Review: Toshiba Mini NB205-N210

There’s Savings in the Suffix

Someone at Toshiba has an M.B.A. in customer confusion. The company sells two different netbooks, each called the Mini NB205.

The way to tell the pair apart is to look at either the keyboard or price tag. The system seen here, model number NB205-N210, has a conventional grid-style keyboard and costs $350. What Toshiba calls just the NB205 (or, to puzzle shoppers further, the NB200) has isolated or chiclet-style keys, as well as being available in a pink, blue, or brown textured finish instead of the NB205-N210’s basic black. It costs $400 including Bluetooth wireless, which isn’t found on the cheaper model.

But if you can live without Bluetooth, the N210 is a very appealing travel companion, with basic productivity backed by a better-than-basic screen, keyboard and touchpad. It’s not our favorite netbook regardless of budget — the suffix-less NB205 is tied for that honor with the Asus Eee PC 1000HE and 11.6-inch Acer Aspire One — but it’s our favorite for $350.

Toshiba Mini NB205-N210
The Toshiba Mini NB205-N210 is different than, but easily confused with, the Toshiba Mini NB205. What were they thinking?
(Click for larger image)

Familiar Features

The 2.9-pound Toshiba’s basic specs follow the near-identical formula of all netbook builders: An Intel Atom CPU and GMA 950 integrated-graphics chipset, 1GB of memory, a 160GB hard drive, VGA and Ethernet ports, three USB 2.0 ports, a Webcam, a Secure Digital/MultiMediaCard flash-card slot, 802.11b/g Wi-Fi and Windows XP Home Edition.

Toshiba plays a couple of very minor variations on the theme. The processor is not the 1.6GHz Atom N270 but — drum roll — the 1.66GHz Atom N280, for a performance boost that’s undetectable in everyday applications. Like other netbooks, the NB205-N210 is perky enough to satisfy Web-surfing, e-mail-checking, and routine word processor- and spreadsheet-shuffling users; it plays Web videos fine but you wouldn’t want to use it for editing videos; and the i945GSE chipset’s god-awful graphics rule out any game more ambitious than Minesweeper.

One of the USB ports is what Toshiba calls a Sleep-and-Charge port, able to recharge smartphones or other compatible handheld devices even while the computer is sleeping or switched off. Toshiba also provides a nifty side-of-screen pop-out menu for controlling the Webcam, along with miscellaneous utilities and the trial version of Norton Internet Security 2009.

The netbook’s 10.1-inch, 1,024 by 600-pixel screen boasts an LED backlight just like its pricier relative’s; it’s bright and sunny, with rich colors and crisp details. Turning the backlight down three notches left it more than bright enough for our bifocal-ed eyes, while helping the relatively hefty six-cell battery deliver very impressive runtime — almost seven and a half hours using and a variety of Web apps.

Staying in Touch

Also very impressive is the Toshiba’s touchpad. It’s huge, or at least full-sized-laptop-sized (1.6- by three-inches), with spacious, smooth-operating buttons. Compared to the postage-stamp pads of netbooks like the Lenovo IdeaPad S10- 2, it’s downright luxurious.

Similarly, the keyboard span from A through apostrophe is eight inches — the same as most desktop keyboards, versus the slightly squished 7.5 or noticeably cramped 7.25 inches of most netbooks. We’ll stop short of calling the N210’s a full-sized keyboard because the keys surrounding the alphabet, such as Esc, Ctrl and Alt, are tiny, and you’ll also need a day’s practice with the layout: There are very-rare-for-a-netbook dedicated Home, End, PgUp, and PgDn keys in addition to the cursor arrows, but they’re oddly positioned (PgUp and PgDn above the right arrow; Home and End toward the right of the top row).

But the Ctrl and Delete keys are in their proper lower-left and top-right corners, respectively, and the keyboard has a firm, big-notebook-like typing feel. With the touchpad, it delivers a typing and navigating experience that ranks near the top of the netbook category.

So does the NB205-N210. Its case and keyboard aren’t as showy as its same-name sibling’s, but it’s an excellent choice if you’re shopping for an affordable productivity partner.

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