Toshiba's first Windows Vista laptop, the Portege R400, was an impressive high-end convertible tablet that made a splash when was introduced at CES 2007. The company is now following up with Vista systems aimed at mainstream consumers, including the 15-inch Satellite A135. While our review unit cost only $999, the system is configurable and can run up to $1,500 if you include extras like dual hard drives. The specs and features are decidedly average, and while this system is fairly inexpensive, we still prefer the Gateway NX570 as our favorite inexpensive, jack-of-all-trades mainstream notebook because of its wide-ranging configuration options and longer battery life.
The plain-Jane, silver-and-black design won't turn many heads, but the shiny midnight-blue-speckled lid--Toshiba calls it Onyx Blue Metallic--lends an upscale touch. Too bad the glossy surface is a magnet for fingerprints. Measuring 14.2 inches wide, 10.5 inches deep, and 1.5 inches high, the Satellite A135 is small enough to carry around occasionally but big enough to type on comfortably for a full work day. The A135 weighs 5.9 pounds (6.6 pounds with the A/C adapter), which is heavier than something you'd want to tote around on a daily basis, but easy enough to take on a trip or move from room to room--and a little lighter than the Gateway NX570.
The 15.4-inch wide-screen LCD display offers a 1,280x800 native resolution, which is standard for a screen this size. Text and icons are large and readable, and the screen is nice and bright, and it stands out against the black screen bezel.
The full-size keyboard was easy to use, although it flexed a little too much as we typed. A set of media control buttons sit to the left of the keyboard, including media player and Web browser quick-launch buttons. We expected a volume control to be there, too; instead it was relegated to a tiny, hard-to-find scroll wheel on the front edge.
The system serves up a standard set of connections, including four USB 2.0 jacks, a mini FireWire jack, a PC Card slot, a media card reader, and VGA and S-Video outputs for hooking up an external monitor. Networking connections include a modem and Ethernet jacks, as well as integrated 802.11a/b/g wireless.
Components in our review unit were reasonable for the price, including a 1.6GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T5200 CPU, 1GB of DDR2 RAM, Intel 945GM graphics, a DVD burner, and a 120GB 5,400rpm hard drive. For use with Windows Vista Home Premium, we'd recommend 2GB of RAM. Toshiba offers seven preconfigured versions of the A135 (we tested the $999 A135-S4467), along with a customizable model. For $1,499, you can trade up to Vista Ultimate, a slightly faster T5500 CPU, 2GB of RAM, and dual 120GB hard drives. Dual hard drives are certainly an appreciated option, but we'd like to see faster CPUs and better GPU options.
The Toshiba Satellite A135-S4467 performed well on CNET Labs' Multitasking, iTunes encoding, and Photoshop CS2 tests, matching or nearly matching the scores of two Vista laptops with the same 1GB of RAM but slightly faster T5500 CPUs: the Toshiba Satellite U205-S5057 and the Asus W7J (a Windows XP system we upgraded to Vista ourselves). The A135 is speedy enough for casual productivity use, media playback, and Web surfing although we ran into some minor stuttering when multi-tasking or accessing Vista's various options menus.
With integrated Intel 945GM graphics, gaming is best restricted to older games at lower resolutions. If you're looking for a 15-inch laptop designed for gaming, the Asus G1 is worth a look.
The Satellite A135 ran for 1 hour and 58 minutes on our DVD battery drain test, using the included six-cell battery. We expected better than that, given the lack of high-powered components. A larger, eight-cell battery is available as a $152 option, but bear in mind that an extended battery will protrude slightly from the back of the system. The similarly priced Gateway NX570 did much better, although that was on our older, less strenuous, battery test, so the real-world difference would be less pronounced.
Toshiba includes an industry-standard one-year parts-and-labor warranty with the Satellite A135. Support is accessible through a 24/7 toll-free phone line, an online knowledge base, and both a carry-in and mail-in repair service.