Top 10 netbooks

Netbooks are perfect travel companions and meet basic computing needs, including e-mailing, Web surfing, and simple document creation. Best of all, these low-powered machines cost less than the standard-issue laptop

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Toshiba NB205-310
NB205-310 Review, by Darren Gladstone, PC World July 6, 2009

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Rating:

CPU: Intel Atom N280; CPU speed: 1660MHz; Display size: 10.1 inches; Hard drive size: 160GB; WorldBench 6 rating: Very Good

Pros:
Great oversized touchpad with good keys
Amazing battery life

Cons:
Screen picks up a little glare

Bottom Line: Toshiba's NB205 is a great value, packed with a collection of fantastic features and a marathon-ready battery life.

REVIEW:
Toshiba may be new to netbooks, but the company is no stranger to small. Toshiba's NB205-N310 ($400) jumps into the market and claims a top spot in our rankings. This primo portable not only delivers where it counts with the longest battery life to date, it does so with panache and some great design decisions. In short, Toshiba has come a long way since blazing trails with its Libretto subnotebooks in the 1990s.

I'm going to start this review with the NB205's only real "downer": its pedestrian speed and guts. The guts are a 1.6GHz Intel Atom N280 CPU, 1GB of RAM, and a 160GB 5400-rpm hard drive, which together earned the NB205 a rather standard performance score of 36 in PC WorldBench 6. But that's about the only thing that I'd classify as "average" about the NB205-N310.

Toshiba spokespeople say that the NB205-N310's six-cell battery can last for almost 9 hours. Wrong. In our tests, the NB205 survives a staggering 9 hours, 53 minutes. For a little perspective, that is easily the longest time so far that a netbook has been able to run--and this is with the standard battery on board. That alone catapults this netbook's worth to a top pick on the charts.

A killer keyboard and a touchpad to match are essential for a champion netbook. After all, how useful is a machine if you can't type on it without hurting your hands? Toshiba scores by making the Chiclet-size cutout keys just big enough, and by dropping down a huge touchpad. This is simply the best netbook mouse pad to date. For starters, the surface area of the strike zone is larger than that on many full-size laptops! Next, the beefy mouse buttons camp at the southern edge of the machine--easing hand strain. My physical therapist would approve.

The N310 has good (though occasionally muted) color reproduction and supports a reasonably precise resolution of 1024 by 600 pixels on its glossy 10.1-inch screen. I noticed some dark spots that got washed into a splotch or two--but otherwise, the images looked plenty sharp.

Its configuration looks fairly standard on the surface: three USB ports, an SDHC card reader, a Webcam, one VGA-out, ethernet, and headphone and microphone jacks. But it's put together in a 2.9-pound package and with a sense of style that doesn't look or feel cheap at all.

Toshiba also adds a few extras to the NB205-N310 that are sure to appeal to folks on the go--and even more so to IT departments looking to deploy cheap PCs to a mobile workforce. One notable perk is a pass-through USB port that enables users to charge USB-powered devices while the computer is off. This netbook also provides an internal accelerometer to protect the hard drive in case of falls (much as the HP Mini 2140 does)--and it offers wireless WAN support as an option.

As a quick heads-up, another version of the NB205 is waiting in the wings--the lighter, scrappier NB205-N210. The big differences between these sibling Toshiba netbooks boil down to price (the N210 costs $350, $50 less than the N310), key shape (the N210 has flat, wide keys, as opposed to the N310's cut-out style), and the N310's bluetooth support (the N210 doesn't have it).

But considering all the features packed into the N310--and how well it performs in a pinch--this is an easy-to-recommend netbook that's perfect whether you are a budget-minded businessman or you just need a flexible minimachine for a long day of note-taking. If this netbook ponied up a little more horsepower (a discrete GPU wouldn't hurt), I'd probably use this as my go-to gadget.

This story, "Top 10 netbooks" was originally published by PCWorld.

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