Thankfully, the NB520's excellence continues with its ergonomics. Though visually identical to the cheap keyboard on the Toshiba NB250, the example provided here is in a whole other league. There's not even the slightest hint of flex or rattle, and though keys are just a tad stiff and feedback is on the shallow side, they nonetheless offer a positive click.
Toshiba has used the available space to maximum effect so that most of the keys are nearly full-size. Combined with the soft wrist-rests and the slight angle given by the battery, it makes for a very comfortable typing experience. It's certainly one of the better models on the market in this regard, exceeded only by the HP Compaq Mini and Lenovo ThinkPad X100e.
The touchpad is perfectly placed to avoid being accidentally manipulated by your palm while typing. It features a slightly rough texture that's less pleasant than its soft-touch surrounds, and we wish Toshiba had found some other way of differentiating it. However, it's still eminently usable and large enough for multi-touch, while its individual buttons are as close to perfect as it gets.
With much being made of the integrated Harman/kardon speakers, we were eager to see if they lived up to the hype – and as it turns out, they do, and then some. They can fill a small room with their maximum volume, at which they provide more clarity, depth and even bass than you would expect. More significantly, unlike the recently reviewed 17.3in Asus N73Jn with its Bang & Olufsen audio, there's little sign of distortion.
The only possible issue we have is with their placement. As you can see in the pictures, Toshiba has gone the unique route of integrating its speakers into the netbook's palm-rests, allowing them plenty of room, depth and unhindered output – except, obviously, if you're resting your palms on them. While we agree with the company's argument that no-one will be using the keyboard while watching a movie, with speakers this decent, listening to music while typing hardly seems an unlikely scenario. Still, this niggle aside, the NB520 is not only the best-sounding netbook we've ever heard, but also puts many multimedia laptops to shame.
Naturally, this netbook's 10.1in screen was never going to be as good as its speakers, but it actually holds up well enough. We're really sick of seeing a sub-HD, 1,024 x 600 resolution, which means lots of extra scrolling and doesn't let you appreciate the 720p video the netbook can actually handle, but this is a problem most budget netbooks share. The panel here suffered from no light bleed or artefacts and, at the ideal angle, offered relatively deep blacks, good contrast and punchy colours, thanks in part to its glossy coating.
However, there are a few significant downsides. The gloss finish causes annoying reflections with any ambient light present, the ideal viewing angle is quite narrow due to significant contrast shift, and there is an odd, almost pixelated effect reminiscent of the AMOLED screen technology found on the likes of the Samsung Galaxy S - despite the display used here being of the ordinary TN variety.