For less than 600 bucks, it doesn't get any better than this. With its lightweight chassis, long battery life, comfy keyboard, and unique style, Toshiba's Satellite T235 is one of the best consumer ultraportables yet. It's great for students or anyone else on the go. Though the T235 series is compelling in both the AMD- and Intel-powered configurations, we give the edge to the $598 Intel-based Satellite T235-S1350 because of its longer endurance and stronger wireless performance. Yes, you can get a more powerful Core i3 notebook instead of this Pentium-powered machine for around the same price, but if you care about portability it's more than worth the trade-off.
At 12.7 x 8.8 x 1 inches, the Satellite T235 is a lot thinner than last year's 1.4-inch thick Satellite T135. With a weight of only 3.8 pounds, the notebook is so light that we hardly noticed it when we carried both the AMD and Intel versions and their AC adapters in our bag.
Despite its sub-$600 price tag, the Toshiba Satellite T235 looks like a more expensive notebook. Its shiny lid (available in charcoal, red, or white) has a subtle wave pattern overlaid on top of an even more subtle grid imprint. Though the glossy surface picked up fingerprints, they weren't too prominent. The thin profile, which tapers from under 0.8 inches thick on the front lip to just over an inch thick in the back, makes the system look extra-svelte. We also like that the keyboard inclines slightly for a more comfortable typing position.
However, the real star of the show is the chrome-colored deck, keyboard, and touchpad. While the keyboard's keys and base are both matte chrome, the palm rest and area above the keyboard have a gorgeous shiny surface with a slightly rough texture, which Toshiba calls a Fusion chrome finish. We'll just call it one of the best-looking and most comfortable palm rests we've tested. The touchpad sports a smooth surface that continues the Fusion pattern (which some may find to be a little loud), while the two mouse buttons and front lip are a glossy, pattern-free chrome.
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Keyboard and Touchpad
The Satellite T235's keyboard is one of the best we've used on any consumer notebook, even more comfortable than that on the Satellite T645. The keys are generously spaced, offer strong tactile feedback, and have no flex at all. Using this keyboard, we were able to achieve a score of 92 words per minute on the Ten Thumbs Typing Test, which matches our all-time high score.
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The 3.3 x 1.5-inch touchpad offered just the right amount of resistance, allowing us to navigate around the desktop with ease. It also supports multitouch gestures such as pinch-to-zoom. Its two discrete buttons provided good tactile feedback without feeling stiff.
A notebook of this size is likely to spend much of its life on your lap, so ambient temperature becomes even more important than they would on a larger system. Fortunately, the T235 stayed incredibly cool through our testing. Even after we streamed a Hulu video at full screen for 15 minutes with the notebook on high-performance mode, we measured the touchpad, keyboard, and bottom at only 95 degrees Fahrenheit--well within comfortable temperatures. Even better, we didn't detect any warm spots on the palm rest, bottom, or sides. By contrast, the AMD-powered Satellite T235D got a bit warmer, with a 97-degree touchpad and a warm spot on the left side of the palm rest.
Display and Audio
Click to enlargeThe 13.3-inch, 1366 x 768 screen provided bright colors, sharp images, and surprisingly good viewing angles for a glossy panel. Even at angles of 45 degrees, images didn't wash out significantly. However, if you have a strong light source behind you, you may see some reflections.
High-definition videos looked fantastic on the Satellite T235. Whether we were playing a 1080p WMV file from Microsoft's HD showcase, a 720p file of a Formula One race, or a high-def episode of Fringe from Fox.com, images were sharp and detailed, while colors were just the right temperature. Unlike many other notebooks, videos on the T235 showed very little visual noise, even in dark areas. Fine details like the wrinkles in a person's skin were clearly visible.
Unfortunately, this machine's sound quality doesn't quite match the video. The T235's bottom-mounted speakers produced a fair amount of volume when streaming Coldplay's "Viva La Vida" from Slacker, but the audio sounded tinny. When we tried listening to The Heavy's "How You Like Me Now" streamed from Napster, the vocals and instruments both seemed flat and monotone.
Ports and Webcam
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For a notebook this small, the Satellite T235 doesn't skimp on ports. On its right side are a Kensington lock slot, an Ethernet port, a VGA-out connection, head phone/mic jacks, and two USB ports. On the left side are an HDMI-out port, a 6-in-1 memory card reader, and an eSATA/USB combo port for a total of three USB connections. The USB ports all utilize Toshiba's Sleep-and-Charge technology, which allows you to juice your phone or MP3 player from them, even when your notebook is in suspend mode.
As with the Toshiba Satellite T645 we reviewed earlier this month, the VGA webcam on the T235 didn't impress. Another Skype caller said we looked "decent," but that our face was a little dark and blurry.
With only a 1.2-GHz Intel Pentium U5400 CPU, 5,400-rpm hard drive, and integrated Intel HD graphics, we didn't expect the T235 to be as snappy as it was. Whether we were playing HD video, transcoding an MPEG-4 file, or circling the globe in Google Earth, the notebook handled each program with aplomb. Only truly demanding tasks, like playing the game Far Cry 2, slowed the system down.
On PCMark Vantage (a synthetic benchmark that measures overall system performance) the T235 scored 3,158, which is slightly below the ultraportable category average of 3,283, but way faster than the MSI X-Slim X350 (2,631) and last year's Toshiba Satellite T135 (2,701). The AMD-powered version of this system, the Satellite T235D, scored a similar 3,198.
The Satellite T235's 5,400 rpm, 320GB hard drive booted Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit) in 63 seconds, which is just slightly below the 60.3-second category average and about the same as the AMD-powered T235D, which took 61 seconds.
The notebook's hard drive took just 3 minutes and 32 seconds to complete the LAPTOP Transfer Test, which is a rate of 24 MBps. That showing is about on par with the category average of 24.8 MBps, but way faster than the AMD-powered T235D, which took a much-slower 4 minutes and 7 seconds (20.6 MBps) to complete the test. The MSI X350 managed only 21.4 MBps.
The T235-S1350 took 1 minute and 42 seconds to convert a 114MB MPEG-4 video to AVI format using the Oxelon media encoder. That's 18 seconds faster than the category average (2:00), 14 seconds quicker than the T235D (1:56), and 12 seconds ahead of the MSI X350 (1:52).
As we mentioned above, the Satellite T235-S1350 is more than capable of playing HD video, even at 1080p. It also had no problem navigating the globe in Google Earth, though the tops of buildings didn't have the same 3D depth we've seen on systems with discrete graphics cards. On 3DMark06, which measures overall graphics prowess, the T235-S1350 scored a reasonable 1,262, slightly above the ultraportable category average of 1,130. However, the Toshbia T235D, which features an integrated AMD Mobility Radeon HD 4225 graphics chip, had a stronger score of 1,484. Both Satellite T235s were much faster than the MSI X350 (699) and last year's Toshiba Satellite T135 (718).
While serious gamers won't use a system with integrated graphics, World of Warcraft was definitely playable at low resolutions. At 1024 x 768, we achieved a strong frame rate of 52 fps, far above the category average of 37.7 fps and miles ahead of competitors like the MSI X350 (22 fps). However, once we turned up the resolution to 1366 x 768 and jacked up the special effects, that number dropped to an unplayable 7 fps. The AMD-powered T235D was a bit stronger, registering 63 and 10 fps, respectively.
We wouldn't recommend playing something more demanding than World of Warcraft on the T235. In Far Cry 2, we managed only 8 fps at 1024 x 768. And we couldn't even run the game at a higher resolution. The T235D was a bit stronger, offering a frame rate of 18 fps at 1024 x 768 and 5 fps at 1366 x 768.
Battery Life and Wi-Fi
On the LAPTOP Battery Test, which involves continuous surfing over Wi-Fi, the Satellite T235-S1350 lasted a strong 6 hours and 11 minutes, which is roughly 40 minutes longer than the category average (5:32) and about 50 minutes longer than its AMD-powered sibling, the Satellite T235D. Still, slower competitors like the MSI X350 (7:05), the ASUS UL30A (9:55), and last year's Satellite T135 (7:23) lasted longer.
The T235's Realtek 8191SE 802.11n wireless card managed strong transfer rates of 42.9 and 27.5 Mbps at distances of 15 and 50 feet from our router, respectively. Those numbers were significantly stronger than the AMD-powered T235D, which achieved 35.7 Mbps from 15 feet and a weak rate of 16.2 Mbps from the further distance. The MSI X350 got rates of 29.9 and 26.8 Mbps.
Click to enlargeThe Toshiba Satellite T235 series currently comes in just three configurations and cannot be built to order. The T235-S1350 featured in this review has a 1.2-GHz Intel Pentium U5400 CPU, 4GB of RAM, and 320GB hard drive. In addition, Toshiba offers a couple of different AMD options that carry the T235D model name. We've also tested a T235D-S1345, which carries a $599 MSRP ($578 at Walmart) and sports a 1.5-GHz AMD Turion II Neo K625 CPU, the same 4GB of RAM, and the same 320GB hard drive. Those who want to save even more can opt for the slower Satellite T235D-S1340, which has a 1.3-GHz AMD Athlon II K325 CPU, 3GB of RAM, and the same 320GB hard drive.
Each configuration is available with a lid that is charcoal, red, or white (red looks most attractive). Of the three configs, we recommend the Intel-powered T235-S1350 because of its longer battery life, stronger Wi-Fi scores, and faster transfer rates.
Software and Warranty
Like all Toshiba machines, the Satellite T235-S1350 comes with an array of useful utilities. Toshiba Bulletin Board provides a unique and compelling place to slap up post-it notes, pictures, and calendars. However, we wish it offered more flexibility and made it easier to add new items. ReelTime provides an attractive view of your most recently opened files. Eco Utility shows how much power your notebook is consuming right now and helps you tweak the settings. The Web Camera Application allows you to shoot photos and videos with the bundled camera.
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This notebook comes with a standard one-year limited warranty. To find out how Toshbia did on our latest Tech Support Showdown, click here.
Click to enlargeSimply put, the Toshiba Satellite T235-S1350 is the best value-priced ultraportable on the market today, mixing great looks with an industry leading keyboard, strong battery life, and solid performance. The AMD-powered Satellite T235D-S1345 offers somewhat better graphics performance and is $20 to $30 cheaper, but its lesser battery life, weaker wireless scores, and slower storage speeds aren't worth the miniscule savings. When it comes to ultraportable 13-inch notebooks, you won't find a more attractive system anywhere near this price range.