing into a shoulder bag (or, more likely, a child’s backpack) rather than as a computing device you’ll rely on to be productive.

The specs are in keeping with this mindset and are decidedly minimal. Powered by a 2.16GHz Intel Celeron and 4GB of RAM, the device forgoes SSD storage to keep costs down, instead dropping a spacious yet slow 500GB hard drive into the chassis. The 11.6-inch touchscreen offers a 1366 x 768-pixel resolution and 10-point touch. Ports are stripped down to two USB ports (one 3.0), an SD card slot, and HDMI output.

And yes, I said Celeron.

By any measure of performance, the Radius 11 is extremely limited. It is slow to run apps and takes its time even to open them, often taking so long to load that you think your click didn’t register. This often means you try again and end up ultimately opening a second or third instance of a program. To use the Radius 11 successfully requires monk-like patience. Small hands and slow typing speed are also of help, as the Radius’s minuscule keys have minimal travel that makes touch-typing difficult and typos common.

Best then to abort the typing altogether and simply fold the screen back to use the machine in tablet mode. The Radius 11’s main selling point is its Yoga-like display that can fold back 360-degrees and rest against the back of the screen. Tablet mode automatically disables the keyboard, and while it’s a bit bulky to hold this way for long, you can also prop it up in tent/inverted-V mode, which is handy for media viewing and other hands-free entertainment. The screen is responsive to touch and accurate, but a relatively dim display (and wonky brightness controls) can put a damper on the fun.

All of this would relegate the Radius 11 to the dustbin if it weren’t so amazingly cheap. At $380 the device is less expensive than just about anything else on the market in this category. To get much cheaper you’d need to drop down to a tablet like the Surface, eschew the touchscreen, or go with an older model device. All of those may actually be the right play, but if you’re looking for this collection of features in a very inexpensive, sub-three-pound package, you could do worse than the Radius 11.

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