Unfortunately, hooking the NB550D to an external screen is a tempting proposition, as Toshiba has stuck with a sub-HD, 1,024 x 600 resolution 10.1in screen. Even the cheapest configurations of competing netbooks like the Lenovo ThinkPad X100e offer 1,366 x 768, and this is yet another example of unfortunate corner-cutting.
We can't say we're fans of the screen's glossy coating, either, though this does help to lend colours that extra little bit of punch and aids perceived contrast. Viewing angles are rather narrow too, and the slight graininess we noted when reviewing the NB520 is still present – hardly surprising considering this screen is the exact same model. By general netbook standards, it's about average but that's precisely why we hoped for better. A standard definition webcam is also integrated into its glossy bezel.
Thankfully, the Harman/kardon speakers are just as amazing as we remember. Whether playing movies, games or music, these stereo efforts produce levels of volume, detail and clarity that far surpass any other netbook, and negate the need for headphones or seperate speakers while on the move.
We were most interested in how AMD's dual-core Fusion combo would compare to Intel's dual-core Atom when it comes to battery life. Toshiba claims nine and a half hours for the NB550D. In our tests we did find this netbook to be more power-hungry than its Atom counterpart, but don't forget you're getting a heck of a lot more graphics grunt for your juice here, easily equivalent to Atom plus Nvidia ION.
Keeping this in mind, the NB550D managed an impressive six hours and 20 minutes before giving up the ghost (looping a standard definition video with screen brightness at 50 percent and wireless radios turned off). Finally, AMD is competitive with Intel across the board, at least in this ultra portable low power sector.
In summary, the NB550D is a beautifully designed, well-built netbook with superb speakers, decent ergonomics, and relatively powerful graphics backing its dual-core CPU. Further specs are rather basic, and it's lacking niceties such as USB 3.0. It's also marred by a somewhat sub-par, sub-HD display.
However, its reasonable £300 price makes these omissions far easier to swallow. Compared to the £280 NB520, there is no competition: the NB550D is more than worth the tiny price difference.
Compared to most netbook rivals, it also comes out tops – for now. The biggest challenge for the NB550D is that plenty of other Fusion-based netbooks/ultraportable laptops will be making their way onto the UK market in the very near future, and Intel's Atom series isn't standing still either. It's also worth noting that quite a few older generation, Celeron-based ultraportable laptops (like the Lenovo IdeaPad U160 to name but one) with HD Ready screens, 2GB of RAM and 'proper' versions of Windows 7 are now heavily discounted, so be sure to check for any bargains before buying.
Like the NB520, Toshiba's NB550 is very attractive and well-built. Its AMD Fusion innards give it the ability to handle Full HD video on and off-line as well as providing an HDMI-output, strengths which put it a step above most budget netbooks. Other specifications are basic and the screen is still sub-HD, but considering its low price these issues are easy to forgive. Throw in the soft-touch finish, decent battery life and excellent speakers, and you have one of the better entrants in its class – though heavy discounts on older ultraportables make for strong competition.