Toshiba NB520 review

3 Dec 2010

Excellent speakers for a netbook, and some nice media features too. It all depends on Toshiba's pricing

Price when reviewed: 
2,011TBC

PREVIEW: Toshiba calls its upcoming NB520 "a netbook for music lovers", and it boasts some neat tricks to back that up. The speaker grilles either side of the touchpad lay its media credentials bare for all to see: they show off their Harman/Kardon branding, and support Dolby Advanced Audio technology to theoretically boost the usual tinny netbook sound quality.

Usually at this point we'd say, "don't expect miracles", but with 2W from each channel we're actually very impressed with their capabilities. They have a fair amount of bass, only distorting slightly at high volumes, and sound quality far beyond anything we've heard from a netbook - think more along the lines of a pair of built-in monitor speakers and you'll have an idea of how loud and full they are.

Toshiba NB520

And they're not just for playing audio from the netbook itself. The NB520 offers Toshiba's Sleep and Music - enable it in the dedicated utility, plug an MP3 player into the 3.5mm line-in port and you can output music via the speakers, even when the netbook itself is switched off. With a powered USB port for topping up your gadgets directly from the battery too, the NB520 is quite a flexible companion for your travels.

Netbooks are ideal for travelling, but some are better than others. The NB520 weighs a reasonable 1.26kg, but the real headline figure is the battery life: with a six-cell battery underneath, the NB520 eased to a very impressive 10hrs 6mins in our light-use test. That's with an idle desktop and Wi-Fi disabled; in general use - particularly with those speakers blaring out - you can expect less, but certainly a full working day.

The keyboard stretches the full width of the base, but has a few shrunken keys, with the cursor keys and PgUp and PgDn impeding Enter and right-Shift slightly. Still, key travel is just right, and the 39mm thickness at the rear puts the whole thing on an incline that's just right for comfort. The touchpad is perfectly usable, while the mouse buttons are thankfully separate and click nicely.

Performance is largely as expected. It packs Intel's dual-core 1.5GHz Atom N550 and 1GB of DDR3, which pushed the Toshiba to a lightweight 0.36 in our application benchmarks. There's no doubt the second core makes a noticeable difference to general responsiveness, but adding an extra gigabyte of memory should always be considered a priority with netbooks. The NB520 comes with Windows 7 Starter, which we've found to be well suited to the power of the Atom.

Toshiba NB520

All hits so far, but the Toshiba NB520 does have a few misses. We're not totally convinced by the design. Whether you choose our brown finish, or opt for green, blue or black, it has a bit of a dull look to it - functional rather than fun. The power button sits inexplicably beneath the screen in the centre of the hinge, and it's thin and fiddly to push. And the dimpled finish of the wrist rest spreads to the touchpad, which gives it quite a rough feel.

The bezel around the 10.1in screen is a good inch wide at the top, presumably due to the extra chassis space required by the speakers. With the usual 1,024 x 600 resolution, its colours are fine and the backlight is even, but the maximum brightness is disappointing and it's reflective. Vertical viewing angles aren't that wide, so we'd call it a usable rather than high-quality display.

And then there's the question of price, on which Toshiba is remaining noncommittal right now. Given the Harman/Kardon involvement and the effort put into giving it a unique look, we're not expecting the NB520 to be among the bargains of the netbook world - if it comes in much higher than £300 it's hard to see it flying off the shelves. If Toshiba prices it sensibly, however, this little audio-focused netbook could carve out a niche in a very crowded market.

Details

Price inc VAT Due January 2011

Warranty

Warranty 1yr collect and return

Physical specifications

Dimensions 261 x 191 x 39mm (WDH)
Weight 1.260kg
Travelling weight 1.6kg

Processor and memory

Processor Intel Atom N550
RAM capacity 1.00GB
Memory type DDR2
SODIMM sockets free 1
SODIMM sockets total 2

Screen and video

Screen size 10.1in
Resolution screen horizontal 1,024
Resolution screen vertical 600
Resolution 1024 x 600
Graphics chipset Intel GMA 3150
VGA (D-SUB) outputs 1
HDMI outputs 0
S-Video outputs 0
DVI-I outputs 0
DVI-D outputs 0
DisplayPort outputs 0

Drives

Capacity 250GB
Optical disc technology N/A
Optical drive N/A
Replacement battery price inc VAT £0

Networking

802.11b support yes
802.11g support yes
802.11 draft-n support yes
Integrated 3G adapter no
Bluetooth support yes

Other Features

Wireless hardware on/off switch no
Wireless key-combination switch yes
Modem no
ExpressCard34 slots 0
ExpressCard54 slots 0
PC Card slots 0
USB ports (downstream) 3
FireWire ports 0
PS/2 mouse port no
9-pin serial ports 0
Parallel ports 0
3.5mm audio jacks 2
SD card reader yes
Pointing device type Multitouch touchpad
Audio chipset Realtek HD Audio
Speaker location Wrist rest
Hardware volume control? no
Integrated microphone? yes
Integrated webcam? yes
Camera megapixel rating 0.3mp
TPM no
Fingerprint reader no
Smartcard reader no
Carry case no

Battery and performance tests

Battery life, light use 10hr 6min
Overall application benchmark score 0.36
Office application benchmark score 0.34
2D graphics application benchmark score 0.41
Encoding application benchmark score 0.31
Multitasking application benchmark score 0.39

Operating system and software

Operating system Windows 7 Starter 32-bit
OS family Windows 7