As far as first impressions go, the Satellite A350 from Toshiba certainly gets the thumbs up. The all-black chassis looks smart and it feels like a solidly built piece of kit.
Open it up, however, and you’re greeted with a rather bizarre glossy keyboard. It’s not the first time Toshiba has gone for a glossy keyboard design, but we’re not fans of it and, while interesting to look at, it feels particularly slippery to type on.
In an effort to stand out from the crowd, Toshiba has furnished the trackpad with a white LED strip across the top of it. It’s purely a cosmetic feature and fits in quite nicely with the touch-sensitive media buttons and Toshiba logo, which are also illuminated. If the lights prove to be too distracting, they can all be switched off using the supplied Toshiba software utility.
Audio buffs will be pleased to hear that a pair of Harman Kardon speakers brackets the keyboard. There’s no subwoofer to accompany the speakers, though, so the lack of bass was instantly detectable. We also heard a fair amount of distortion when the volume was whacked up.
That said, the speakers are fine for providing audio during movie watching, and that’s something the Satellite A350 is ideally suited to thanks the 16:9 aspect ratio of the screen; this means you won’t see any of the black bars that blight standard 16:10 screens. The display, like the rest of the laptop, has been given the glossy treatment, so colours are bold and the image is well defined. But, as ever, this also means it’s pretty good at courting reflections from nearby light sources.
Some may find the 1,366 by 768 resolution of the display a little too restrictive when performing tasks such as image editing or spreadsheet work, but you won’t find many 16-inch laptops with a higher native resolution.
As is the norm with Toshiba laptops, various different versions of the Satellite A350 are available. The one we’re looking at is the A350-12J, which is powered by an Intel Core 2 Duo T6400 processor, 4GB of memory and Intel’s integrated GMA 4500MHD graphics chipset. It’s not the kind of setup that will impress gamers, but it will be more than capable of running most Windows applications. If you’re willing to up your budget by £150, the A350-20Q variant has a faster Intel P7450 processor and ATI Mobility Radeon HD 3650 graphics.
In PCMark05, our T6400-driven review sample managed a respectable score of 4,480, but 3DMark06 proved a little too much for the integrated graphics, returning a score of just 992 when running at 1,024 by 768. You’ll just about get away with running ageing titles at low resolutions, but consider the latest 3D games to be off-limits.
The Satellite A350 comes with built-in 802.11n wireless, but Bluetooth is left out in the cold. We also noticed that Gigabit LAN is similarly shunned, leaving you with a bog-standard 10/100Mbps connection. The obligatory multi-format memory card slot is provided, while a 54mm PCI Express slot is also available along with four USB ports and a mini Firewire socket.
The included 250GB hard drive is about standard for a laptop of this price, as is the DVD writer that’s sat on the right-hand side of the chassis. On the software side of things, you get a cluster of Toshiba utilities along with Microsoft Works, while the 32-bit version of Windows Vista Home Premium is the operating system of choice.
At just under 3kg, the Satellite A350 isn’t exactly a heavyweight laptop, but neither is it something you’ll want to carry around with you for too long. When we ran it at full pelt, it drifted into a deep sleep after just over an hour, which is slightly worse than we were hoping for. When used less intensively, however, it provided just shy of two hours’ usage.
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