Toshiba Mini netbook great for surfing, grim for sound

People shopping for a netbook computer should consider the new Toshiba Mini NB205, as long as they pack some headphones for when audio matters.

The Mini is one of a class of small, robust machines that handle the tasks most us of do online. They typically sell for less than $500, have 10-inch screens and are lightweight. Netbooks are great second computers for those on the go.

This Toshiba Mini — the blue model, thank you — doesn’t come equipped with a built-in 3G or 4G modem card like others I have tested. But it’s more than adequate to handle anything you can toss its way, provided you are in a Wi-Fi hot spot.

Users looking for more connectivity should look to their wireless carrier, which subsidize the price of the computer in exchange for a service plan — typically around $60 a month for two years.

The keyboard is solid. The keys have the look and feel of brushed metal. I found it easy to get around the keys, although my son Ben, who also used the machine extensively, disagreed. He thought the keyboard was harder than most to use. I enjoyed the placement and use of the click bars at the bottom of the thumb pad.

I used the computer for Web mail, viewing videos from YouTube and Hulu (and others) and monitoring live baseball games with’s Gameday. I didn’t have any problems while surfing the Web, aside from sometimes having to scroll the screen to view large windows. This will hold true on any netbook.

The machine weighs a mere 2.93 pounds and has a 10.1-inch screen. Its 160 gigabyte hard drive is spacious. An external digital video disc drive is available as an option.

The Mini’s weakest feature is its speaker, which is tiny and sits on the bottom of the device, about an inch from the bottom edge. Even with the volume at full blast, I had to strain to hear music or audio from every Web site I visited. Using headphones or earbuds solved the problem, but that’s not always an option, especially when sharing a video with people gathered around the screen.

The computer has the standard input ports — universal serial bus (3), ethernet, external monitor, microphone, ear piece and power adapter. Battery life was good, although I ran it plugged in much of the time. I was able to work for four hours without charging. The machine starts up quickly and uses Microsoft Corp.’s Windows XP operating system.

The unit also features a “sleep and charge” port, which charges the battery while the computer is in sleep mode, and a hard drive impact sensor, which protects the built-in drive when the machine is jarred or jostled. Both of these features are unique to Toshiba.

It sells for $399.99. Be sure to set aside some extra cash for headphones.

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