At first glance, it would seem that there’s very little a manufacturer can do these days to make its 10-inch netbook stand out from the hordes of others on the market. Yet, despite being more than a year late to the game in North America, Toshiba’s mini NB205 does just that. It has created a netbook that, while housing a standard Intel Atom processor, 1GB of RAM, and Microsoft Windows XP Home, manages to break the mold. With a beautiful chassis, a spacious keyboard and touchpad, an exemplary more-than 9 hours of battery life, and a competitive $399 price tag, Toshiba’s netbook rises above the competition.
With most netbooks sporting the same organs, Toshiba joins the ranks of ASUS and other manufacturers in realizing that aesthetics must be top of mind when designing a netbook. The Sable Brown lid (also available in Royal Blue, Posh Pink, and Frost White) is adorned with raised horizontal lines. Combined with an elegant, shiny bronze hinge (with a glowing power button at the center), it nicely matches the silver finish on the bottom deck for an overall professional look. Toshiba will also offer a $349 version (NB205-N210) of this netbook that will come in Black Onyx only, which will have Toshiba’s smooth Fusion Finish (rather than the raised pattern) on the lid.
At 10.4 x 7.6 x 1.3 inches, the NB205 is quite compact, although not as slim as the ASUS Eee PC 1008HA (10.3 x 7 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, together the NB205 and its AC adapter came in at 3.4 pounds, and didn’t put much strain on our shoulder as we walked home.
Great Keyboard, Touchpad Combo
The area underneath the attractive lid of the NB205 continues to impress. The metal island keyboard on our model (the less expensive version will be plastic and non-island style) is one of the best we’ve seen, and rivals that of the HP Mini 2140. Though they’re sturdy and comfortable, it can take a bit of time to get used to its keys. Nevertheless, we achieved a strong score of 80 words per minute with a one-percent error rate on the Ten Thumbs typing test (www.tenthumbstypingtutor.com). We had a two-percent error rate on the Samsung N120.We also noticed that the gray icons for shortcuts on the function keys were hard to see in the light against its silver background.
Similarly, the touchpad on the NB205 is one of the best we have used on a netbook. The 3.1 x 1.6-inch pad is the largest one we’ve seen in the 10-inch class, and it’s smooth finish makes it easy to navigate the desktop. Its two dedicated right and left mouse buttons are comfortable and far from stiff.
The Toshiba mini NB205 has the standard set of ports we’ve come to expect from netbooks, but with a slight twist: two USB ports and a Kensington lock adorn the right side; a VGA-out, audio in/out, Ethernet, and a third USB 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.
Screen, Webcam, 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.
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 creates some neat effects.
Dual stereo speakers, hidden below the front edge of the system, were a bit weak compared with 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.
The Toshiba mini NB205 contains Intel’s latest 1.66-GHz Atom N280 processor; as we found with the Eee PC 1000HE and the MSI Wind U123, it makes a slight performance difference, but it’s not dramatic. When we ran PCMark05 (which measures total system performance in Windows XP), the Toshiba NB205 notched a score of 1,496. That’s 111 points higher than the category average of 1,385, but 92 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, unless you’re planning to play the latest 3D games, you won’t notice a difference. A 720p video clip played smoothly. Using Handbrake, we transcoded a 5-minute-and-5-second MPEG-4 video clip (114MB) to the AVI format in 27 minutes and 23 seconds, which is only seconds slower than the netbook average.
During testing, the keyboard and touchpad were not noticeably warm, although the underside of the unit heated up, measuring 94 degrees Fahrenheit.
The NB205’s 160GB, 5,400-rpm drive booted Windows XP in 1 minute and 25 seconds. Though this is longer than the 55-second netbook average, we attribute the difference to the amount of trial software that is loaded on the system. On the LAPTOP Transfer Test, in which we duplicate 4.97GB of mixed-media files, the NB205 took 4 minutes and 41 seconds, or a rate of 18.1 MBps, which is 3.5 MBps faster than the average netbook, though not as fast as the Eee PC 1008HA’s mark of 23.1 MBps.
Standing out from most, the NB205’s drive 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.
The Toshiba mini NB205’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 24 minutes. This runtime blows away the six-cell netbook average of 5:40, and it beats out even the Samsung N110, the longest-lasting mini-notebook with a six-cell battery to date, by 1:06. It even beats the MSI Wind U123—which has a nine-cell battery—by 19 minutes.
The NB205’s 802.11b/g Wi-Fi card provided adequate performance on our tests, delivering 21.3 Mbps and 19.8 Mbps from 15 and 50 feet, respectively. These scores are higher than the netbook averages of 18.7 and 15.7 Mbps, but are not as high as the ASUS Eee PC 1008HA (which is also not equipped with wireless N). 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.
Upgrade Options, Software, Warranty
While Toshiba will not offer configuration options, you can upgrade the netbook’s RAM to 2GB on your own. As mentioned, Toshiba will also sell the $349 NB205-N210 model without the adorned lid and island keyboard.
Our NB205 came preinstalled with Windows XP Home. But typically, 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, Bluetooth Stack (for easy Bluetooth setup), 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 XP’s settings.
A 60-day trial of Google Toolbar, Norton Internet Security 2009, and shortcuts to deals from Amazon.com and Skype live on the desktop. Toshiba covers the mini NB205 with a one-year limited warranty and 24/7 toll-free tech support. Click here to see how Toshiba fared in our Tech Support Showdown.
In creating its first netbook for the U.S., Toshiba has learned from the mistakes and successes of its rivals, and one-upped them all. Its mini NB205 has everything we’d recommend in a netbook: an attractive chassis, comfortable keyboard and touchpad, and more than nine hours of battery life for an affordable price. While Samsung’s N110 and ASUS’ Eee PC 1000HE continue to be good choices, Toshiba’s $399 mini NB205 provides an all-around solid package, and longer endurance than the competition.