Most netbooks are so similar that, when something slightly different comes along, we get all giddy, like a teenager queuing for the Nemesis Inferno at Thorpe Park. The 10.1-inch Toshiba NB520 is just such a machine, sporting a dual-core Intel Atom processor, beefy Harmon Kardon speakers, a rubberised lid, and Bluetooth 3.0 support. But is this ride worth the £280 entry price? Buckle up and let's find out.
Get your rubber on
The NB520's design is a mixed bag. It's available in five colours: brown, blue, green, orange and turquoise. These colours are used on the lid, which has a slightly rubberised coating. That coating means the lid should collect less scratches than the glossy version found on most netbooks. The lid also looks cool and feels pleasant to touch.
The matte black plastic used on the keyboard and wrist rest look cheap in comparison to the lid. Nevertheless, the machine feels quite sturdy, and the matte finish should stand up better than glossy coatings to long-term abuse.
Perhaps what most distinguishes the NB520 from its peers is the presence of two fairly large Harman Kardon speakers, housed behind metal grilles towards the front of the laptop. These help the machine to produce much louder and more convincing audio than any other netbook we've come across. In fact, they put the speakers on many larger laptops to shame. You can quite happily listen to music or enjoy movie soundtracks without having to reach for your headphones.
The 10.1-inch screen may be a pretty standard size for a netbook, but there's a pretty thick bezel around it that makes it look smaller than it really is. Also, while its 1,024x600-pixel resolution is adequate, the screen can feel cramped compared to netbooks with 1,366x768-pixel displays. On the plus side, we didn't find the glossy finish too reflective, and this coating makes colours look much richer than they do on matte displays.
The spacious keyboard is excellent. The trackpad's very smooth and accurate too.
When it comes to ports, the NB520 doesn't stray too far from the well-trodden netbook path. There's the usual quota of three USB ports but, handily, one of these uses 'sleep and charge' technology, so you can charge devices like MP3 players and phones even when the netbook is powered down.
There's also an Ethernet port for connecting the netbook to a wired network and a VGA port for hooking the machine up to an external display. Toshiba hasn't managed to squeeze in an HDMI port, though. That's a shame, as such ports are starting to appear on rival models that fall into the same price bracket. Under the front lip, you'll find an SD card reader.