Toshiba NB305 notebook
Last year's NB200 netbook from Toshiba was a neat, effective performer from a manufacturer known for its reliability and strong build quality. Now, the successor, wittily titled the NB300, has arrived. This is the NB305 variant, most noticeably differing from the NB300 through choice of colours. The NB300 is black, while the NB305 comes in a tempting Mocha Brown or Snow White (seven dwarfs not included). Both versions are decidedly better-looking than the already-decent NB200.
This model also includes Bluetooth and has raised tiles for keys where the NB300 has a flatter keyboard. The NB300 comes with either a 160GB or a 250GB hard drive, the NB305 automatically features the larger-capacity storage.
The battery protrudes less now because it's slung underneath the casing rather than poking out the back. This tips the laptop forward slightly, giving a comfortable, slightly angled keyboard. It means a beefy battery can be included without adding to the bulk or weight significantly. The NB200 had strong battery life and here it's even better, delivering over 10 hours life at moderate usage with ease. This is one of the NB305's standout features.
The netbook's lid has a gleaming Toshiba logo in the middle of its slightly ridged finish. This finish is pleasantly tactile and the chrome hinge has a central power switch that glows white when you turn the computer on.
The inclusion of Windows 7, even though it's only in the netbook-friendly Starter Edition, means it launches quickly, and the 10.1-inch, 1024 x 600 pixel screen, though not HD resolution, is a bright, LED-backlit affair that looks decent enough. It has a glossy finish though so is prone to reflections.
Those tiled keys are easy to use. They're slightly weirdly shaped - oblong in landscape orientation with dollops of space in between - but work well, allowing speedy text input with minimal effort. Just beneath is the trackpad.
The trackpad is almost always the Achilles' heel on any netbook and although this one is a little more spacious, we'd still say you'll do best to invest in a wireless notebook mouse (hey, you can choose a Bluetooth mouse). It's less portable to cart a separate mouse around but it's always worth it for the greater comfort it offers than tapping at a tiny trackpad. Still, the fact that in some programs you can swipe down the trackpad with two fingers to scroll down a page (just like on a Mac) is a welcome feature inclusion that makes navigating documents and websites that much easier.
Toshiba has mounted its webcam shortcut on the left edge of the screen, nearly out of sight unless you scuttle your mouse near it when the options spring into view. It launches the webcam instantly so you can take a photo, shoot video or just check how good you're looking today.
In terms of speed, the Tosh is decent but not outstanding. Of course, there's only 1GB of RAM, but the Intel Atom N450 1.66GHz processor does its best to move things along with average-to-good results.
The hard drive has Toshiba's HDD Protection system so the head is moved to a safe position if the computer detects a sudden movement (like toppling from your desk or lap). In our tests this was very efficient, perhaps too sensitive: the slightest move and the protection came into play. Better safe than sorry, of course, but you'd be wise to switch the notification dialogue box or you'll spend all your time clicking it as you try to get back to work after you've sneezed, say.
There's an external monitor port, Ethernet cable socket, and three USBs, one of which features Sleep and Charge so power is supplied even when the laptop is off - handy when your iPhone needs an overnight charge and you don't want the laptop's screen glaring in your sleepy eyes.
Toshiba's latest isn't the cheapest netbook available, but it is one of the most stylish, apart from deluxe beauties like the Nokia Booklet 3G, and it's much cheaper than that. It's decently powered, with exceptional battery life and a very comfortable-to-use keyboard -an aspect sometimes undervalued in a netbook until you spend your first day's frantic typing on it. Little extras like the hard drive protection and easy webcam program make it that bit more enticing, if the great looks didn't have you at hello. Excellent.