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Toshiba Satellite A350-11N - Toshiba Satellite A350-11N
Typing on the Satellite A350 is a pleasure. While fingerprints do show up on the glossy keyboard keys from certain angles, it's much less visible than with the rest of the notebook. Its layout is good, avoiding many of the typical pitfalls and sporting some intelligent decisions, such as the slightly withdrawn cursor keys and the Page Up and Page Down running vertically down the right-hand side. Keys are slightly slippery thanks to the shiny finish, but after extended use it's not a bother and in any case is more than made up for by the excellent, crisp key response..
Below all this, the touchpad is a good one with a wide aspect to match the screen and an ideal matte textured surface. It's a pity that after all this praise, the touchpad's buttons have to go and spoil things somewhat. While they're large and well-positioned, they're still too stiff. Their chromed surface together with their rounded shape also makes them unpleasantly slippery, as well as showing off the slightest fingerprint.
Of course the internals of Toshiba's latest budget notebook have also seen a bit of an overhaul, most significantly from the A300-177's Centrino 1.83GHz T5550 to Intel's Centrino 2 chipset and a T5800 Intel Core 2 Duo running at 2.0GHz. Memory has also doubled to 4GB of 800MHz DDR2, though a 32-bit version of Vista Home Premium won't take full advantage. However, it's the perfect excuse to upgrade to the 64-bit edition of Windows 7 when it comes out. For storage you now get a 250GB hard drive (split into two roughly equal 115GB partitions), which is a modest increase but adequate for everyday use. Though there is no built-in Bluetooth, wireless is well up to scratch with Draft-N included for improved Wi-Fi range and faster data transfer.
Intel's new Centrino 2 chipset also brings with it a new graphics chip, the GMA 4500M HD, which is fine for everyday use but will struggle with most games and only managed 15.5fps at Medium Quality in TrackMania Nations Forever at the screen's native 1,366 x 768 resolution.
Speaking of the screen, this is probably the biggest change as Toshiba has switched from 16:10 to 16:9; a more film-friendly aspect ratio. Unfortunately, aside from putting the weight up from the A300's 2.7 to 2.94kg, the reflective display is not the best example we've come across. Text is sharp, there's barely a hint of banding or backlight bleed and it even did fairly well in our greyscale testing, but this mostly good performance is ruined by poor viewing angles, where watching at a slight angle introduces severe contrast shift.
One thing you can usually be confident about when you get a Satellite is its audio performance and this remains the case. For their size the integrated Harman/kardon speakers are brilliant, reaching high volumes, producing depth and bass that belies their stature and enviable clarity, too. Only when you really ratchet up the volume does a hint of distortion creep in, but aside from this you're unlikely to find a better set of speakers in a notebook costing this little.