It's small, you can read books and watch movies on it, has lots of storage, a wireless Internet connection and a built-in keyboard. You can get one for less than $400, and it's a lightweight companion whose battery life should easily handle a cross-country, or even trans-Atlantic flight.
And, no, it's not an Apple, Inc., iPad.
What it is is the Toshiba NB-305, and it seems to be a winning gift for many grads and Dads, what with commencement season upon us and Father's Day around the corner. The computer lists for $399.99, but you can find it as low as $361 at area Wal-Mart stores, though you may have to order online for in-store delivery.
Is it a worthy purchase? It would seem to be: if one is not too ham-fisted a typist, the "chiclet" style keyboard is comfortable enough; it also seems designed to minimize the damage from spills, although I'm not willing to "torture test" the system Toshiba loaned me. The 10-inch screen has one orientation, landscape, but it's good enough for word processing, book reading and inflight movie watching.
There's a headphone jack, handy for sparing your neighbors the sounds of "Moulin Rouge," and a SD Card slot to make photo transfers easy. The computer itself is powered by an Intel Corp. Atom CPU running at 1.66 GHz, a 223 Gbyte hard drive, and the aforementioned 10-inch screen. A touchpad, with separate mouse-click buttons (as well as the ability to tap-and-click via the touchpad) completes the input system, though I guess the built-in webcam is also an "input device."
Also worth noting are the computer's two USB ports, not because two is a great number, but rather because they feature what Toshiba calls "USB Sleep-and-Charge," which lets you charge an MP3 player or smartphone even if the computer is turned off, by trickling through power from an AC power connection. That's a rather neat feature, I'd say.
The NB-305 boasts 8.5 hours of battery life, which is certainly impressive. Other "mini notebooks" (the Toshiba folks will bristle if you call this a netbook in their presence, it seems) may last a tad longer, but the reliability and ergonomics of the NB-305 are worth even a slight sacrifice of battery life.
One plus, in my view, is that the battery of this computer juts out slightly from the bottom of the computer, as opposed to the rear of the battery. This provides a built-in "stand" that elevates the keyboard and display slightly, making it easier to view and more comfortable to type. The keyboard takes very little getting used to; within a half-hour or so I was very comfortably typing away. The touchpad is certainly a fine one to use, though I prefer the proprietary ones found on the latest Apple MacBook models.
The unit features a "starter" edition of Microsoft's Windows 7 operating system, which means you'll probably want to shell out some extra money to upgrade it, as well as convert the 60-day trial of Microsoft Office to a more permanent version, although, as often noted here, OpenOffice.org's productivity suite is a free and useful equivalent.
This strikes me as a good desktop companion, though not necessarily a desktop PC replacement, since one of those would require a bit more RAM than the 1 Gbyte provided, and a larger hard drive. It will, however, make great sense as a device for those who are out and about a lot, since it provides a fair amount of power at a very reasonable price. Information about the computer can be found online at http://laptops.toshiba.com/laptops/mini-notebook/NB300/NB305-N410WH, while local stores such as BestBuy, Sears, and Target are other potential sources.
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JWR contributor Mark Kellner has reported on technology for industry newspapers and magazines since 1983, and has been the computer columnist for The Washington Times since 1991.Comment by clicking here.