Apple MacBook Air (13-inch, 2013)
Alienware 14 (Core i7, 16GB, 256GB SSD, Nvidia GTX765M)stars
No complaints about the performance, but the design changes don't go nearly far enough.
Priced at $899, the Toshiba Satellite A215-S7437 is one of the two cheapest systems in our roundup of sub-$1,000 laptops. Given that low price, it's no surprise that the Satellite (along with its compatriot, the $899 Gateway M-1618) incorporates a low-cost AMD Turion 64 X2 processor. It's also no surprise that the Satellite A215-S7437 fell right in the middle of the pack on our performance benchmarks, and that its battery punked out after just an hour and a half on our drain test. If you can squeeze just $100 more into your laptop-buying budget, you might consider a faster and longer-lived system, such as the Sony VAIO CR120. But for $899, the Toshiba Satellite A215-S7437 presents an attractive design and solid feature set.
|Price as reviewed / Starting price||$899 / $649|
|Processor||1.9GHz AMD Turion 64 X2 TL-58|
|Memory||2GB of 667MHz|
|Hard drive||200GB at 4,200rpm|
|Graphics||ATI Radon X1200|
|Operating system||Windows Vista Home Premium|
|Dimensions (wide x deep x thick)||14.1 x 10.5 x 1.5 inches|
|Screen size (diagonal)||15.4 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||6.1 / 7.0 pounds|
Like other laptops in Toshiba's consumer line, the Satellite A215-S7437 features rounded edges, a reflective blue-black exterior (unfortunately, prone to fingerprints and smudges), and a silver interior. We like the look, though we could do without the branding. The giant Toshiba logo emblazoned in 0.75-inch silver letters across the lid and the bright blue glowing Satellite logo on the left side of the front edge are a bit much. (Though, in all fairness, it's not much worse than Sony's branding, as seen on the VAIO CR120.) 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.
The 15.4-inch wide-screen LCD display offers a fairly standard 1,280x800 native resolution that keeps text and icons highly readable. Watching movies is also a pleasure with the TruBrite screen finish, which provides increased color saturation and contrast. While the glossy coating also results in some reflections, we think Toshiba has done a pretty good job of balancing the demands of image quality with the demands of onscreen reading. The Gateway M-1618, in contrast, features a glossy screen coating that was more reflective and prone to distracting glare.
The Satellite A215-S7437 includes a sturdy keyboard with full-size keys that are a bit loud. The laptop's roomy touch pad and broad mouse buttons are responsive; we appreciate that the touch surface is recessed, which helps prevent you from accidentally grazing the touch pad and misplacing the cursor while typing. Above the keyboard sit basic media controls (play/pause, stop, track forward, and track back) as well as buttons to launch the media player and your default Web browser. A volume wheel and a Wi-Fi on/off switch on the front edge round out the features.
Judging from the proliferation of desktop icons on the Satellite A215-S7437, we'd say its low price comes in part thanks to a subsidy from software makers. Out of the box, our review unit included 13 desktop shortcuts to third-party software and Web sites, such as eMusic, Napster, Shutterfly, Vongo, and Skype. Removing much of this junk, especially the programs that run in the background, can speed up a sluggish system. Check out this helpful video on removing crapware from your laptop for step-by-step instructions.
|Toshiba Satellite A215-S7437||Average for midsize category|
|Video||VGA, S-video||VGA, S-video|
|Audio||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||4 USB 2.0, mini-FireWire, multiformat memory card reader||4 USB 2.0, mini-FireWire, multiformat memory card reader|
|Networking||modem, Ethernet, 802.11 b/g Wi-Fi||modem, Ethernet, 802.11 a/b/g Wi-Fi|
|Optical drive||Labelflash DVD burner||DVD burner|
The Toshiba Satellite A215-S7437's case allows for all the ports and connections you'd expect on a mainstream laptop. The laptop lacks support for 802.11n wireless, which isn't exactly standard at the $1,000 level (though it is available on similar systems, such as the Sony VAIO CR120); unless you've already invested in a Draft N router, we doubt you'll miss it. As a bonus, the included DVD burner is a Labelflash drive, which can burn text and images onto specially coated media (similar to HP's LightScribe technology). We were particularly pleased with the stereo speakers; though we could have used more bass, the sound is reasonably clear and remarkably balanced even at the highest volumes.
Armed with a 1.9GHz AMD Turion 64 X2 TL-58 processor, 2GB of RAM, and ATI Radon X1200 graphics, the $899 Toshiba Satellite A215-S7437 fell in the middle of a pack of similarly priced laptops on CNET Labs' benchmarks. It finished either ahead of or on par with the $899 Gateway M-1618 (also based on the AMD Turion 64 X2 TL-58 processor) but consistently trailed the $984 Lenovo 3000 N200, which runs on a 1.8GHz Intel Core 2 Duo CPU. In fact, on our Multimedia multitasking test, the Satellite A215-S7437 trailed all of the sub-$1,000 systems built on Intel's Core 2 Duo processors. 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 basic home use, and we certainly didn't notice any stuttering while using the Satellite A215-S7437 for Web surfing, basic productivity use, and media playback.
The Satellite A215-S7437 posted a truly disappointing battery life of 1 hour and 30 minutes on our DVD battery drain test. Not only is that not enough to make it through most mainstream movies, it earns the Toshiba the unfortunate distinction of being the shortest-lived laptop in our $1,000 roundup. For a laptop that's still reasonably portable, we'd have expected at least 2 hours on a charge.
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, and they'll pack it up and deliver it to the repair depot. Support is accessible through a 24-7 toll-free phone line, an online knowledge base, and driver downloads.