Technology

Toshiba's Nifty NB205 Netbook Stands Out


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Editor's Rating: star rating

This netbook's super-long battery life and roomy keyboard make it a worthy alternative to full-sized laptops

Netbooks have been a big seller at U.S. retailers for nearly a year, but Toshiba has been late to the game. The company's first entry, the stylish NB205, makes up for its tardiness.

The $400 NB205 is one of the best-looking netbooks I've seen. It's available in five colors (blue, pink, brown, black, and white), and its lid features a textured finish of raised horizontal stripes that lend an air of sophistication and professionalism that's perfect for both students and executives.

Toshiba introduced its debut netbook in April, using that late-to-market timing to address users' complaints about its competitors' products. In particular, the NB205 touchpad is roomy for a netbook, and offers the standard left-click, right-click buttons. Unlike some rival models, there's an Ethernet port built in, and a Kensington Technology lock connection to keep thieves at bay. The mini-laptop's battery life is enough to get you through a workday—something that can't be said for most portable computers of any size.

Opening the lid, a power button with a pearly illumination sits in the center, just below a moderately bright, 10.1-in., 1024 x 600 LED screen. The nearly full-sized keyboard offers nicely spaced keys that make typing even long memos easy, although I found that the silver-colored key coating made it tough to hunt and peck in low light. At 2.9 lbs. without its power adapter, the NB205 packs about the same heft as most netbooks.

a "sleep-and-charge" device charger

Like most laptops of this size, the NB205 is powered by Intel's (INTC) 1.66 GHz Atom processor, runs Windows XP Home Edition, and sports 1 gigabyte of memory (upgradable by the user to 2 gigabytes). Built-in Intel graphics are capable of playing back 720p Web video, though the screen resolution is slightly below high-definition quality. A built-in 802.11g Wi-Fi card offers decent speed within range of a wireless router. The 160-gigabyte hard drive includes Toshiba's hard drive protection technology that "parks" the hard disk for safety if it detects an imminent fall.

Toshiba's NB205 is built to be toted around. It offers a whopping 8.5 hours of battery life. There's also nifty technology Toshiba calls "sleep-and-charge," which transforms one of the netbook's three USB ports into a charger for cell phones and other devices, even when the netbook is switched off. Larger laptops offer such features, but it's the first time I've seen it in a netbook.

Other hardware features include a reader for three types of memory cards along the laptop's front lip, a VGA-out port to connect the netbook to an external monitor, and headphone and microphone jacks on the left side of the unit. You can pair those with a 0.3 megapixel webcam and preloaded Skype (EBAY) software for video chats. Toshiba also includes software that walks a user through recording videos, taking still shots, and creating digital effects.

weak speakers, too much trialware

Because netbook makers ring up only razor-thin margins on the devices, they tend to skimp on the software they install. I was pleased to see that Toshiba joined Hewlett-Packard (HPQ) and other makers of full-sized laptops by offering Microsoft (MSFT) Works and Office PowerPoint Viewer. The NB205 also includes Symantec's (SYMC) Norton Internet Security.

Savvy netbook customers know the devices are meant for day trips rather than long journeys. They're good for Web surfing, catching up on e-mail, and other tasks that don't require lots of computing power. I installed Mozilla's Firefox browser and Apple's (AAPL) iTunes on the NB205 and they ran with no problem, though the installation process took more time than it would on a PC.

The only big problem I had with the NB205 was its underpowered speakers. They sit on the netbook's bottom and sound tinny (though Toshiba may be assuming that most users will opt for the headphone input). Toshiba also includes trial software from Amazon.com (AMZN) and other vendors, an annoyance that contributes to the laptop's slow boot-up time.

All told, Toshiba is one of the few netbooks I've reviewed that has me considering whether I really need to take a fully configured laptop with me everywhere I go.

Edwards is a correspondent in BusinessWeek's Silicon Valley bureau.

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