Toshiba Mini NB305-N600: Style Over Substance

The Toshiba Mini NB305-N600 ($380 as of April 5, 2011) comes from the higher end of Toshiba's two-part netbook family. Nothing if not eager to meet your netbook needs, Toshiba offers its two basic models--the Mini NB300 and NB500 series--in a total of 11 configurations, and figuring out how they differ requires going through spec sheets with a magnifying glass. Of course, specs don't tell the whole story, anyway--and overall, the story isn't that compelling.

For example, despite having a higher-end Intel Atom processor (the dual-core N550 with 512KB of Level 2 cache per core) than its less-expensive sibling, the Mini NB505-N508GN, which has a single-core N450 Atom CPU, the NB305-N600 scored about the same on WorldBench 6--32 to the NB505-N508G's 33. These are pretty poor scores, even for netbooks; you wouldn't want to use these portables for running databases or video editing, and even more routine applications such as browsing or composing e-mail can be sluggish if you're multitasking.

Note that other CPU and memory differences likely contributed to the disappointing performance. The NB305-N600's Atom N550 has a slightly slower clock speed (1.5GHz) than the NB505-N508GN's N450 (1.66GHz). And while both come with a paltry 1GB of RAM, the NB305-N600 also uses DDR3 memory compared with DDR2 on the NB505-N508GN. Both have the same Intel 3150 integrated graphics chipset that can use up to 250MB of that system memory, and both run Windows 7 Starter Edition.

The test scores would undoubtedly improve if you swapped in a 2GB memory module. It might also speed up if, as my colleague Jon Jacobi pointed out in his review of the NB505-N508GN, you uninstalled or disabled at least some of the background processes and startup programs Toshiba insists on loading in its notebooks. The bottom line is that you shouldn't expect better performance for the extra cost of the NB305-N600.

Nor should you look for improved battery life. In our tests, the NB305-N600 ran a few minutes shy of 7 hours, which is fine for a netbook, but not as good as the 7.5 hours the NB505-N508GN managed.

So why might you consider paying some $80 more for the Mini NB305-N600? Good looks, maybe--the brushed black metal keyboard does look classy--and a slightly nicer keyboard in the style that Toshiba calls "raised tile." There's lots of separation between the keys, which does make typing easier, and Toshiba makes good use of the real estate so that most of the keys are full-size (although the tab key lost out here and is just a little stub). And the Synaptics touchpad offers multitouch support.

The widescreen LED-backlit 10.1-inch display, which has a 1024 by 600 resolution, is handsome enough, and the integrated graphics managed a collection of YouTube music videos with no difficulty. However, the integrated USB 2.0 Webcam was not that impressive, delivering images that looked grainy at maximum (640 by 480) resolution and washed out at all settings.

Toshiba's camera software doesn't help the experience: It runs by default as a hidden bar on the left side of the screen, and you access it by clicking on a barely visible edge. Clicking on the camera icon launches the Webcam, but you get very few settings to work with, and in fact I found tweaks only by running Skype's video settings controls. (Although the unit has a Skype sticker, Toshiba includes just a link to Skype--you're on your own for downloading and installing the software.) The built-in microphone was adequate, and the audio on the NB305-N600's stereo speakers was predictably tinny, but sounded fine played through the headphone jack.

Toshiba skimps a bit on ports and connectivity. There's no HDMI out, for example--just a standard PC display port--and the card reader accepts only SD cards. The ethernet is 10/100¸ but you don't really expect gigabit ethernet on a netbook. The Mini NB305-N600 does deliver one nice connectivity extra: One of its three USB 2.0 ports will charge your electronics when the notebook sleeps. You also get a Kensington lock slot. The 5400-rpm, 250GB hard disk is pretty much standard for current netbooks, as is the 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi.

As mentioned, Toshiba has an annoying tendency to preinstall all sorts of utilities you may or may not want or need. In addition to the Webcam software, these include a document and media organizer called Reeltime, password and "eco" utilities, a PC health monitor, and so on -- 19 in all. Third-party offerings are also fairly standard issue, including Microsoft Office 2010 Starter Edition, Wild Tangent game trials, Microsoft Live Essentials for e-mail, multimedia, and instant messaging, and a 30-day trial of Norton Internet Security 2011.

Overall, the NB305-N600 seems a bit overpriced for what it delivers in a highly competitive netbook field. Good looks will only get you so far, especially when your rivals include a less expensive model from your own manufacturer.

This story, "Toshiba Mini NB305-N600: Style Over Substance" was originally published by PCWorld.

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