Toshiba A350-12J review
A gleaming physique and a glossy 16in display, but elsewhere this Toshiba fails to excite
Choosing a laptop to replace an aged desktop PC used to be a straightforward choice of deciding whether you wanted a mid-sized portable with a 15.4in screen or a hulking behemoth with a 17in screen. Now, however, with manufacturers gradually making the move from the traditional 16:10 displays to the 16:9 ratio, you can add 15.6in, 16in and 18.4in to the list. The Toshiba Satellite A350 sits slap bang in the middle of this bunch.
It certainly looks like you're getting a lot of laptop for your money. For a price that's not much more than you'd spend on a top class netbook, you're getting a laptop with a 16:9, 16in screen. It looks and feels like a good deal.
Toshiba has opted to coat almost every inch in glossy plastic, making the A350 one hell of a striking machine. The interior is jazzed up with silver stripes against a black background, a cool, white light glowing atop the touchpad, and even the keyboard's keys are finished in glossy black.
Be warned, though, this is one big laptop. If you're looking for a budget-priced machine you can carry around now and again, this isn't it. It measures 383mm wide and 267mm deep and weighing in at a hefty 3.21kg, it's best carried no further than the garden table. And with a modest 3hrs 23mins of battery life, you'll not want to stray too far from a mains socket either.
Furthermore, while that keyboard looks snazzy, it isn't the most responsive or comfortable we've encountered. The glossy keys prove slippery on occasion and, while the keys have a soft, positive action, a slight flex in the keyboard's base plus a hollow feel don't make the best of bedfellows.
The 16in display and its 1,366 x 768 pixel resolution looks very impressive, but it doesn't improve on what 15.4in laptops have been offering for years. If movies are high on your list of priorities, the smaller black bars at the top and bottom of the screen might be incentive enough to opt for a 16:9 laptop, but there's no benefit in terms of desktop space compared to a 1,280 x 800 pixel display. Legibility is slightly improved thanks to the slightly larger pixels, though.
Image quality isn't anything to write home about, either. Brightness is ample, as is the panel's ability to differentiate between the darkest and lightest of shades. Despite this, however, the Toshiba's screen leaves images looking washed out and lacking punch. This is partly due to greyish blacks, but the gentle red push doesn't help. It's enough to make skin tones look warm and healthy, but leaves whites looking decidedly rose-tinted.
One of Intel's low-end processors provides the power. A 2GHz Core 2 Duo T6400 takes centre stage alongside 4GB of DDR2 memory and a 250GB hard disk, a combination that earns the Toshiba a reasonable 0.85 in our benchmarks. As you might expect for such a budget priced machine, the Intel GMA 4500 graphics chipset is a less than sterling performer, however, and you can forget about playing all but the most basic of titles.
Connectivity isn't bad for the price either, and we're certainly glad to see eSata as it's a great way to add high-speed storage to a laptop. Better still, the eSata port doubles as a USB port, bringing the total complement to a generous four. There's also mini-FireWire, a flash memory card reader, D-SUB, HDMI and a 10/100 Ethernet socket. Draft-n wireless makes a welcome appearance too.
All this means that the Toshiba Satellite A350 is a dependable budget notebook, but it's far from a star turn. Performance and battery life average are average, and its glossy looks flatter to deceive. When you can buy the excellent Sony VAIO VGN-NS20E/S for less cash, the choice shouldn't be hard to make.