The Toshiba Satellite A105 is a no-frills media center laptop at a rock-bottom price. Though competing 15.4-inch wide-screen notebooks, such as the Lenovo 3000 N100, the Dell Inspiron E1505, and the Micro Express EL80, all offer either slightly better performance, better battery life, or both, they charge more for it, too. If you're looking for a Media Center experience but don't want to break the bank, you should consider the Satellite A105.
Like most of Toshiba's other Satellites, the A105 is conservatively styled. With a dark gray, black, and silver case, the most colorful bit of this notebook is its obligatory Windows XP sticker. The Satellite A105 measures 14.2 inches wide, 10.5 inches deep and 1.5 inches thick and weighs 6 pounds, putting it right between the thin-and-light and the midsize categories. Though it's virtually the same size as the Lenovo 3000 N100, the Micro Express EL80, and the Dell Inspiron E1505, the Satellite A105 is lighter than all those models. With its AC adapter, the Satellite A105 hits the road at 7.1 pounds.
We think the display should be a star feature of a notebook that ships with Windows XP Media Center Edition, but the Satellite A105's 15.4-inch, glossy, wide-screen display disappoints. It's bright and has excellent color contrast, but with its 1,280x800 native resolution--the same as many 12-inch wide screens--you're carrying a larger, heavier screen without getting any functional real estate advantage. The Satellite A105 can display 17 columns and 36 rows of a spreadsheet and show a word processing document at 150 percent with no need for horizontal scrolling, which is exactly the same as the Fujitsu LifeBook Q2010, one of the smallest ultraportables we've seen. Moreover, while 720p HD content looks exceptionally crisp, the Satellite A105's screen is too low-res for 1080i/p video.
Display aside, the notebook's other multimedia hardware, combined with Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005, makes for a good audiovisual experience. The Satellite A105's speakers sound rich on the low end and crisp on the high, though their limited volume means you'll have trouble filling a room with sound. The media controls to the left of the keyboard and the front-mounted analog volume dial are complemented by a dedicated key that launches the Windows XP Media Center dashboard. The included S-Video out port makes it easy to connect to most modern TVs. Unfortunately, a remote control is conspicuously absent.
Though Toshiba could have used the Satellite A105's width to provide a full-size keyboard, the company instead opted for one that's slightly narrow. In addition, the Windows key has been relocated to the upper right, something that will undoubtedly frustrate people who depend on keyboard commands. Like other Toshiba laptops we've reviewed, the Satellite A105's touch pad is smaller than we'd prefer and lacks a dedicated scroll zone.
The Satellite A105 has more than enough ports and connections for home users. There are 10/100 Ethernet, 802.11a/b/g Wi-Fi, and a 56Kbps modem for networking; four USB 2.0 ports; a FireWire port; two PC Card slots (but not the latest ExpressCards); S-Video out; VGA out; headphone and microphone jacks; and a 5-in 1 memory card reader for Secure Digital, Memory Stick, Memory Stick Pro, MultiMediaCard, and xD-Picture Cards. Users who want Bluetooth, a Webcam, or a fingerprint reader will have to purchase external USB peripherals, as these features are not built in.
The Satellite A105's software package provides applications for all critical software categories. Besides Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005, the notebook ships with Microsoft Works 8.5 for productivity, Microsoft OneNote 2003 for taking notes, Sonic RecordNow for burning discs, InterVideo WinDVD 5 for playing DVDs, and InterVideo WinDVD Creator 2 Platinum for making DVD videos.
The notebook's most attractive feature may be its rock-bottom price. Though the suggested retail price for our Satellite A105 is an already low $999, some retailers are selling it for $799 after rebates. For that price you get a mix of low-end to midrange components, including a 1.6GHz Intel Core Duo processor, 512MB of average 533MHz RAM, a huge 120GB hard drive that spins at 5,400rpm, and an integrated Intel GMA 950 graphics subsystem. By comparison, a similarly configured Lenovo 3000 N100 costs $998 but does not include Windows XP Media Center Edition, while a Dell Latitude E1505 can be configured with the exact same specs for $891.