Toshiba's latest mainstream laptop occupies the sweet spot between price and features, packing in a generous 250GB hard drive and 2GB of RAM for $999. The 15.4-inch Toshiba Satellite A215 also includes a Labelflash DVD burner that can burn text and images on your optical media, but it skips the brand-name Harman Kardon speakers found on the more expensive A205 model. Still, a more attractive sub-$1,000 laptop would be hard to find, making the Satellite A215 a worthy alternative to Dell's similar line of mainstream laptops.
|Price as reviewed||$999|
|Processor||1.8GHz AMD Turion 64 X2 Mobile TL-56|
|Memory||2GB of 667MHz DDR2|
|Hard drive||250GB at 4,200rpm|
|Graphics||128MB ATI Radeon X1200 (integrated)|
|Operating system||Windows Vista Premium|
|Screen size (diagonal)||15.4 inches|
|System weight/weight with AC adapter||6.1/7.6 pounds|
On the whole, mainstream laptops have traded the boxier looks of older models (such as the Dell Inspiron E1505) for slimmer, more attractive designs with tapered edges and rounded corners. As with the A205, we like the single long hinge that runs almost the entire length of the display, which feels sturdier than the typical two-hinge setup on most laptops. Unfortunately, the dark blue speckled lid also has the same high-gloss coating, making it especially vulnerable to fingerprints and smudges.
A row of blue LED lights on the front edge gives you updates about battery status and hard-drive activity, while a 1.3 megapixel Webcam is mounted at the top of the screen, and a row of media control buttons (play/pause, and so on) sit above the keyboard, between the stereo speakers. The speakers are not the Harman Kardon models found on Toshiba's more expensive systems, but do offer Dolby Sound Room technology, which is a form of virtual surround sound. We found the surround effect hard to detect, but for standard laptop speakers the output was reasonably clear and crisp (but we wouldn't use them to play music at a party, for instance).
The 15.4-inch wide-screen LCD display offers a 1,280x800 native resolution, which is standard for a screen this size and provides for text and icons that are highly readable. The high-gloss coating, which Toshiba calls TruBrite, is a matter of personal taste, but most of our colleagues seem to prefer matte screens, which don't offer as much visual "pop," but avoid annoying glare from other light sources.
|Toshiba Satellite A215||Average for mainstream category|
|Video||VGA-out, S-Video||VGA-out, S-Video|
|Audio||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||Four USB 2.0 ports, a mini-FireWire, and a multiformat memory card reader||Four USB 2.0 ports, a mini-FireWire, and a multiformat memory card reader|
|Expansion||ExpressCard slot||PC Card slot|
|Networking||Modem, Ethernet, 802.11a/b/g Wi-Fi||Modem, Ethernet, 802.11a/b/g Wi-Fi, optional Bluetooth|
|Optical drive||Labelflash DVD burner||DVD burner|
As the above chart illustrates, the ports and connections on the Satellite A215 are in line with what we'd expect to see on a mainstream laptop. We're not quite at that point yet, but by the end of the year, we'd likely be disappointed with any laptop that doesn't offer 802.11n Wi-Fi technology, aka Draft N. Bluetooth is also not an option, which is a problem we've had with other recent Toshiba systems as well.
The included DVD burner is a Labelflash drive, which means it can burn grayscale text and images onto specially coated media, which cost around $20 for a five-pack of DVD-R discs. It's essentially similar to HP's LightScribe drives, which do the same thing, also using proprietary media. We haven't gotten our hands on a blank Labelflash disc yet, but we've seen very impressive results from the similar LightScribe drives in the past.
While our A215 (model S4757) was very reasonably priced at $999, Toshiba also offers a $1,249 configuration (model S4767) that upgrades the processor to a faster AMD Turion X2 TL-64 and the operating system to Vista Ultimate. But since the cheaper model has the exact same large hard drive and 2GB of RAM, we'd call it a fairly good bargain. Both models are fixed configurations.
Compared to other recent mainstream laptops, the AMD-powered Satellite A215 generally lagged behind its Intel Core 2 Duo-equipped competition. That's not surprising, as we've generally found Intel CPUs to outperform AMD in the current generation of processors. But the performance difference won't be enough to affect general mainstream tasks, and using the Satellite A215 for multitasking, including Web surfing, basic productivity use, and media playback, it performed well, with no obvious slowdown or stuttering.
The Satellite A215 ran for 2 hours, 2 minutes on our DVD battery drain test, using the default battery. That's not unacceptable for a laptop of this size, but this system is clearly better suited for staying plugged in on your desk than for all-day traveling. On the other hand, our DVD battery drain test is especially grueling, so you can expect longer life from casual Web surfing and office use.
Toshiba includes an industry-standard one-year parts-and-labor warranty with the Satellite A215. It's a mail-in warranty, but the company has a deal where you can just drop your system off for service at any UPS Store or Mail Boxes Etc. store, and they'll deliver it to the repair depot. Support is accessible through a 24-7 toll-free phone line, an online knowledge base and driver downloads.