When Toshiba invited us to view their revamped netbook range this week, we got rather excited at the prospect considering that it was responsible for one of our favourite netbooks of 2009, the Award-winning NB200. However, we weren't nearly as impressed by last year's NB250, so how does the company's 2011 netbook line-up look?
At the entry level everything is a bit business-as-usual. The range starts with the NB500, which is a great-looking machine that comes in a range of colours, but it still sports the same uninspiring, single-core Atom internals as the majority of other netbooks on the market. Battery life is claimed to be around the eight-hour mark, assuming you opt for the six-cell version (a three-cell model will also be available) and weight is a light 1.33kg with the larger battery.
The NB520 ups the Atom stakes to a dual-core Atom N550 processor, but doesn't add anything to make it a truly capable machine (like ION graphics, for example). This netbook somehow manages to eke out a further two hours of battery life for a total of 10 hours (presumably using a slightly higher-capacity six-cell) while keeping weight the same. It throws in Bluetooth V3.0 to connect wirelessly to other devices and adds Sleep & Charge to one of the machine's USB ports, so that you can use the it to charge or power smaller devices like your phone even when the netbook is turned off.
Audio receives a significant upgrade with Dolby-enhanced Harmon Kardon speakers, which we never find to be less than impressive (we most recently came across them on the Toshiba Satellite A660 laptop). Toshiba has made an unusual decision in integrating them into the netbook's palm-rests, and while this is a great position to get the most out of the speakers, it also means they'll be partially obscured if you're typing. Toshiba pointed out that you're not likely to be using the keyboard while watching a film or video, but we could see it being an issue if you wanted to listen to music while working. Still, as compromises go this is a good one, and the volume and clarity when we gave them a listen were easily best-in-class.
One unique feature that sets Toshiba's higher-end netbooks (and the company's 2011 laptops, for that matter) apart from the competition is an innovation called Sleep & Music. In the same vein as the similarly named Sleep & Charge, it allows you to hook up a device to the machine's 3.5mm audio input and output audio over its speakers, even when the machine in question is turned off. Considering the general quality of the speakers in Toshiba's laptops, we would say it's definitely a feature that will be put to good use, though we will reserve judgement for our full review.