Editors’ Note: Portions of this review were taken from our earlier review of the Toshiba mini NB205-310.
Toshiba’s mini NB205-N310 netbook struck a chord with its snazzy design, comfortable island keyboard, and stellar battery life, but realizing that $50 can make a difference in today’s economy—not to mention the competitive netbook market—the company opted to create a budget version, the $349 mini NB205-N210. While it lacks the silver island-style keyboard, ribbed lid, and Bluetooth of the $399 mini NB205-310, the NB205-N210 has the same internal specs. So while you lose the flair of the more premium version, you still get a snappy netbook whose high-capacity battery provides more than 9 hours of endurance for $50 less.
The major change between the NB205-N210 and the NB205-N310 is aesthetics. Where the NB205-N310 had a Sable Brown lid (also available in Royal Blue, Posh Pink, and Frost White) with raised diagonal lines, the more affordable version only comes in a glossy Fusion Finish in Black Onyx; while the lid has a similar pinstriped look, the lines are not raised, and it is much more fingerprint-prone. Also gone is the shiny bronze hinge; however, the glossy black hinge (with a glowing power button at the center) is attractive in its own way.
At 10.4 x 7.6 x 1.3 inches, the NB205 is fairly compact, although not as slim as the ASUS Eee PC 1008HA (10.3 x 7.0 x 1.0) or the Acer Aspire One AOD250 (10.2 x 7.2 x 1.0). Additionally, this netbook’s standard six-cell battery juts out from the back of the system. Weighing 2.8 pounds by itself, the NB205 and its AC adapter came in at 3.4 pounds, and didn’t put much strain on our shoulder as we walked around New York City.
Basic Keyboard, Solid Touchpad
Aside from the chassis, the most obvious difference between the NB205-N210 and the N310 is the keyboard. While the N310 has a metal island keyboard, the N210 has a plastic panel with more traditional keys. Though not as attractive, the keyboard remains comfortable and sturdy; we achieved the same typing score as that on the N310—a strong 80 words per minute with a one percent error rate on the Ten Thumbs typing test (www.tenthumbstypingtutor.com). Comparatively, we had a two percent error rate on the Samsung N120.
On the other hand, we prefer the layout on the Toshiba mini NB205-N310 to the N210. Certain keys that typists use most often—like the right Shift key—are larger on the former system.
The touchpad continues to be one of the best we have used on a netbook. At 3.1 x 1.6-inches, it’s the largest we’ve seen in the 10-inch class, and its smooth finish makes it easy to navigate the desktop. The two dedicated right and left mouse buttons are comfortable and far from stiff.
Display and Audio
The NB205’s 10.1-inch, 1024 x 600-pixel resolution LED-backlit display is just the right amount of glossy. Watching a Daily Show clip on Hulu.com was bright, and colors were not at all muted. Tilting the screen back to its 45-degree maximum didn’t cause too much distracting glare, and we had no problem positioning the notebook in bed to watch a YouTube clip.
We were somewhat distracted by the almost one-inch thick bezel that surrounds the display—it seems like there’s enough room to fit an even larger screen. But, because you have to live with 10 inches, Toshiba thankfully includes a zooming utility that enlarges text and icons within certain programs, including Internet Explorer and Adobe Reader, by pressing number shortcuts.
Dual stereo speakers, hidden below the front edge of the system, were a bit weak compared to other netbooks we have tested. When playing The Shins over Slacker.com, we had to crank up the volume to hear the lyrics. Similarly, on a Skype call we couldn’t make out our callers’ voice as clearly as we would have liked. Plugging in a headset solved these problems.
Above the display is a 0.3-megapixel webcam, which provided extremely clear images in a video chat over Skype. When we waved to our friend with whom we frequently test webcams, he had no complaints of motion blur or problems with the lighting. Toshiba also includes Camera Assistant Software (which pops up when you mouse over the left side of the screen) that can record videos, snap still shots, and lets you create some neat effects.
The Toshiba mini NB205 has the standard set of ports we’ve come to expect from netbooks: two USB ports and a Kensington lock slot adorn the right side; a VGA-out, audio in/out, Ethernet, and third USB port are mounted on the left. That third USB port is enabled with Toshiba’s Sleep-and-Charge technology, which provides power to connected devices (such as smart phones) when the system is off. A 3-in-1 memory card reader sits along the front lip.
The Toshiba mini NB205 contains Intel’s latest 1.66-GHz Atom N280 processor; as we found with the ASUS Eee PC 1000HE, it makes a slight difference, but it’s not dramatic. When we ran PCMark05 (which measures total system performance in Windows XP), the NB205 notched a score of 1,493. That’s 110 points higher than the category average, but 95 points lower than the Eee PC 1000HE. Overall, performance was pretty snappy, and we had no problems streaming video at full screen or working with several applications (Firefox 3, Microsoft Works, and Skype) simultaneously.
The NB205’s Intel GMA 950 graphics chip delivered a score of 92 on 3DMark06, which measures graphics performance. This mark was a little lower than the netbook average of 97, but a 720p video clip played smoothly. Using Handbrake, we transcoded a 5:05 MPEG-4 video clip (114MB) to the AVI format in 27 minutes and 39 seconds, which is 1:30 faster than the netbook average, and on a par with the Eee PC 1008HA.
During testing, the keyboard and touchpad on the NB205 were not noticeably warm, although the underside of the unit heated up, measuring 104 degrees Fahrenheit--right where a sticker warns users to “avoid prolonged contact to prevent heat injury to skin.”
The NB205’s 160GB, 5,400-rpm drive booted Windows XP in 60 seconds, barely longer than the 55-second netbook average. On the LAPTOP Transfer Test, in which we duplicate 4.97GB of mixed-media files, the NB205 took 4 minutes and 53 seconds, a rate of 17.4 MBps. This score is 2.4 MBps faster than the average netbook, though not as fast as the Eee PC 1008HA’s mark of 23.1 MBps.
Unlike most netbooks, the drive on the NB205 is protected from sudden drops by a 3D accelerometer. Using Toshiba’s software, you can turn the protection on or off and adjust the level of sensitivity.
Wi-Fi and Battery Life
The NB205’s 802.11b/g Wi-Fi card provided adequate performance on our tests, delivering 21.2 Mbps and 20.6 Mbps from 15 and 50 feet, respectively; these scores are well above the netbook averages of 18.9 and 15.8 Mbps. The NB205 maintained a strong connection during our day-to-day Web activities; streaming music over Slacker without pauses, and streaming video clips on Hulu.com that were void of buffering delays.
The Toshiba mini NB205-N210’s standard six-cell 5800 mAh lithium-ion battery outshines all other netbooks. On the LAPTOP Battery Test (continuous Web surfing over Wi-Fi), the system lasted longer than a good night’s sleep—a very impressive 9 hours and 41 minutes. This runtime blows away the six-cell netbook average of 6:02, and it beats out even the Samsung N120 (7:24) and ASUS Eee PC 1005HA (8:57). It even bested the MSI Wind U123, which has a nine-cell battery, by 1 hour and 23 minutes. The NB205-N210’s runtime was about 20 minutes longer than the NB205-N310, which we attribute to the lack of Bluetooth.
While Toshiba will not offer configuration options, you can upgrade the netbook’s RAM to 2GB on your own. As mentioned, Toshiba also sells the $399 NB205-N310 model, which has a more stylish design, island keyboard, and Bluetooth. A $329 version of the NB205 (the NB205-N211) is identical to the N210, but comes with a smaller 3-cell battery.
Software and Warranty
Our NB205 came preinstalled with Windows XP Home. As the company does with its other notebooks, Toshiba bundles the system with a good deal of software, most of which is proprietary. In addition to Toshiba’s HDD Protection and Zoom Utility software, ConfigFree (for connecting to a network), and PC Health Monitor (for keeping the netbook running smoothly) are included. ConfigFree provides a compelling interface that displays the networks in range; we found this helpful for quickly connecting to the Web, though some users may prefer to use XP’s interface.
A 60-day trial of Norton Internet Security 2009, Microsoft Works 9.0, Google Toolbar, and shortcuts to deals from Amazon.com and Skype are on the desktop. Toshiba covers the mini NB205 with a one-year limited warranty and 24/7 toll-free tech support.
With the mini NB205-N310, Toshiba proved that it could build one of the best netbooks on the market, and its low-cost cousin is also compelling. Though the $349 NB205-N210 is missing a few of the premium features, such as a more elegant lid and island style keyboard, it still manages to run for more than 9.5 hours and perform up to netbook standards. Whether you opt for the N210 or the more expensive N310 depends on what you are willing to spend. Those who have the extra $50 should go with the NB205-N310 and its more compelling design; however, if you’re looking to save a little cash, the NB205-N210 is still one of the best netbooks on the market.