Editors' Note: Portions of this review were taken from our earlier review of the Toshiba mini NB205 (N210).
There's really not much Toshiba could have done to improve upon its class-leading netbook. But the mini NB205-N330BL (priced at $419) manages to distance itself from its predecessor by sporting a larger 250GB hard drive and Microsoft's new Windows 7 Starter Edition operating system. The limitations of this OS may frustrate some, but the NB205 still rises above the sea of netbook competition with a beautiful chassis, spacious keyboard and touchpad, and nearly 9 hours of battery life.
With most netbooks sporting the same guts (except for the HP Mini 311, which features Nvidia's Ion platform for added graphics punch), design becomes a major differentiator, and Toshiba doesn't disappoint. Our model featured a Royal Blue lid that's adorned with raised horizontal lines, giving the PC a textured surface that's interesting to touch. Combined with an elegant, shiny blue hinge (with a glowing power button at its center) and a silver finish on the deck, the NB205 has an executive-chic look.
At 10.4 x 8.3 x 1.2 inches, the NB205 is quite compact. It's a hair smaller than the 11.4 x 8.0 x 1.2-inch HP Mini 311 (which houses an 11.6-inch display). The six-cell battery juts out from the back of the system, but because this netbook weighs just 3 pounds, we didn't mind too much.
Basic Keyboard, Solid Touchpad
The area underneath the attractive lid of the NB205 continues to impress. Like the original model, the metal island keyboard on our system is still one of the best we've seen, and rivals that of the HP Mini 2140. The keyboard is sturdy and comfortable, and features Shift keys of respectable size. There are only two possible drawbacks, depending on your keyboard use: The Function keys are really small (making them somewhat difficult to accurately press when speed typing), and the gray icons for shortcuts on those same function keys can be hard to see in the light against its silver background.
Click to enlargeSimilarly, the touchpad on the new NB205 is one of the best we've used on a netbook. The 3.1 x 1.6-inch pad is still the largest we've seen in the 10-inch class, and its smooth finish makes it easy to navigate the desktop. Its two dedicated right and left mouse buttons are a bit stiff, but also fairly large.
Display and Audio
The NB205's 10.1-inch, 1024 x 600-pixel LED-backlit display was bright and glossy, but it kicked back quite a few reflections when viewing content with dark backgrounds. An episode of Cougar Town streamed from Hulu featured colorful, fairly sharp visuals, but the horizontal viewing angles weren't as wide as we would've liked; moving left or right of center, once again, causes the screen to toss reflection back to you.
We were somewhat distracted by the almost 1-inch thick bezel that surrounds the display--it seems like there's enough room to fit an even larger screen. As 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 9--by pressing Fn + space bar.
An integrated speaker, hidden below the front edge of the system, were a bit weak compared to other netbooks we've tested. When playing Christina Aguilera's "Beautiful" over Slacker.com, we had to crank up the volume to hear the lyrics, and even then it didn't have the chops to fill a small conference room.
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Ports and Webcam
The Toshiba mini NB205 has the standard set of ports we've come to expect from netbooks: two USB 2.0 ports and a lock slot adorn the right side; a VGA, headphone, mic, Ethernet, and third USB 2.0 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.
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Above the display is a 0.3-megapixel webcam, which provided extremely clear images in a Meebo video chat. Friends said that images of us were somewhat muted, but didn't complain of motion blur when we quickly moved about. When we waved to our friend with whom we frequently test webcams, he had no saw no problems with the lighting. Toshiba also includes their Web Camera Application, which pops up when you mouse over the left side of the screen; this utility can record video and snap still shots (in resolutions ranging from 160 x 120 to 640 x 480), and let us add visual effects that border the image (such as raindrops or stars).
Windows 7 Starter Edition
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The NB205 is among the first wave of netbooks to feature Microsoft's latest operating system, Windows 7. It isn't, however, a full-fledged version of Windows 7, but rather Windows 7 Starter Edition, a netbook-specific version that carries several limitations, and may make you ponder the purchase before you pull out your wallet.
Starter Edition doesn't include Windows 7's slick Aero Glass interface (which means Aero Peek and Taskbar Preview aren't available), the ability to personalize the PC (desktop wallpaper, windows colors, or sound schemes), DVD playback, Windows Media Center, remote media streaming, domain support for businesses, or XP mode (for those who want to run XP programs in Windows 7). It's a painfully obvious ploy to artificially define the netbook class, and keep the full PC experience for more expensive notebooks. There is one drop of good news: Microsoft removed the previous three open applications limit that was originally going to be a part of Starter Edition, so you can now launch as many programs as the Atom processor can handle.
The NB205 contains Intel's 1.66-GHz Atom N280 processor (which is marginally speedier than the 1.60-GHz Atom N270 CPU) and 1GB of RAM (expandable to 2GB). Although PCMark Vantage failed to run, we did get a performance score from Geekbench of 805, which was 21 points lower than the netbook average. Still, the overall performance was pretty snappy, and we had no problems streaming a Hulu clip, all while shuffling between Firefox 3 and Microsoft Works.
The Intel GMA 950 graphics chip produced a score of 112 on our 3DMark06 benchmark, which measures graphics performance. This mark was a little higher than the netbook average of 99, but a 720p video clip of Fighter Pilot downloaded from the WMV HD Content Showcase played smoothly. If you want to be able to play 1080p videos or mainstream games, look toward the HP Mini 311; thanks to Nvidia's Ion graphics, that system scored 1,386 on 3DMark06.
Using HandBrake, we transcoded a 5:05 MPEG-4 video clip (114MB) to the AVI format in 30 minutes and 23 seconds, which was about 45 seconds longer than 29:41 category average.
Hard Drive and Boot Time
Now that netbook makers are free from Microsoft's XP constraints, they can, among other things, add larger hard drives into these cheap systems. The NB205 is a case in point: its 5,400-rpm, 250GB drive is considerably larger than the 160GB drives found in most other netbooks to date. It booted Windows 7 Starter Edition in a lengthy 1 minute and 7 seconds, which was 12 seconds longer than the average netbook, but 18 seconds shorter than the original NB205's load time (a system with the Windows XP operating system).
On the LAPTOP Transfer Test, in which we duplicate 4.97GB of mixed-media files, the NB205 took 4 minutes and 45 seconds, a rate of 17.9 MBps, which was slightly slower than the original NB205's 18.1 MBps mark. This score, however, was 2.7 MBps faster than the category average. 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.
Strong Wi-Fi Performance, Excellent Battery Life
We saw strong wireless performance from the NB205's 802.11b/g Wi-Fi card, which pushed data along at a rate of 20.7 Mbps at 15 feet away from our access point, and 18.7 Mbps at 50 feet. These scores are a couple notches above the netbook averages of 19.7 Mbps and 16.4 Mbps. The system maintained a strong connection during our day-to-day Web activities; it streamed music over Slacker without any pauses, as well as video clips on Hulu that were void of buffering delays. When we blew up the video clips to full screen, we saw some occasional video stuttering.
The Toshiba mini NB205's standard six-cell 5800 mAh lithium ion battery places it into the upper-echelon of netbook endurance. On the LAPTOP Battery Test (continuous Web surfing over Wi-Fi), the machine lasted longer than a good night's sleep--a very impressive 8 hours and 51 minutes. This runtime blows away the six-cell netbook average of 6:10, and it beat out the MSI Wind U123, a system with a nine-cell battery that lasted 8:14. In fact, only the ASUS Eee PC 1005HA (8:57), Toshiba mini NB205-N310 (9:24), Toshiba mini NB205-N210 (9:41) offered longer battery life.
While Toshiba will not offer configuration options, it also sells the $399 NB205-N323 (no Bluetooth) and the $379 NB205-N230 (no Bluetooth, Fusion Finish, flat keyboard).
To get the battery charged to 80 percent, the NB205 took 2 hours and 26 minutes. However, getting to 100 percent took an additional 1 hour and 3 minutes, for a total time of 3 hours and 29 minutes. This was 17 minutes faster than the average netbook. During charging the system used 6290.9 watts, which was significantly greater than the 5854.2 category mark. Its LAPTOP Battery Efficiency Rating, which is defined as watts to charge divided by battery life, was 11.8--quite a bit lower (and better) than the 18.0 netbook average.
Software and Warranty
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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 Recovery, the mini NB205-N330BL includes ConfigFree (for connecting to a network) and PC Health Monitor (for monitoring system performance). The netbook also comes with Adobe Reader 9, Google Toolbar, Internet Explorer 8, Microsoft Windows Media Player, Microsoft Works 9, and WildTangent Orb Game Console. Trial software comes in the form of Microsoft Office Home and Student 2007 (60 days), and Norton Internet Security 2009 (30 days).
Toshiba covers the NB205 with a one-year limited warranty and 24/7 tech support. To see how Toshiba fared in our annual Tech Support Showdown, click here.
Although the $419 mini NB205-N330BL isn't radically different from its predecessor, it can be argued that one of the finest netbooks didn't need much fixing. Granted, we would've welcomed Nvidia's Ion platform (the HP Mini 311 has it for $399) to give users more gaming and HD video punch, but the advantage of the NB205 is that it lasts over three hours longer than the 311. The limitations of Microsoft's Windows 7 Starter Edition will frustrate some, but in terms of appearance, keyboard design, endurance, and affordability, the NB205 continues to set the standard for netbooks.