Toshiba Satellite A350-11N notebook review

3.5 out of 5
£529

For

Comfort, screen is good for watching films

Against

Limited 3D capabilities reduce abilities as a family machine

When it comes to multimedia laptops, Toshiba is best known for its high-end Qosmio range, although spending 2 grand on a laptop during a recession may not seem like the smartest idea. This is where the Toshiba Satellite A350 comes in - a budget media centre Toshiba hopes to attract the more cash-strapped consumers with.

In a bid to back-up its media centre claims, the A350 boasts a 16-inch screen featuring an increasingly popular 16:9 aspect ratio - natively supporting the latest films. You may not find the intrusive black bars framing your favourite movies, but it’s not all good.

As a budget model, the resolution on this machine is just 1366 x 768 pixels. Images actually look surprisingly crisp, but the low vertical pixel count can be particularly annoying, especially when working with spreadsheets (or, more likely for a "multimedia machine", editing photographs).

The fact images are reproduced smoothly does mean this laptop achieves its goal as a system for watching films on, though, and usability is enhanced by some swish backlit touch-sensitive media keys. These allow you to control your films with ease, although a remote control - as with Toshiba’s high-end Qosmio media centre range - would have been welcome.

If the screen is slightly mixed in terms of what it provides, the graphics card is a let down. You’ll find Intel’s integrated GMA 4500M chip at the heart of this machine, and the Toshiba runs out of puff if you demand anything more than DVD playback or photo editing. Family members hoping to play games will be disappointed, and the lack of power is this laptop’s biggest drawback.

That said, everyday performance fairs a lot better. The 2GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T5800 processor is a fairly average choice at this price point, but the inclusion of 4096MB of memory helps considerably when multi-tasking. The 250GB hard drive is reasonable, offering enough space for smaller movie and music collections, although those with hoards of films may have to invest in an external hard drive.

As with most of Toshiba’s laptops, the keyboard is a model of comfort, providing well-spaced keys that move with a precise action. The bevelled edges make it a lot easier to type without errors, although the glossy finish is quite absurd, considering it’ll be plastered in fingerprints from the second you start to use it. The touchpad provides good usability, and the oversized touchpad buttons are also efficient.

On the left of the A350’s chassis sits a VGA-out socket, Ethernet (accompanying 802.11n Wi-Fi), a USB port and an eSATA port that also doubles as a second USB interface. You’ll also find an ExpressCard slot and a 1394 mini FireWire port. The right-hand side of the chassis doubles the USB count to four, along with a multi-format DVD rewriter. HDMI, or any other form of digital connection for an external display, is notable for its omission.

Verdict

If you’re simply seeking a device to watch films on, alongside your daily laptop needs, then there’s a lot to like about the Toshiba Satellite A350. It’s comfortable, reasonably well equipped, offers good build quality and the screen is surprisingly good for movie playback. It’s also competitively priced.

Just don’t expect to find a cut-priced Toshiba Qosmio, as the A350 lacks the power of its more expensive sibling, and stumbles when it comes to some aspects expected of a multimedia machine.