Moving onto the touchpad, which is an important part of the overall design, again inspires mixed feelings. The pad does carry on the Horizon print, which is a nice touch, but the two giant chrome-finish buttons underneath it are simply ugly – especially since the chrome look is not matched anywhere else on the A300. In use there is a similar mixture of good and bad. The pad’s matte surface is pleasant to work with, but while the buttons’ size makes them easy to locate, they require too much pressure.
Again reminiscent of HP’s dv6750ea, the Satellite has touch-sensitive media controls above the keyboard. Despite the fact that I still prefer physical buttons towards a notebook’s front, their implementation here is almost flawless. They don’t produce activation sounds, but are incredibly responsive and strongly backlit in white, making for perfect contrast with their glossy black surrounding. Like the effortlessly visible status indicators just below the pad’s buttons, this means they are easy to discern even in bright outdoor light.
The first touch-control switches backlighting on/off, not only for the media shortcuts, but for a subtle ‘Satellite’ logo on the bottom left corner of the chassis, and more usefully, a svelte white strip just above the touchpad. It looks nice and makes the pad easier to find in the dark. Sound control, meanwhile, is rather unusual. Apart from mute, which is unfortunately assigned to an FN keyboard shortcut, volume is adjusted by that rarest of things in modern technology: a good old fashioned dial, which is a pleasure to use.
This dial logically resides at the front edge of the laptop’s chassis, together with a wireless switch, infrared port, memory card reader (SD, xD, Sony MemoryStick), microphone in and headphone output (which, as a nice bonus, doubles as S/PDIF). I was disappointed to find no form of digital video out, especially since most competitors at similar price points do offer this. But you do get VGA and S-Video, which join IEEE1394a (FireWire/i.LINK), two USB 2.0s, an ExpressCard slot and a LAN jack on the left. Finally, along the right we have the modem port, two more USBs, a Kensington security lock and DC in.
This leaves the back of the laptop completely free, which is necessitated by the way the A300’s hinge works. Build quality, meanwhile, is top notch, with no flex or creaking anywhere, even on the thin lid. As is usual on most laptops these days you’ll find a web camera (1.3-megapixels in this case) and microphone in the top bezel. Not only does this let you make video calls, but it allows for Toshiba’s Face Recognition feature. This is a security logon with your face as the key, but has too many disadvantages: it won’t work if you change your appearance slightly, and Toshiba admits that ‘faces similar to a registrant’s may be recognised accidentally’, making it a trendy gimmick rather than a genuinely useful feature.