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Toshiba Qosmio G20 review: Toshiba Qosmio G20

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The Good Salacious black livery; big keyboard; slot-loading DVD drive.

The Bad Impractical reflective screen; no DVI-out; overwhelming weight.

The Bottom Line The Qosmio G20's screen is so reflective you could use it as a dressing table mirror. Unless you work and game in a pitch-black room, it's enough of a problem to make this laptop completely impractical under normal office lighting. Plus, it's so heavy you'd need legs of steel to tolerate it on your lap

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5.5 Overall

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We're confused as to exactly which breed of user the Qosmio G20 is aimed at. Its highly reflective screen suggests a dedicated gaming platform designed to be used in a pitch-black environment, yet its graphics credentials won't meet the demands of a recent title like Battlefield 2, even when set to medium resolution.

Few screens we've tested have the same level of reflectivity as the Qosmio G20. If you're looking for a general use laptop, the G20 is far from ideal -- you'll see much more of yourself reflected back at you than you'll see of the document you're working on. Given the G20's uninspiring gaming performance, the only time this kind of screen will improve your view is when you're watching a DVD in a dark room. Even then, the improvement is marginal and hardly justifies crippling the display for other tasks.

Based on an Intel Pentium M processor, the Qosmio G20 is less of a power guzzler than a Pentium 4 laptop, but this has done little to reduce the bulk. The Qosmio G20 is in the same heavyweight league as the Alienware Area 51m 7700, but offers few of the Alienware's performance benefits.

Design
The hinged lid on the Qosmio G20 is a faux-aluminium effect plastic, whereas the rest of the outer chassis is plain black. Where the two halves of the laptop meet, the sections are tapered inwards to create a V-shaped gutter around the edges. This is an elegant way of disguising the G20's height and gives you something to grip onto when you raise the screen into position. The Qosmio G20 is thick, at 43mm, and settles at a vicious 4.3kg on the scales. This might not seem overwhelming, but combine this with the weight of the bundled leather satchel and you'll curse it on even the shortest journeys. The external power supply adds even more weight.

The Qosmio G20's DVD drive is slot-loading, but the drive sled is not removable, so there's no chance to conserve weight by leaving it at home. At 406 by 285mm, the top of the G20 is the same size as an unfolded magazine -- the dimensions of an A3 sheet of paper. It's difficult to fit it into any rucksack or carry case other than the one Toshiba provides.

The attractive black keyboard on the G20 is surrounded by glossy black plastic. This is appealingly glass-like in appearance, but the initial allure quickly evaporates when fingerprints and marks build up on the gloss. The keys on the G20's keyboard are tapered on the lower edge, but not on the upper edge or sides. Keyboards are a very subjective experience, but we prefer tapering on all edges to reduce the likelihood of catching a finger when typing quickly.

The trackpad on the G20 is small and too textured for our tastes, making it hard to move the pointer smoothly across the screen. Another minor annoyance is the trackpad buttons, which sit too far beneath the trackpad to make them comfortably accessible. It would have made more sense to position these immediately underneath the trackpad, with no gap in between. They're seated beneath the surface level of the laptop rather than above, which means your thumb has to hit a very specific target area to click the button -- this can be surprisingly annoying. Given that you're likely to be using this as a desktop machine, you can always plug in a USB mouse and dismiss the trackpad completely.

The underside of the G20 includes a series of detachable panels that access the memory and two hard disks. These panels make it easier to swap out components without resorting to taking the entire chassis apart.

The left-hand of the Qosmio houses microphone and headphone ports, two USB ports and a socket which accepts a telephone cable for the internal modem. The rear houses a VGA port for external monitor connection, a D-video output that attaches to the bundled Scart cable, two more USB ports, an Ethernet port, S-video in and out ports, and a small jack for the bundled composite adaptor cable. On the right-hand side there's a FireWire port, a 5-in-1 card reader and slots for two PC Cards. It's clear this is a laptop with multimedia on its mind.



Features
Our review model, the G20-108, ran a 1.73GHz Pentium M and came with 512MB of RAM, expandable to 2GB. This is overkill for office tasks and amateur video editing, but falls short of the high-speed gaming performance of other laptops that dare to be this big. Higher-spec models, the G20-105 and G20-114, are available for a premium.

Spreadsheets and graphics applications like Photoshop enjoy the generous real estate on the G20's 17-inch 1440x900-pixel WXGA+ screen, despite its reflectivity. The Nvidia GeForce 6600 card that drives the internal LCD can support an external monitor at resolutions of up to 2048x1536. This is especially useful because an external display may well be the only option available to you if you want to work on the G20 in daylight.

If the G20 has a specific raison d'etre, it's to function as a portable PVR. The built-in TV tuner and range of AV inputs and outputs on the G20 would make a BBC satellite van blush. Impressively, the G20 uses a D-video out port. This lets you feed a display output from the G20 into any Scart-equipped television set. Although this port should be a given for any Media Center PC, it's a rare treat. Usually we have to contend with the fuzzy output of S-video or use a flat-panel monitor that accepts a VGA input. Despite this sensible choice, there's no DVI connector on the Qosmio, making it impossible to output a pure digital signal to your display.

The G20's built-in DVD±R will burn movies or music onto a variety of optical formats. Touch-sensitive navigation buttons above the keyboard control the playback of regular audio CDs and DVDs through the Windows Media software without having to use the on-screen menus.

The two speakers on the G20 provide enough volume to make DVDs plausibly loud, but you won't have a heart attack when a Black Hawk tumbles out of the sky. For real thrills you'll need to hook up the G20 to an external hi-fi system. Alternatively, you can plug in headphones for a more intimate experience. Volume on the Qosmio G20 is controlled by a rotary dial to the right of the keyboard; as you spin this, a row of LEDs light up to indicate current levels. These reminded us of the front grill on the car in Knight Rider.

Performance
Battery life on the G20 is rated by Toshiba at 2 hours and we found performance in our informal tests matched this claim. Watching DVDs or running video-editing and other graphics applications that read extensively from the hard disk can reduce this run-time even further. Excel and Word ran well, as you'd expect from a near-2GHz Pentium M, and we were also able to play back 1080i high-definition Windows media videos onto a 40-inch plasma TV with no problems.

Giving the G20 a little more to chew on exposed the limitations of the Nvidia GeForce 6600 card. Battlefield 2, a recent and fairly demanding multiplayer game, ran at a playable rate in extremely low graphics modes, but anything above the minimum settings caused the G20 to stutter and drop swathes of frames. The G20 definitely punches below its weight when it comes to gaming, but we would expect the higher-spec options to cope proportionately better. 

PVR functionality on the G20 is excellent -- it does everything we've come to expect from desktop Media Centers with the added bonus of a dedicated Scart output for a clearer TV picture. Once you've attached an aerial and tuned in channels, Windows XP Media Center Edition lets you schedule and record programmes to the internal hard disk for playback later.

Although the G20's size and weight makes it impractical as a truly portable laptop, this wasn't what overwhelmingly disappointed us. Instead, it's the G20's glary screen that breaks the deal here. It's of benefit only in one scenario -- an extremely dark room -- and in all others, it's a distraction. In a strip-lit office, the glare makes using the G20 such a frustrating experience that we wonder why the decision was made not to use a standard LCD. These glossy LCDs might look good in the showroom, but in general use they're impractical and distracting. In this case it undermines what is otherwise a very capable PVR.

Edited by Mary Lojkine
Additional editing by Nick Hide

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