When we reviewed the Asus Eee PC X101CH, we said that “Netbooks are arguably on the way out”, and Toshiba has indeed killed off its netbook family since – in the US, that is. Here in Europe, where premium tablet ownership is lower and tech generally more expensive, the Japanese company apparently feels there’s still enough of a market to provide us with the N500 family – in this case, the £240 NB510-10D.
Oddly enough, despite being newer the NB510’s model number suggests it’s a few rungs below the Toshiba NB550D, which was pretty much our favourite netbook of last year but is no longer available. However, if it’s anywhere near as good, we’re more than happy to give it a chance.
Before we dig in, a quick primer for those not quite au-fait with what a netbook represents. Created by Asus back when there was no such thing as a small, affordable ultraportable, netbooks are tiny, low-power laptops with budget prices.
They generally sport 10in screens with sub-HD Ready, 1,024 x 600 resolutions; Intel Atom or equivalent processors that are up to daily productivity but not much more; an underwhelming 1GB of RAM; and a slow hard drive of generally around 320GB running Windows 7 Starter. Due to their low-performance and concurrently low-power bits, they also tend to have rather good battery life.
In other words, a netbook is good for on-the-go emails, web-browsing, social media and light productivity, as well as light casual gaming and HD video – but those with deeper wallets or looking to do more with their machine should look elsewhere. Back to the Toshiba NB510.
The NB510 shares more than a bit of DNA with the NB550D, which is no bad thing. For starters it means the netbook is available in a choice of lid colours, with blue, red or black on the menu. The bronze of yesteryear seems to have been dropped, which is a shame as it was rather classy. The colourful lid is matched by the touchpad’s buttons, which can look a little jarring if you can’t see the lid, but overall it’s attractive.
For another, the NB510 shares the NB550D’s dimpled pattern on its lid and wrist-rest, though unfortunately not the lovely soft-touch rubberized finish. Still, it provides a better grip, more fingerprint resistance and higher scratch-durability than the average glossy model. This thoughtful design is paired with superb build quality. There’s a little more flex in the lid’s centre than we would like, but the rest of this netbook is built like a brick. Its weight of 1.18kg is standard, though quite a bit heavier than the 1kg Asus Eee PC X101CH.
After many frustrating years, Intel has finally deigned to give its netbook platform support for an HDMI output as standard, and since the new generation of Atom processors can actually cope with HD video it’s an essential inclusion.
It’s joined on the right side by a VGA video output, non-Gigabit Ethernet port, twin USB 2.0 ports and a headphone/microphone jack. The left houses a lone USB 2.0 port, while the front hosts the SDXC card reader. Wi-Fi N and Bluetooth 3.0 round out the list nicely.
Toshiba is sticking to the exact-same keyboard layout as on its previous netbooks, which is a very good thing, as it manages one of the few truly edge-to-edge keyboards around. Thankfully, feedback is more consistent than on the Toshiba NB550D, and with a surprising amount of travel and positive action, its easily one of the best netbook keyboards around (quite aside from being one of the only netbook keyboards around, these days. Still, when it comes to big names there’s Acer and Asus to compete against).
The touchpad is likewise a pleasure to touch and use, with nicely distinct buttons.