Back in the summer of 2009 we cast our eyes over Toshiba’s NB100. Back then, Toshiba seemed wary of using the term ‘netbook’ and instead went for the slightly less catchy ‘mini laptop’. Naming conventions aside, with its poor battery life and uninspiring design we were ultimately left unimpressed with the NB100.
Now Toshiba’s back with its all-new NB300. And with Psion’s claim that only it had rights to use the word ‘netbook’ seemingly dead in the water, Toshiba’s happy to fall in line with the rest of the industry and call the NB300 a netbook.
Decked out in an all-black chassis, the NB300 certainly looks more attractive than its predecessor, and at 1.3kg it’s roughly the same weight as most other netbooks. All the usual ports are present (Ethernet, card reader, VGA-out, audio and three USB), while a series of LEDs on the front lip let you know what’s active and what’s not.
Stereo speakers sit just underneath the front of the netbook. They’re not particularly loud and produce very tinny audio, so if you plan to use it as a portable jukebox you’ll either need some headphones or a separate speaker system.
As with the vast majority of new netbooks, the NB300 is powered by an Intel Atom N450 processor. With a clock speed of 1.66GHz, this is similar in speed to the older N280 CPU, but the upside is that it’s more frugal in terms of power consumption; more on this later.
The processor is joined by 1GB of memory and integrated Intel GMA 3150 graphics, all of which provide standard netbook performance. The installed Windows 7 Starter feels a little sluggish at times, but if you want to give it a shot in the arm it’s possible to upgrade the memory to 2GB by removing a small panel on the underside.
Toshiba provides slightly more than the average amount storage found on a netbook thanks to the 250GB hard drive; this is split into two partitions by default. If you’ve no interest in Windows 7, the NB300-10M variant (the model we’re reviewing here is the NB300-108) comes with Windows XP and is a few pounds cheaper. However, you also have to drop down to a 160GB hard drive.
The 10.1-inch screen has a glossy coating and native resolution of 1024 x 600 pixels. Viewing angles are reasonable and, as long as you can avoid reflections, its bright nature means outdoor use is possible.
Netbooks live and die by their keyboards, and Toshiba’s done extremely well with the one on the NB300. Low-profile keys don’t suit all typing styles, but we have to say this is one of the most finger-friendly models we’ve tested. Toshiba’s made the best of the space available, using large keys but still managing to avoid placing them too close together. They also have a decent amount of travel and spring back nicely, all of which adds to the keyboard’s usability. If you’ve a heavy-handed typing style you’ll notice a small amount of flexing, but most users will find it’s nothing to worry about.
The touchpad is similarly welcoming. It’s large, smooth to the touch and joined by two individual buttons; many netbooks feature single rocker-style touchpad buttons that can be awkward to use.
As we mentioned earlier, the Intel’s Atom N450 processor is designed with low-power usage in mind, and on the NB300 it certainly shows. With the 61Wh battery it managed to keep chugging away for five hours and 15 minutes in a high-stress test. Considering this test is performed with everything running at full whack, it’s not a bad result at all; under general usage you can expect in excess of seven hours. Toshiba quotes a battery life figure of up to 11 hours, but as usual this is the absolute maximum and only achievable if you go very, very easy on it.
Toshiba includes a selection of its own software, including the rather useful Eco Utility. When switched on, this does its best to reduce power consumption and even includes a graph detailing exactly how many Watts it’s using, allowing you to work out which features are placing most strain on the battery.
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