The teal-green lid on the Toshiba Satellite M50 is an attractive change from the ubiquitous grey models that ceaselessly flood the market. This may make it less suited to an office environment, but home users and students will appreciate the change. The rest of the chassis is a mixture of black and silver, which complements the teal lid nicely.
Weighing 2.4kg and with dimensions of 343 x 242 x 29.4(front)/38(rear) mm, it's portable enough for use on the road and can easily be slipped into a backpack, but mobile professionals will probably prefer a smaller 12" ultra-portable offering instead.
A number of great design elements enhance the M50's multimedia capabilities tremendously. The most obvious is the widescreen 14-inch 1280x768 XGA display, but the buck doesn't stop there. Lined vertically to the right of the keyboard are four media player buttons - play/pause, stop, next track and previous track - which are handy for DVD and music playback. The front bezel also contains headphone and microphone jacks, as well as a volume wheel so you don't have to drop everything to fiddle with audio settings mid-film.
The glossy finish on the display reduces glare whilst outdoors and makes colours appear more vibrant, but it's annoyingly reflective when used indoors. In our opinion, the negatives outweigh the positives in this respect.
Two Harman Kardon stereo speakers are located just underneath the screen, so sound is projected directly at the user. These speakers are commonly included with Toshiba notebook offerings and are of much higher quality than most integrated speaker systems.
While they're not abysmal, the M50's internal specs are nothing to write home about. The notebook is powered by an Intel Celeron M 360 (1.4GHz) processor, and only includes a paltry 256MB of DDR2-533 memory. These days we'd say the minimum you'll want is 512MB with 1GB being preferable, so you'll likely find yourself upgrading before long. The 40GB hard drive is enough to store most of your programs and files, but it'll struggle to hold most music and video collections comfortably.
As is to be expected from a budget notebook, the M50 includes an integrated graphics chip, specifically the Radeon Xpress 200M. This is faster than Intel's integrated graphics module, but it's still inadequate for even the weekend gamer. Wireless networking is provided by an Atheros 802.11b/g controller, but Bluetooth support is lacking. An S-Video port is provided should you want to hook the notebook up to a TV, while a PC Card Type II slot allows for further expandability. It should be noted that the M50 lacks both a Firewire port and a memory card reader, which may hinder connectivity with your external devices.
A neat feature that's garnering increasing popularity among notebook vendors is a one-touch start-up button that enables users to play multimedia files without waiting for Windows to boot up. Toshiba's implementation has been dubbed "Express Media Player". EMP is quick to activate and proved useful during our testing, but we were disappointed to see that it can only play media from a CD or DVD, not from the hard drive.
To get you on your way, Toshiba bundles a fairly decent software package that includes: Microsoft Windows XP Home SP2, Toshiba Utilities, Microsoft OneNote 2003, Record Now! Basic, Intervideo WinDVD, Norton Antivirus 2005 (90 day subscription) and Adobe Acrobat Reader. You'll have to supply your own word processing software, however.
For a sub-AU$1500 notebook, the M50's performance is respectable, despite being slightly slower than the other similarly priced notebooks we compared it to. Its MobileMark2005 office productivity rating of 160 is only just shy of the BenQ, Dell and Optima offerings (see graph), a difference that isn't noticeable in the real-world. Still, don't expect to be doing much heavy multimedia content creation, gaming or any other system-intensive tasks that are more suited to a notebook from a higher price bracket. That said, DVD playback looked stunning on the widescreen display, and the notebook handled this task without even a semblance of slow-down.
BAPCo MobileMark2005 performance rating
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Unfortunately, the M50's battery life is a true deal breaker. We recorded a meagre 95 minutes in MobileMark2005, which falls far short of the 124, 227 and 281 minutes we recorded on the BenQ Joybook A33E, Optima Centoris KN and Dell Inspiron 630m respectively. Suffice it to say, you won't be venturing too far from a power socket with this one.
BAPCo MobileMark2005 battery life rating
(Longer bars indicate more battery-life minutes)
The notebook comes with a one-year parts and labour warranty, which includes a courier pickup and return service should your unit require repairs. Judging by the other notebooks we've tested, this is on par with competing offerings. If desired, users can opt to purchase a more attractive warranty package that includes up to three years of next business day onsite service.
All in all, it's difficult for us to recommend the M50 purely due to its sub-par battery life. This wouldn't be as much of an issue if the notebook leapt ahead in other areas such as performance or feature-set, but unfortunately this isn't the case. If you're looking for an inexpensive notebook, the Dell Inspiron 630m or Optima Centoris KN offerings are far better choices.