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With the rise of affordable, ultra compact netbook computers, many companies have struggled to differentiate their products in the market place. Current trends have placed tiny, low resolution screens, sluggish processing, and cramped keyboards into the norm of the new netbook space. Premium models have addressed these issues by offering larger screen sizes and more powerful computing at the expense of portability and a higher cost of ownership. The Toshiba mini NB205 addresses the very same issues without driving up costs and still providing a highly portable and exceptionally satisfying user experience.
Priced below $400, the mini NB205 provides excellent connectivity, stutter-free video playback, and exceptional battery life in a highly compact, lightweight form factor. Weighing less than 3 lbs and just 1" thin at its slimmest closed height, the netbook is an excellent companion PC for daily computing.
Built for Productivity
Toshiba ships the mini NB205 with Microsoft Windows XP Home Edition pre-installed. Leveraging the power of Intel's new Atom 1.66GHz N280 processor and 1GB of RAM, the computer performs well with both local client and cloud applications. For faster, multi-app performance, the RAM is user-upgradable to 2GB. A generous 160GB hard drive boasts enough space to carry its fair share of documents and rich media files. HHD Protection senses rapid movements of the computer and protects the hard disk by disengaging and parking the drive head in a safe position. The real performance-spec story of the mini NB205 lies in the graphics processor. Graphics response is snappy and highly efficient using Intel's integrated GMA950 graphics chip. By enabling up to 224MB of video memory on demand, the GMA950 provides ultra smooth video playback as well as native 16:9 support for external monitors or projectors.
Setting the machine up is relatively simple. A familiar Microsoft wizard guides users through the necessary steps of naming the computer and connecting to a wireless or wired network. While web browsing is easy out of the box with Internet Explorer, a quick download of Firefox, Chrome, or Safari makes navigating the web a bit more enjoyable. Outlook Express is included as the default mail client, and operates as it should.
Writers preferring typing to longhand will appreciate the mini NB205's generous, 85-character keyboard. Though not quite full-size, the low-profile keys have a crisp, responsive and purposeful feel. The odd placement of a tilde key (to the immediate left of the space bar) forces some awkward keystroke errors, but is overcome with continued use. A large, wide trackpad offers similar navigation and cut/paste functionality of full-size notebook computers. Though the mini NB205 ships with Microsoft Works installed, serious scribes should upgrade to Microsoft Office Home Edition. Screenwriters favoring the netbook form factor should choose the industry-standard Final Draft 8.
The mini NB205's 10.1", 1024 x 600 LED backlit display awakes instantly at full brightness. An acceptable resolution and wide viewing angle make working with text and images a pleasure. Streaming video from Netflix (a free Microsoft Silverlight download is required) looks fantastic and works without a hiccup. The in-browser feel of Hulu and YouTube are equally enjoyable. Many commercial airlines now offer wireless internet making loads of streaming content instantly accessible to travelers. With ever-greater restrictions for carry-on luggage, the mini NB205 is an excellent alternative to a portable DVD player and bulky wallet of discs. The form factor not only fits under an airline seat with room to spare, it can easily slip into the seat back pocket in front of you.
Syncing with portable digital devices is simple and easy. Featuring 3 USB 2.0 ports, the mini NB205 offers plug-and-play connectivity with smart phones, iPods, and a host of other digital devices. A new technology dubbed USB Sleep and Charge allows the netbook to charge a device over USB while the computer is in sleep mode. This feature is only available for the left side USB port, so multi device users should keep their power bricks handy. Photo and video enthusiasts should be pleased to use their SD/SDHC and MMC memory cards with the netbook's integrated Memory Card Reader.
Traveling musicians will appreciate the inclusion of a stereo mini input jack. Guitars or stereo mics can be used to record demos or live performance with virtual preamps in optional software such as Adobe Audition 3. Reporters and interviewers should find the audio input capability handy for interviews, depositions, and other direct-to-PC sound recording.
The Bottom Line
The Toshiba mini NB205 enters the netbook market with some decided advantages. Accelerated graphics performance is the most pronounced of its feature set and offers a powerful local experience using an ever-growing number of cloud services. Battery life is exceptional, providing almost 6 hours of continuous video playback. The keyboard feels like a keyboard. This seems like it should go without saying, but typing on the majority of netbook offerings never feels this good.
The hardware under the hood has been well considered for modern connectivity. Wireless (802.11b/g) and wired (10/100 Ethernet) networks are easy to join. Ample USB ports and a rarely seen audio input jack expand functionality with the everyday devices of modern digital lifestyles. A built-in web cam even makes keeping up with friends and family possible.
In sum, the Toshiba mini NB205 makes navigating the digital world a little bit easier. It's not trying to replace more powerful computing options. It's not designed for professional photo editing, video production, or advanced 3D modeling. But what it does do, it does right. Its cloud streaming and browsing experience is delightful; connectivity and application/device support is exceptional. In the growing market of light and compact computers, it's nice to find a netbook with the dedication and feature set to just be itself.
David Flores is a photographer and filmmaker based in New York City. He is a member of the B&H Web Content team.