Editors' note: This review is part of our Winter 2009 Retail Roundup, covering specific configurations of popular laptops that can be found in retail stores.
Unless you find its glossy body and case markings completely off-putting, the Toshiba Satellite A305-S6916 is tough not to like. It has a good component mix, including a decent Intel Core 2 Duo processor, a full 4GB of memory, and a discrete 512MB graphics card. It also offers extras like touch-sensitive controls and a Webcam, all for less than $800.
In the crowded $600-$800 market, the only fixed-configuration retail laptop we liked better was the Gateway MD7818u, which offers more hard drive space and better battery life for a little less money.
|Price as reviewed||$779|
|Processor||2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T6400|
|Memory||4GB, 800MHz DDR2|
|Hard drive||320GB 5,400rpm|
|Chipset||Mobile Intel GM45 Express Chipset|
|Graphics||512MB ATI Mobility Radeon HD 3650|
|Operating System||Windows Vista Premium SP1 (64-bit)|
|Dimensions||14.3 inches wide by 10.5 inches deep|
|Height||1.5 inches high|
|Screen size (diagonal)||15.4 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||6.6/8.1 pounds|
The A305-S6916 features Toshiba's high-gloss Fusion finish, with a pattern it calls Kinetic. It's definitely eye-catching and sets it apart from more straightforward-looking budget laptops. The laptop is fairly thick and made even thicker by the extended battery that's included. Instead of adding to the depth by putting the cells at the back, they're on the bottom, lifting the entire package up off your desktop.
The keyboard is a glossy black, which seems an odd choice for something that comes in contact with fingers--and their prints--on a regular basis. The keys have a strange softness to them that made for a nice typing experience, though, so it's not all bad. The trackpad is highlighted by a bar of light at its top and is flush with the rest of the chassis surface; just a slight texture change differentiates it from the smooth plastic body.
The 15.4-inch wide-screen LCD display offers a 1,280x800 native resolution, which is standard for a screen this size. The display gets reasonably bright; text and graphics look sharp; and movies look good as well.
Above the screen is a basic Webcam and mic, and Toshiba includes its face-recognition software that lets you logon to the computer by staring into the camera. (We generally find this kind of software tricky to use, but your mileage may vary.) What's also nice is the excellent audio quality (for a budget laptop at least) of the Harman/Kardon stereo speakers and the row of touch-sensitive multimedia controls including programmable mute and CD/DVD buttons. (Out of the box they're set for mute and launching Cyberlink PowerCinema.)
|Toshiba Satellite A305-S6916||Average for category [mainstream]|
|Video||VGA-out, S-Video, HDMI||VGA-out, S-Video|
|Audio||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||3 USB 2.0, 1 eSATA/USB 2.0 combo, multiformat media-card reader, mini-FireWire||4 USB 2.0, SD card reader|
|Networking||modem, Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi||modem, Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, optional WWAN|
|Optical drive||DVD burner||DVD burner|
We were pleased with the assortment of ports and connections Toshiba offered up on this model. Plus, all three standalone USB ports and the combo eSATA/USB port let you charge up devices even while the computer is asleep. Bluetooth is about the only thing we would've liked to have seen that was missing.
This Toshiba's performance was at or near the top in our collection of budget retail fixed-configuration laptops (with systems costing $600-$800), but never by so much that it should sway a purchasing decision. It did prove more capable with gaming than others tested, thanks to a more powerful 512MB ATI Mobility Radeon HD 3650. It's by no means a gaming laptop, though; it was just able to handle more than the integrated graphics in other systems could, running Unreal Tournament 3 at 45.5 frames per second at a 1,280x800 resolution.
The A305-S6916 ran for 2 hours and 49 minutes on our video playback battery drain test, using the included nine-cell battery. That's a bit low, considering the A305-S6916 has a larger-than-usual battery. It was bested by several similarly configured laptops. If you plan on spending a lot of time away from a wall plug, check out the similar, but longer-lasting Gateway MD7818u.
The Toshiba Satellite A305-S6916 is backed by an industry-standard, one-year warranty. Support is accessible 24-7 via a toll-free phone line, an online knowledge base, and a Web site with driver downloads.
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)