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Visually, Toshiba appears to have taken several pages out of the HP book of laptop design. It has taken some glossy plastic, imprinted it with some swooping lines and finished it off with liberal helpings of faux-chrome trim. Though it lacks any particular wow factor, it's a tidy, smart chassis enhanced by restrained use of backlighting. Toshiba has also managed to integrate the two speakers far more tastefully than in the past, opting for tradition black grilles accented by yet more faux-chrome.
Unfortunately, though build quality overall is pretty good, it is let down by a few fit and finish issues around the display. There are some unsightly gaps where panels meet, while the corners of the plastic lid don't sit flush with the trim. None of these are deal breaking issues and there's manufacturing variability to consider here, but clearly there are a few potential fault lines around the machine.
As for the display itself, it won't win any awards but is nonetheless perfectly competent. Its 1,366 x 768 native resolution is on the low side - if we can't have Full HD (1,920 x 1,080) then 1,600 x 900 would be nice - but it's acceptably bright, doesn't suffer any noticeable light bleed and produces balanced, neutral colours. In common with most laptop displays, viewing angles are merely okay, but they're not bad enough to affect normal viewing.
So the display isn't anything remarkable, but the integrated Harman Kardon speakers are very good indeed. Even without a mid-range sub, the A500 produces a pleasingly wide and clear sound that's good enough for casual music listening and films. Only very big explosions pose meaningful problems, causing some noticeable distortion, but we wouldn't expect anything more and in every other respect these speakers are top-notch.
Superlatives continue with the connectivity, which covers more than just the basics. There's VGA and HDMI, three USB ports and one further USB/eSATA combo port that boasts sleep & charge capability, while the headphone jack doubles as SPDIF, too. Other options include a 54mm ExpressCard slot, memory card reader and TV aerial connection (a proper one, not a miniaturised one with an adapter), though we must call out Toshiba for including an infrared receiver on the front but no remote to go with it - a sin made worse by the presence of the TV tuner.
While the optical drive is just a regular DVD+/-RW affair, it is slot-loading. Moreover, unlike the vast majority of manufacturers, there's a button right by the drive for ejecting discs, instead of one buried away in some other unintuitive position. It's good to see Toshiba not throwing out years of design convention for no good reason.