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INTRODUCTION (if you don't know)
The NB305 is rated to be one of the better netbooks currently on the market (excluding IBM/Sony/Mac Book), the main difference between a laptop and netbook (for those not in the know) are as follows:
- Netbooks have smaller screens (10inch in this case)
- Because of the above and a slower processor, battery life is superior in a netbook
- Very lightweight (just over 1.3kg)
- No CD/DVD Drive (although one can be bought separately)
REASON/JUSTIFICATION FOR BUYING IT
For me personally, I bought this netbook because the Toshiba laptop I have owned for several years is quite heavy (3kg) and after a motorcycle accident, I wanted a lighter computer to carry around while I recover. As well as the battery life, I was convinced it was the right purchase based on reviews (pcpro.co.uk) and because of the Processor performance, which appeared to be the best of the bunch. I nearly bought an IBM version, but it had a screen size close to that of a laptop (12inch), making it less portable and hungrier on the batteries.
Removing it from the packaging revealed a chocolate brown coloured lid (they call it mocca brown) with diagonal cut lines and 'Toshiba' embosed in silver - tastefully done I'd say, although traditionally it's there for free advertising when you're using it in public! Lift the lid and there is a web cam at the top (a common location for them), the screen, an on button on the hinge and the keyboard with touchpad and mouse buttons. Although some may prefer a bigger screen, I feel the screen is safer with the 1/2 inch or more screen surround. The screen came with no dead pixels and it gives a consistent brightness over the entire screen.
The on button is a simple affair, mounted centrally on the hinged part as you open it. When the lid is shut, the on button is of course exposed, but Toshiba have been thoughtful and ensured it's disabled when the lid is down - so no accidental turning it on and killing the battery!
On to the keyboard, as I switch from a full PC keyboard, to a laptop and then to this netbook, I find the transition more than acceptable. The NB305 has reduced size keys but only by 5% or so - a very common thing to do with netbooks. What really makes it usable is the gaps between the keys, this is around 1/8 of an inch (or 3-4mm) and allows a regular typist punt out many characters in a short space of time. I can easily manage 50-70wpm on this netbook and feel comfortable doing so. My only issue with the layout is the position of the '1' key, as I usually press and hold the left shift to print an exclamation mark (!) and I find my fingers have to bend further to the left more than usual. This is a very minor issue and it's otherwise a very usable configuration - for example the delete button is top right!
Finally, LED's have been used in abundance here, which I'm really pleased about. If you buy laptops regularily you might have noticed that a few manufacturers have tried to save money while at the same time getting some cool factor (a win win for the makers) by removing LEDs. These LED's normally relate to hard drive access, wifi status and so on - well Toshiba have really pushed the boat out. Here are the LEDs to the right of the 'mouse' buttons (they are either green or red'ish):
- Mains power
- Battery status (green = charged, amber = charging, off = battery being used)
- Hard drive access (green flicker = active, do not move too much!)
- SD Access (slide memory stick into port = green)
- Wireless LAN (Amber when connected)
- Wireless WAN (Not used, see note below)
- Arrow Lock (oddly for using other arrows on the keyboard, instead of the dedicated ones?!?!)
- Numeric Lock - for using the numeric keypad overlay, quite common on most laptops.
Wireless WAN LED - This is a surprise to me, because there was no advertising relating to it having it's own WAN, this means that you can buy a pay as you go sim card, slot it in to the netbook and not be dependant on a wifi connection for internet access. For reference, a 'wifi connection' usually refers to connecting to an existing internet connection via a phone line (also known as broadband), via a wireless signal - or 'wire free'. I have attempted to insert my own mobile phones SIM into it, but I don't trust that I will get it out. It seems like an afterthought and I'm not confident there is a way of removing the SIM card
Minor issue with opening the lid, possibility to pull mouse keys up accidentally.
PORTS AND CONNECTORS
This is worth reading (if you're geekish), this netbook does come with the usual USB's - HOWEVER, one of them is very special in my opinion. The left USB is a 'powered USB', this means you can plug in your phone (an HTC Magic for me) and when the NETBOOK IS OFF, it will charge your phone. This is really handy because in the past you've at least needed to have it in standby, draining battery for effectively nothing. It's really convenient to charge a phone from a laptop and for reference I had a virtually dead phone and charged it over night via the netbook. The netbook's battery life was hardly effected (perhaps 'a' percent was knocked off).
Anyway, other ports/connectors include the barrel type mains charger, mic/headphone audio 3.5mm, VGA out (no HDMI sadly - although non-Toshiba models have them), An SD reader (camera memory card) and finally a network ethernet port (100MB). So more than enough - of course an ultra fast USB3 connection wouldn't hurt, but it's a bit too early for the next useful technology! There are also two tiny speaker at the front, on the underside. They are good enough in a quiet room, but please don't try to play music to your friends in a slightly loud environment, as they are too tiny and quiet.
ATOM CPU AND WINDOWS 7 VERDICT
I was a little apprehensive about this combination, but it is Windows 7 'Starter' and therefore some stripping down has hopefully occurred. Startup has a reasonable duration of about a minute - once you un-install the pointless 'crapware' that is installed by the manufacturer (to their financial benefit). This includes lots of Toshiba related software, something I believe they do to remind you what machine you're using so you can recommend it to a friend (I'm a natural cynic, sorry!).
As a side note, tests by PC magazines (referring to PcPro) have done boot up tests of laptops and some 'out of the box' take nearly 3 minutes to start up. Once a clean installation of the operating system has been done and drivers added, that figure is reduced down to 45 seconds. So if you're considering an upgrade because it's getting or it's always been slow - consider what's installed before you shell out of RAM or an SSD hard drive.
Going back though, the Atom does very well and although there is a delay with opening internet browsers or word documents, it's an acceptable delay considering the size of the netbook and the battery efficiency. So far I've made good use of the Standby/Sleep function (a description of this feature is below) and it's very reliable using Windows 7, typically taking less than 20seconds to go into Sleep and taking approx 15 seconds to come out of it. It's well worth doing in my opinion - although time will tell if it effects reliability in the long run (fingers crossed!)
LIVING WITH IT
I bought this netbook from Amazon for £325 in late August 2010 and since then I've found it so useful. It's mainly the huge battery life that really gives you the independence that mobile computers should all be like. The loss of a CD drive is no bother to me and an external (but bulky) CD/DVD drive can be bought for around £25 these days. You can be even cheaper and simply create a network connection to the CD drive of another computer!
Toshiba have been kind enough to include HDD "Anti-Shock" Protection. This effectively means that the place where your files are stored(the 'hard drive'), are protected in the event of knocks and drops. It has optional sensitivity options and I personally have it on the maximum settings, because most of the time I'm accessing the RAM and not the only moving part (the hard drive).
One issue that I was slightly let down by was iPlayer performance. When streaming video (i.e. not copying to the computer first) it's perfectly fine and smooth as you could ever want. However, download a program then play it back, and the frame rate drops to around 10-15fps. This is too low to enjoy a program and a real shame. Considering the hard drives huge size of 250GB (split into two partitions, or 'chunks') it would have been great to download loads of iplayer videos to watch when I was out and about. Perhaps when I do a clean installation of Windows 7 Starter it will have a better chance of playing properly and it could simply be all the Toshiba background apps that are taking what little performance there is on offer. Youtube plays perfectly well and if you have the patience to 'pause and wait', you can play 480p quality videos which look really impressive.
Something I may consider later on, is upgrading the RAM from 1GB to 2GB. Unfortunately the NB305 only has 1 RAM module slot, so I would have to remove the existing 1GB and then install the 2GB module - not very cost effective. Luckily Crucial do 2GB for around £35 so it doesn't break the bank, despite that I won't be rushing out soon to do the upgrade as I loath shelving RAM! Using Task Manager, it's plain to see that 1GB really is a minimal install and I can't believe Toshiba or any other company does that - but everyone is all about the price and not what you get, so we're our own worst enemies. Task Manager shows 600MB is being used just by Windows 7, then of course the graphics chip needs a share to display pretty things on the screen. So that really does not leave much 'wiggle room' for other programs and apps to run.
This netbook has far too much going for it, to have the negatives really effect my conclusion. It's a great little computer that's very usable for hours and hours. The keyboard is very comfortable (once you get used to it) and the screen is excellent, I have actually been typing outside in bright sunlight quite happily (sunlight not directly on screen) without a problem. The build quality is quite high and the chassis is reassuringly sturdy for a PC of this price.
This netbook is suitable for students, kids with wealthy parents, on the road business sellers and anyone that enjoys typing and likes the freedom to type wherever they want. It's not suitable for running big programs such as Photoshop, but that's not it's purpose, it's almost designed for your enjoyment of computing (a rare combination of words!). It would be interesting to know how well it runs uBuntu which is far less bloated than Windows 7 and would make better use of the limited RAM memory.
I hope you found my review useful. Just for your interest, I have spent approximately 3 hours researching and writing this review this morning on the NB305 (away from mains electricity). Without switching to the 'eco' setting which saves yet more power, according to the battery monitor I have 7 hours and 45minutes of battery remaining. I find that quite good. My eyes don't feel sore and my fingers don't ache.
N O T E S
How a computer normally works - when you press the on button, 'stuff' from the hard drive (a bunch of storage discs) is loaded into the 'RAM' (Random Access Memory). Usually, the user will shut down the computer, the RAM contents are flushed away ready for the next start up. The Sleep function however, effectively retains the system in it's 'on' position and stores it in the RAM. Because of this, it does use power, unlike when a computer is completely off - but a really tiny amount. I imagine you can keep the computer in standby for at least a week. Another version of sleep is called 'Hibernate', but I have found in the past that both Hibernate and Sleep effected the reliability of a machine, Hibernate was more prone to doing more harm than good.
To save yourself potential problems ALWAYS make a copy of the second hard drive shown in the 'computers' tab. This contains important files that allow the re-installation of the operating system (XP, Windows 7, etc.). I'm trying not to be too technical but by doing this or learning how to understand this, will save you time and money if there is a problem with your computer. Many years ago manufacturers used to supply DVD/CD's that contained all the info you needed - but to save literally a few pennies they decided to move these files onto the computer itself. Great for the environment and the pocket of the manufacturer, not very handy for the end user who has a broken hard drive! if you do not wish to copy these files to a dvd, at least by a memory stick with 8-16GB of capacity and copy and paste important installation files to it. Most laptops can have operating systems installed via a stick these days and this toshiba netbook allows that - to avoid a cd/dvd player needing to be connected.
Netbooks are not designed to be used for long periods (over 3 hours for example). Expect medical side effects such as eye strain, headaches and back aches when used for extended periods
For those with oddly spare money (unlike me!) you could invest in a Solid State Hard drive. This stores information in the same way as a traditional 'disc' drive, but it's safer and MUCH faster at accessing the data. The price is high though and expect to pay over £130 for a 64GB drive - not competitive when you consider 1000GB drives are around £60.
Sorry for spelling mistakes!
UPDATE Nov 2010
OK So a little time has gone by now and I'm getting used to this netbook. Still impressed with the battery life and now I've removed a number of programs, it's a little nippier.
At first I was downloading the main popular type of program via iPlayer desktop, this provided poor playback. But then I noticed the iPlayer website has an alternative media type called "Portable Devices", download this version and it's great and works a treat!
Now this REALLY impresssed me. Bear in mind that this little thing only has 16MB of graphics or something, and that's 'on-board' which is never known to be fantastic. Anyway, I plugged the VGA into my girlfriends television (37 inch LG Flatscreen), then plugged a double ended 3.5mm jack plug into both and voila, a link that was good enough to watch dvd's that were copied to the netbook hard drive and playing on the big screen. The quality is more than acceptable, though not compared with blu-ray - however for a quick way of watching content it does the job very well.