Why spend thousands on clunky notebook computers that'll set your business back a small fortune, just so executives can file an occasional purchase order or inventory replenishment request? Netbooks--low-cost, lightweight laptops that favor practicality over performance, eschewing luxurious extras in favor of more functional specs--are portable computing's hottest trend. And although late to the party in a market already flooded by competitors including Dell, HP and Acer, Toshiba nonetheless proves a welcome guest with its first North American entry, the mini NB205-310. Clocking in at $399 (a wise choice, considering the category's usual $300-$500 sticker prices), the 10.1-inch system makes a solid fit for any entrepreneur, given its capable feature set, attractive design and tremendous eight-plus-hour battery life.
Size-wise, slimmer models certainly exist, but you'll find the travel-friendly, 2.9lb unit easily stows away in any carry-on. In spite of the PC's miniature dimensions, a comfy keyboard demands few compromises from fingers more accustomed to typing up balance sheets or sales forecasts on roomier desktop configurations. Middling technical specs, including a 1.66Ghz Intel Atom CPU, 1-2 GB of RAM and 160GB hard drive, ensure that the machine is best suited to basic functions such as checking e-mail, word processing or surfing the web. Still, while you won't be doing any video editing or high-end desktop publishing on the unit, which runs Windows XP, it's powerful enough to accomplish most routine tasks. Offering a built-in 0.3 megapixel webcam and backlit LCD display, users can readily videoconference via Skype, enjoy YouTube videos or parse PDF files as needed.
More to the point, when coupled with the system's atypical longevity--competing models offer three to four hours of battery life--it makes the computer a shoe-in for today's road warrior. A solid workhorse that's capable of connecting with 802.11b/g WiFi hotspots and home networks, the NB205 can keep you poring through spreadsheets and pounding out presentations long into the night. A special sleep-and-charge USB port even makes it possible to charge USB devices even when the system is shut down, letting you recharge smartphones or other mobile devices while catching a siesta. Models' sophisticated industrial design aesthetic doesn't hurt either, although you can always opt for a less stylish edition (the NB205-210) with plastic keyboard for $349.
Light on gimmicks, eschewing the 3D visual prowess of Lenovo's upcoming IdeaPad S12 ($499 with dedicated Nvidia Ion GPU) or decadent design of luxury units such as Sony's $900 Vaio P, the NB205 instead opts to strictly cover the basics. Focusing on price and productivity, it's the sort of sensible device you'd expect to find in any director- or VP-level executive's laptop carrying case. While other comparable units such as the popular Asus Eee PC 1000HE ($399) and Samsung N110 ($439) certainly do exist, the good news is as follows. Toshiba's debut offering remains effortlessly capable of going toe-to-toe with the current heads of the class.
Granted, we'd be remiss if we didn't print the following disclaimer: A netbook won't be for every individual or organization, especially given potential inconveniences like cramped keyboards, miniaturized screens and incompatibility with brawny database or multimedia applications. But choose to go this route using systems like the NB205, and you may find that the benefits, in terms of both cost savings and productivity, nicely compute.