The Satellite L25-S119 boasts a bright screen and quality audio, but you'll probably want to pick up a spare battery
I've always been fond of Toshiba (TOSBF) notebook PCs. As with rival Sony (SNE), Toshiba's expertise in consumer electronics has given it an advantage as notebook PCs evolve to accommodate more media-heavy duties.
That's why I was eager to see how Toshiba would do in our series of tests of the lowest-priced notebooks from major PC vendors (see BW Online, 9/09/05, "Gateway's Mighty Mite”).
Toshiba sent the Satellite L25-S119 as its lowest-priced unit. It carries a suggested retail price of $899, but I found it on Circuit City's (CC) Web site for $650. So make sure you shop around.
Of the units I've tested for this series so far, Toshiba's had by far the best screen. The 15-inch display uses Toshiba's TruBrite technology, which improves the viewing angle so the user can see images better from different vantage points. The screen also has a smooth sheen that reduces glare from ambient light and makes it look a little more like a home TV set.
My constant complaint with notebook screens is that they're almost never bright enough, even at the highest setting. This was not the case here. At its maximum brightness, the Toshiba Satellite provides a suitable picture.
As always with notebooks, there are trade-offs. The better and brighter the screen, the shorter the battery life tends to be. As with the previous two tests -- besides the Gateway, I also reviewed an Acer notebook (see BW Online, 10/31/05, “This Acer Aspires to Adequacy”) -- I played a DVD of the movie Rocky with the screen at maximum brightness and relied solely on battery power. The Acer shut down after 53 minutes, while the Gateway lasted for 129, getting all the way through the movie once and managing to start again. The Toshiba outlasted the Acer by only one minute.
Toshiba's specifications are pretty good for a machine in its price range. Its processor is an Intel (INTC) Celeron M 370, running at 1.5 GHz (a touch faster than the Celeron in the rival Gateway). In its basic configuration, the Toshiba comes with 256 megabytes of memory, which is a little low. It supports as much as 2 gigabytes of memory, and you'll want to add at least 256 MB. However, Toshiba doesn't scrimp on the hard drive, throwing a roomy 60-gigabyte drive into the mix, improving on the rival Gateway machine by 20 gigabytes.
LOVE IT LOUD.
During the Rocky test, I pumped up the volume to maximum and, for the first time, got a complaint from an office colleague sitting about 15 feet away. Even though it lacked bass and depth, sound was loud and clear. When using headphones I noticed a substantial improvement in quality that the other two computers lacked. As long as you can stay tethered to an AC outlet, this notebook is excellent for watching movies.
But that's not all you'll use it for. In the course of running typical applications such as Microsoft Word and Excel, the Toshiba performed more than adequately. My one complaint was about the keyboard. Toshiba spends a lot of time studying the ergonomics of keyboards, and I couldn't help feeling they hadn't done their research this time. I usually expect keys to give me a little tactile resistance. These felt flat, small, and unresponsive.
The notebook weighed in at 5.88 pounds, which makes it more than a half pound heavier than the Gateway, but a little more than a tenth of a pound lighter than the Acer. It's a whisker more than 13 inches wide, 10.6 inches deep and an inch-and-a-tenth thick. It has the usual connections: three USB ports, jacks for headphones and external microphones, and an S-video out port for connecting to a TV.
One other quibble: This Toshiba machine lacks a simple volume control wheel that I've seen on older Toshiba models. That was one of the small touches where in previous years, Toshiba had shown its experience in consumer electronic design. Here the tides are turned. The Gateway had a volume control wheel, making it easy to adjust the sound without interacting with software.
Aside from the battery life issue -- which is not a small consideration if you intend to travel with the notebook on long flights -- this is an excellent notebook for the price. Invest in an extra battery, and you won't miss the rematch with Apollo Creed in Rocky II.