Toshiba tweaks new ultrabooks for voice interaction

Toshiba introduces $799 Satellite E45t 14-inch ultrabook and the $579 Satellite E55 15.6-inch laptop

Toshiba has two new thin laptops, including one that is tuned so users can use voice commands to post messages on social networks, search the Web or listen to music.

The Satellite E45t ultrabook has a 14-inch touchscreen as well as hardware and software that enable computers to recognize voice commands. Users can just tell a computer to post messages on Facebook or Twitter, watch YouTube videos or even play music.

The ultrabook will recognize voice commands from a radius of three feet (0.9 meters), said Carrie Cowan, senior product marketing manager of Toshiba America's Digital Products Group.

The laptop comes with Dragon Assistant software to recognize voice commands, and Toshiba has built in dual microphones to better enable voice commands. The laptop runs on Intel's fourth-generation Core i5 processor, based on the Haswell architecture, which also has on-chip sensors to boost voice recognition.

"With touch and voice, we're headed in the path of a natural interface," Cowan said, adding that reliance on keyboards and mice is lessening.

Based on Toshiba's tests, the voice recognition feature is compatible with Web browsers, media players and other commonly used software like Microsoft Office.

The $799 Satellite E45T will be available on Aug. 4 in the U.S. directly from Toshiba or from Best Buy retail stores. Variants of the laptop will be available in other parts of the world.

The laptop weighs around 1.8 kilograms. It offers a battery life of around 7.5 hours based on the MobileMark benchmark, but should offer around eight to nine hours on mixed usage, Cowan said. It has 500GB of hard-drive storage and 32GB SSD cache.

Toshiba also introduced the $579 Satellite E55 laptop, which has a 15.6-inch processor and runs on the Advanced Micro Devices A6 processor code-named Kabini. The laptop offers about the same battery life as the E45t, and weighs approximately 2.2 kilograms.

The Satellite laptops have screen resolutions of 1366 x 768 pixels, which translates to 720p. Other features in the laptops include 802.11ac wireless networking, USB 3.0 ports and webcams.

The price of the laptops may be considered high, especially in a market where laptop sales are struggling. But Toshiba is trying to build laptops that have a premium feel to it, Cowan said.

For example, competitive laptops with similar configurations are in some cases available under $400 or $500. But Toshiba's new laptops have an aluminum chassis while the other products have plastic, Cowan said.

The new laptops share some design attributes with Toshiba's Kirabook, a 13-inch ultrabook priced starting at $1,599. The laptop received a lot praise for its ultrathin design, high-screen resolution and other hardware features.

"Kirabook was a milestone -- as a company it got us back to a commitment to quality," Cowan said.

The Satellite E45T and E55 may not be as innovative as the Kirabook, but in a struggling PC market, Toshiba hopes consumers will plop down the money to buy the thin laptops.

"It all boils down to the feature set," Cowan said.

Agam Shah covers PCs, tablets, servers, chips and semiconductors for IDG News Service. Follow Agam on Twitter at @agamsh. Agam's e-mail address is agam_shah@idg.com

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