16:9 is taking over from 16:10 as the de-facto aspect ratio for both monitors and notebooks, thus 15.4 and 17in notebooks are slowly being replaced with 16 and 18.4in models. Enter Toshiba's latest entry into this fray, its Satellite A350-11N. Now despite the company's recent run of fairly average (Qosmio G50) and below average (Portégé M800) notebooks, recently we've fallen in love all over again with the stunningly light Portégé R600 ultra-portable. However, at first glance the A350 looks to be nothing more than an update to the solid but unremarkable Satellite A300-177. Has Toshiba upped the ante?
Well, one improvement is immediately apparent: Toshiba has ditched the pinstripe 'Horizon' finish on the outer lid in favour of glossy black with very subtle blue flecks. Yes, this does show up fingerprints and grease, but it gives this new Satellite an undeniably classier look and Toshiba has been thoughtful enough to include a soft cleaning cloth to keep it in pristine condition.
Build quality, as is typically the case with Toshiba's notebooks, is very good and reflected in a strong hinge for the lid and quality plastics throughout. Inside, those stripes of old do return, but they're just a bit more subtle, while the extra space and wider form factor brings them out to good effect. Faux-chromed touchpad buttons also make a return and overall the A350's mostly piano black chassis strikes an elegant and subtle improvement over its predecessor.
Nor are the improvements over the A300-177 cosmetic only, as we can see by the long-overdue addition of eSATA to connectivity. However, a far more important change hasn't made the cut: there is still no sign of an HDMI port or other form of digital output. At least the rest of the connectivity is all there. We have a VGA and Ethernet port - though it's not Gigabit - together with USB and mini-FireWire on the left. Here we also find the eSATA port (doubling as a second USB) and a 54mm ExpressCard slot.
To the right we have the DVD-Rewriter, modem port and two more USB connectors. At the front of the machine is a hardware wireless switch, which is always a nice addition, a multi-format memory card reader, 3.5mm headphone/S/PDIF and microphone jacks and a very welcome archaism in the form of a volume control wheel. As before, handy little icons above the connectors show you exactly where to plug things in without having to look around the sides.
Also on hand is the rather attractive white LED lighting of the Satellite range, consisting of status indicators below the touchpad and a thin white bar above it, the Toshiba logo off to the left, the power button and the usual set of touch-sensitive controls above the keyboard. This makes the A350-11N very easy to use in the dark and if for some reason you don't like the effect you can always turn it off. Unfortunately, the touch media controls don't seem to be as sensitive as on the previous model, occasionally requiring a few firm presses to work.