Toshiba Satellite A500-11U notebook

Toshiba’s Satellite A500 marks a new direction for the brand, with excellent multimedia capabilities more in line with the company’s Qosmio range than regular Satellite models. Along with raw power, it’s also stylish, comfortable and well made.

The A500’s 16-inch screen is bright and colourful, with a 16:9 aspect ratio that’s great for watching films on. There’s no sign of Blu-ray support, however, despite Toshiba’s recently pledge to use Blu-ray technology in upcoming products. It’s also a shame that the display isn’t sharper, with the 1366 x 768 pixel resolution looking a little low for a media centre.

The wide screen creates loads of room for a good-sized keyboard. As with many of the high-end laptops we’ve seen recently, it’s a pleasure to use, with responsive keys that move quietly. It doesn’t feel the most solid board to type on, but well-defined keys make it easy to touch-type, and backlighting allows you to use it in darker conditions. A bank of media buttons sit above the keyboard, making it easy to control your music and films. The touchpad is large and easy to use accurately, although the big chromed touchpad buttons won’t appeal to all users.

Styling is similar to other Satellite models, with a patterned stripy lid and glossy plastics. It’s slightly more refined than most of its siblings, however, and it’s more attractive to us as a result. Quality is good, with strong plastics used and no sign of flex from the chassis or thick screen surround.

Multimedia performance is excellent on the A500-11U, thanks to an ATi Mobility Radeon HD 4650 graphics card. We were able to play the latest games with ease, even with detail settings turned relatively high, and you’ll have no trouble running graphics intensive applications.

Office performance is equally adept, with a high-end 2.53GHz Intel Core 2 Duo P8700 processor and 4GB of memory in place. We found it started up in seconds, and it’s capable of multi-tasking with ease. All this performance comes at a price, however, as with a battery life of around 2 hours, mobility is limited.

Along with sparkling performance, the A500 also shines when it comes to features. Our sample featured an integrated digital/analogue TV tuner, letting you use it as your home media centre, and Harman Kardon speakers also offer reasonable sound quality. The TV tuner features a full-sized aerial socket, so you’ll be able to use either a compact travel unit – reception depending – or a full roof-top aerial.

Alongside the aerial, the right-hand side of the chassis also offers two USB ports for your peripherals, and a slot-loading DVD rewriter. There are a further two USB ports on the left side of the chassis – one doubling as an eSATA port for high-speed data transfer, and one that can be used as a charger for peripherals such as your iPod or phone – even when the Satellite A500 is turned off.

There are VGA and HDMI-out ports for connecting an external display, projector or a high-definition TV, with an ExpressCard reader on one corner of the machine, and a memory card slot on the other. Networking features are comprehensive, with 802.11n Wi-Fi and Gigabit Ethernet both in place, although 3G/HSDPA for mobile broadband isn’t an option.

Verdict

It’s a shame that the Satellite A500 centre doesn’t provide a higher resolution screen, but overall it’s an excellent choice, offering great performance and impressive value for money. The backlit keyboard makes it a comfortable proposition, and good quality means it’s also a machine you’ll be able to use on a daily basis. If you’re looking for a mid-sized media centre, and this is within your budget, then it comes highly recommended.


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