|Image credit: Toshiba|
Today I have that unit, the NB305, here with me to review. Does it build on what made the NB205 so great? Let's take a look!
PROS: Excellent styling, perfect keyboard, attractive price, extremely functional, sensational battery life
CONS: Still no HD display, re-badged model, difficult to upgrade, no bluetooth, performance could be better
Toshiba was a very late player in the netbook game releasing their first model, the NB205 only last year. However, their "mini" was a product of careful design. It had some of the best styling to come in a netbook, with multiple color textured lids, chicklet-style keyboard and a sophisticated look that was far more appealing than the bland colors some other models came in. This was a quality netbook with big potential.
But the NB205 lacked a modern OS, shipping with Windows XP. It didn't have the newest processor, and lacked a high-res screen and customization options that other models were now including. With the introduction of Pinetrail and Windows 7, Toshiba was reluctant to refresh the lineup, hence the NB305.
In true fashion, the NB305 picks up where the NB205 left off - literally. From the outside they are practically identical - a re-badged model if you will - with Toshiba doing zero cosmetic changes. Granted, the design was already so good they didn't need to change anything, except now the battery does not stick out as much as before.
What is new is Windows 7 running on the Pinetrail platform. If you're sick of XP netbooks, the upgrade is worth it, especially with the many new OS enhancements that don't hinder performance like Vista did. I was somewhat surprised at how much I was able to get done with the NB305, as it didn't get me bogged down at all. It's a very functional combination that offers a decent dose of productivity for a very acceptable price.
Pinetrail performance does leave a little to be desired. While it is good in general, I found internet video to choke on HD or when attempting to view full screen - playing web content in a window though was more-or-less acceptable. Surprisingly, the N450 handled full-screen WMV-HD fine, with 720p and even 1080p playing back without any stuttering or dropout. Cool Edit Pro ran very smoothly.
That said, I would like to see Toshiba offer the N470 processor at some point, as well as the Broadcom video hardware. I was shocked to find that there is still no HD display option on the NB305 either. Toshiba really should dress up the hardware in their mini, for it could be doing so much more than what it does now, and has the potential to be a great high-end netbook.
Another startling omission is the lack of bluetooth. For something that costs perhaps a few dollars to add in 1K quantities, and has become standard fare in wireless, this is a big deal. Connectivity is prime, especially for netbooks being so mobile. Without bluetooth, the only way I can tether a smartphone, for example, is to carry a USB cable. Similarly, if you take pictures with your smartphone, BT lets you zap them over to your netbook in a pinch for retouching/posting on a blog. It's also my preferred method for moving new music over to my smartphone, especially when I'm adding just a song or two at a time. I know I could purchase a bluetooth USB dongle, but I just don't want to deal with silly extras like that.
One of the biggest changes Pinetrail has promised is extended battery life. The NB305 easily gets 7-8 hours of real-world usage from a single charge, depending on what you do. However, Toshiba have tweaked the settings even further by providing a special power management eco utility. This can extend battery life by as much as 2+ hours, but at the expense of processor performance.
So just how far can you go on one charge? With balanced settings I was seeing 6 hours WMV playback time and 7.5 hours VOB playback. Eco settings will more than likely boost those by an hour, but multimedia playback can suffer. For web surfing, email, blogging and other less-demanding tasks, eco mode will make the most sense since you won't notice the performance difference, other than a battery that just keeps going and going. This is truly a device that you can go out with or sit down with and not worry about the battery giving up in the middle of your work. Right now as I type this blog post, it shows 41% capacity with 2 hours 41 minutes remaining, and I am in eco mode.
The unit does not get warm except a little heat coming from the vents at the side and bottom. The fan is hardly audible when on, and barely comes on at all. The hard drive is dead silent.
Windows 7 Starter Edition does have it's limitations, but when you understand you're dealing with a netbook, you can get used to it very quickly. It doesn't impede me in accessing any of my applications at all, and I've found the simplicity actually makes getting things done a lot easier and quicker.
The 1024x600 display isn't the friendliest to work on, but it IS workable. I've found that I can get around the size issues when browsing by using the F11 full-screen mode and zoom, making working with the web less difficult. Other software does sometimes still cause trouble, so I would still go with a HD display if available. Overall though, my productivity hasn't suffered, and I'm finding I'm getting a major amount of work done, thanks also to the excellent keyboard. For those who need to type a lot, the NB305 is the netbook for you!
You may recall my criticism of the speaker on the NB205. Is two bad speakers better than one? On the NB305 Toshiba took the same horrible mono unit and now placed two of them on the bottom - same poor quality sound, but at least now I can watch videos with acceptable volume. Music listening will still require headphones.
Likewise, Toshiba have again used Torx screws to lock down the hard drive access cover, making upgrades a pain without the right tools. Seriously, I know how to replace a hard drive, and it's called an "access" panel for a reason. Why make it difficult for the consumer?
My biggest gripe though is that Toshiba has made no real improvements whatsoever over the NB205 - it's the same re-badged device with the same boring internals. I was really hoping for a 1366x768 display option in 2010 with N470 and a hardware video accelerator. All in all, the extras needed to bump the NB305 (1GB more memory, HD display, bluetooth, N470 processor, Broadcom video hardware) would cost maybe $150, making for a fully-loaded netbook at $549. Yes, Toshiba does offer a model with built-in 3G, but it's not something I would need or pay for given that I prefer to tether my smartphone for flexibility. While I certainly like what the NB305 gives me for $399, I'd gladly give Toshiba that extra money for a high-end version with some extra horsepower, alongside the nice choice of colors. Come on Toshiba - it's doable!
The Toshiba NB305 netbook carries on where the NB205 started - which is both good and bad. Good in that it's a netbook that offers great potential with a solid productivity experience, features, functionality, winning design and Toshiba quality. Bad though because Toshiba haven't really put anything new on the table for 2010, instead choosing to re-badge the mostly same specs. However, the device continues to impress and works very well - I'm having a hard time putting it down! If the limitations are something you can work around, the NB305 makes for more than just a compelling netbook, but a better-than-expected productivity tool that you will enjoy using.