Toshiba has been just about the only significant PC manufacturer who hasn’t jumped on the netbook bandwagon in the U.S. market. Until today, that is–the company is announcing the Mini NB205, its first small, low-cost laptop. (Toshiba prefers to call these mini notebooks, not netbooks; I don’t know if the resolution of the netbook trademark spat will affect its choice of moniker.)
When I got an advance peek at the NB205 last week, Toshiba representatives told me that the company decided to wait to ship a netbook (er, a mini notebook) until it could do it right. And the units they showed me did look decidedly upscale–the first models I’ve seen that compete with Samsung’s for general luxe feel. For $399, you get a 2.9-pound machine in a textured, metallic-finish case (in blue, brown white, or pink). The keyboard boasts the comfy and practical through-the-case design and is as close to full-size as you can get in a machine with a 10.1″ LED screen, and the list of specs is respectable: a 160GB hard disk with a movement sensor, a Webcam, USB that charges even when the laptop is powered off, a decent-sized touchpad with well-postioned buttons, 802.11g/b WiFi, Ethernet, and Bluetooth. For now, it runs Windows XP.
The NB205′s CPU is a 1.6-GHz Intel Atom N280, and Toshiba says that the six-cell battery (which is standard) will go for up to nine hours. Even if that’s as optimistic as most notebook battery-life claims, the NB205 should be competitive.
The only spec that gives me pause is the same one that gives me pause with all netbooks: The NB205 comes with 1GB of RAM. I persist in being frustrated by Microsoft licensing terms that make it impossible to sell a low-cost netbook with 2GB of RAM and a Microsoft OS. It seems especially silly to hobble machines as appealing and attractive as these Toshibas with an artificial restriction on RAM capacity. But there’s nothing Toshiba can do about it, and you can add more RAM yourself.
Toshiba is also releasing a $349 version of the NB205–it’s largely similar, but comes in a less fancy black case, has a plainer keyboard, and lacks Wi-Fi. I’d spend the fifty bucks to get the higher-end version. Both versions will be available on June 23rd.