Today I get to take you for a brief introduction to Toshiba's first entry into the netbook segment. The NB205 is one of the best-looking netbooks to come to market thus far, and with a $399 price-tag, I just had to take one for a spin.
PROS: Styling, design, very usable keyboard, performance, feature set, impressive battery life, solid build quality, attractive price
CONS: screen resolution, speakers, upgradeability, proprietary software
Following my initial introduction last year to netbooks courtesy of the HP 2133, I was curious to see how much better the Toshiba NB205 would be. The version I have is the brown-colored model sold at Staples, and with the silver chicklet keys, it does indeed look very nice. Certainly better than the bland, all-black HP Mini 1000 strutting it's stuff next to it on the display shelf.
The $399 price gets you the Atom N280 processor running at 1.66GHz, 1GB of RAM and a 160GB 5400rpm HDD. The screen is an improvement in size at 10" from 8.9", but at 1024x600, the resolution had me fussing about more than I anticipated - more on that later. It comes with Windows XP, 3 USB ports, headphone/mic jacks, VGA/ethernet ports and a 6-cell battery.
As far as performance is concerned, I had no problems running any of the applications I used daily on my HP 2133. The Atom does a decent job when it comes to online surfing, office apps, web chat, and A/V playback. But the GMA950 does a lousy job when it comes to DX9 so any graphics intensive titles will need to find another platform - save for Pinetrail!
At 1024x600, you will quickly come to learn that the F11 key is your best friend. Browsing can only be done in full screen this way, if you want to be productive with the device, and other apps will also require you to jump though all kinds of hoops to see every bit of a window. This can be a royal pain in the rear since many applications require 768 pixels to work best, and I got warning messages numerous times reminding me of this during application installations. Also, not every program has an F11 full-screen mode, forcing you to hide the taskbar. If you live out of a browser, F11 will be more-or-less OK to get used to. But when you're dealing with multiple applications, it becomes a nightmare controlling the taskbar for windows that take up the full screen.
My recommendation - if you need to run applications other that browsers, go for a 1280x800 or similar high-res display option on a netbook. You'll not only avoid having to hide the taskbar, but you can also enjoy 720p content, see more of what you need to, and have significantly less interruptions to your productivity.
While the trackpad was nice and roomy, the buttons were placed right on the front edge, making me hit them whenever I placed the unit up against my body. Small nag, I know. What did disappoint me more was the horrible mono speaker, about the size of a penny, placed on the bottom of the unit. Even at full volume, I found movies were difficult to hear as were web chats and videos. Any music or movie watching required headphones, but at least the realtek audio drivers allow customization of the sound output by including an equalizer.
Heat and noise was a non-issue, the unit is extremely quiet and no way near as toasty as my HP 2133. As for battery, the 6-cell got very long operating times. While I didn't time it, I did use it unplugged for many nights and not once needed to plug in for juice on any night. The Toshiba power management utility is the unsung hero here, tweaking the XP power settings a notch further.
When it came to looking at upgrades, the back of the unit hides a cover for the RAM, which you can remove with a philips driver. At $25, bumping the unit up to 2GB is a no-brainer to make XP perform better. The hard drive, though, resides under a cover secured with two torx screws, making removal impossible if you don't have the proper tools. Why this is necessary I have to question, as only those who know what they're doing would generally take a netbook apart, and a bigger, 7200rpm drive would be a sensible upgrade to perform.
Another issue I've seen mentioned is the fact that Windows 7 does not play well with the battery life. Apparently the Toshiba power management utility is for XP only, and does not work with Windows 7. Toshiba should offer a version compatible with Win 7 come October, so we'll have to wait and see as far as that goes.
When I compare the high-res screen of my HP 2133 and it's two loud speakers to the Toshiba NB205, I'm somewhat baffled as to why Toshiba had to make those compromises. While I like the unit itself, it has good performance, is quiet, cool, well-built, offers good battery life and a far more reasonable price, I'm still on the fence if I should make the jump and purchase.
You see, Pinetrail promises even better performance/battery-life and is due out within a short 4-6 months. Windows 7 is being released in October as well. Also, if Toshiba decides to offer an upgraded model with a 10" high-res screen (an option that's been available for a while now on many other netbooks) it will most certainly render the NB205 obsolete for some users. But at a mere $399, the NB205 could almost be considered an impulse purchase. Bottom line - if it does what you need well, and you can live with the few negatives, the Toshiba NB205 may just be the best little netbook to get your greedy little hands on.