he world of cheap, ubiquitous, and nearly identical Netbooks has been a stable and predictable landscape for a while now, and hasn’t gotten any less predictable with the launch of Intel’s next generation of Atom processors. Whereas Netbooks used to run Windows XP, have N270 processors, and 1GB RAM/160GB hard drive as standards, now Netbooks run Windows 7 Starter, have N450 processors, and have 1GB RAM/250GB hard-drive configurations, with occasional variations.
Those variations–extra RAM, better resolution or larger screens, larger batteries, and keyboard designs–define how much any Netbook is worth. The Toshiba Mini NB305-N410 is, by most standards, an average Netbook in terms of base features. At $399, it’s affordable, but still $100 more than some budget models out there. On the other hand, the advantages when compared against the previous Toshiba Mini NB205 model we reviewed last December are considerable. For the same price, the Mini NB305-N410 has much-improved battery life, thanks to its new N450 Atom processor, plus the battery bulge we always hated about the NB series has been nearly eliminated. Throw in stereo speakers, and the NB305-N410 is a good step up from Toshiba Netbooks of the past, and it’s offered at the same exact price point.
Toshiba’s Mini NB series of Netbooks has always been one of the strongest in terms of overall construction and design. With an attractive, silver, plastic finish and a bronzed, semi-shiny lid on our Sable Brown version, the NB305-N410BN cuts a professional profile and avoids looking like a toy, even in colors such as royal blue and frost white.
Even better, the battery that used to bulge out the back has now been tucked under the chassis, leaving a slight riser underneath that’s barely noticeable. The result is a far more compact body all around and cleaner lines. The NB305 series does include another configuration, the NB305-N310, with a different tapered keyboard, Windows XP, and only a 160GB hard drive. The price on the NB305-N310, however, is only $50 less than the N410 we reviewed. We prefer the N410, but some might prefer Windows XP to the slightly under-featured 32-bit Windows 7 Starter.
Inside, a large rounded hinge houses the power button, centered above the keyboard. Shiny plastic frames the glossy inset 10.1-inch screen, and an integrated Web camera provides decent Web video chat with the included Skype software. The NB305-N410 keyboard is a raised chiclet-style affair, running edge to edge across the Netbook base and making the most of the limited space. The keyboard has a similar feeling to that of the Sony Vaio W, but the keys are larger. Unfortunately, they’re a bit wider than they are tall, and are oddly oriented, which is sure to provide some difficulty to touch-typers–the space bar is smaller than normal, and tab keys feel very compressed. The multitouch touch pad is huge by Netbook standards, and the two buttons below are easy to click–more so than on the Toshiba Satellite T100 series.
Below the keyboard, a somewhat absurd array of LED indicator lights display everything from Wi-Fi status to whether the battery’s low. Honestly, Toshiba could have whittled down the light array to five key functions, instead of nine.
The 10.1-inch glossy LED-backlit screen on the Mini NB305-N410 has a 1,024×600-pixel native resolution. Though this lower-than-HD-resolution screen is common, there are plenty of Netbooks with 1,366×768-pixel resolution displays, including the Sony Vaio W series. Colors and icons are crisp and bright, offering a better-than-average experience once resolution is forgiven. The NB305’s audio has received a welcome bump up from the NB205 series, adding a second speaker for stereo sound. The speakers still lean toward tinny and soft, but they are significantly louder than they were before.