Toshiba’s latest business notebook, the M300, won’t blow your hair back with whiz-bang features and record-shattering performance, but it’s a very solid package that covers all the basics one needs in a laptop that’s somewhere between an ultra-portable and a desktop replacement. This 14.1” notebook is tastefully appointed in a Titanium Silver finish, weighs just 5.2lbs, and has one of the best keyboards we’ve ever sampled in a notebook. Though its trialware issues and long boot time are easily remedied, its lack of security features –either biometric or facial recognition – are disappointing on a laptop aimed at business users. Overall it’s still a surprisingly well-polished machine that is extremely affordable and easy to live with.
Features and Design
One of the reasons the M300 is so inexpensive is that it is pre-configured by Toshiba and only available at retail and online. That said, it’s still relatively well-configured and isn’t lacking in any particular area considering it’s a business notebook and not a gaming or multimedia PC.
These days, 14.1” notebooks are something of a rare breed since they straddle the line between being an ultra-portable and a desktop replacement. Some manufacturers such as Apple (MacBook Air review), Dell, and Lenovo (X300 review) have begun moving to a 13.3” platform instead for increased portability at the expense of a smidgen of screen real estate. We still like the 14.1” size though, because it is a perfect compromise (in our opinion) between size and portability. Larger 15.4” notebooks and up are too big to haul around, and smaller 12.1” notebooks are just too small.
The M300 uses an Intel platform that is based on the popular 965 chipset, with a Core 2 Duo T8300 “Penryn” CPU (though it’s the lower-rung chip with just 3MB of L2 cache instead of 6MB) clocked at 2.4GHz. It sports 2GB of DDR2 667MHz SDRAM, and also uses the onboard Intel X3100 graphics adapter as well as the A/G/N wireless and Bluetooth as well.
Ports and Connectors
Ever since the release of the Apple MacBook Air, a notebook’s potential expandability has become a feature shoppers are concerned about all of a sudden. Nobody wants a notebook with too-few USB ports, for example. On the expandability front the M300 offers what we would consider the standard payload, nothing too extravagant, but no major omissions either. It features three USB ports, VGA-out, headphone/mic jacks, a FireWire port, ExpressCard, and 10/100 Ethernet as well as a 56K modem. There’s also a built-in 3-in-1 media card reader for MMC, xD and SD cards.
Unlike every notebook we’ve ever reviewed in the past year or so, the M300 does not use Windows Vista for its operating system, but good ole’ Windows XP Professional. We’ll admit we were surprised to see this since XP was supposed to have been officially dead as of June 30th, 2008. Microsoft said it would continue to sell the OS for use in ultra-portable PCs such as the Asus Eee PC however, which the M300 is most certainly not. Regardless, we certainly don’t mind as long as Microsoft doesn’t.
Like previous Toshiba notebooks we’ve reviewed, the M300 comes with quite a bit of pre-installed software. In addition to the numerous Toshiba utilities such as Disc Creator, Speech System, Power Saver and others, Toshiba also includes a 60-day trial of Microsoft Office 2007 and a 60-day trial of Norton 360 All-In-One Security. Other pre-installed apps include a business card maker, Picasa 2, Netwaiting, Google Desktop and Intervideo WinDVD.
Image Courtesy of Toshiba
Use and Testing
Holding the M300 in our hands we got the impression that it is certainly not super-light, but nor is it bulky or too heavy either. We like the aesthetics, though some may call it boring as it’s very understated and not very flashy at all, and that’s what we like about it. The main chassis is silver while the rest of the notebook is all-black, including the area about the widescreen LCD. We think it makes for a tasteful combination, and helps with the notebook’s “business” focus.
We all know how bloated Windows Vista can get, especially when paired with typical OEM bloatware, so we figured this lean, mean, XP Machine would blow the doors off a typical Vista boot time of around one minute. Oh boy, were we wrong. So, so wrong. It took the M300 a startling one minute and 20 seconds to boot. Granted, this isn’t an eternity, but that’s still longer than we expected, and certainly longer than the Vista machines we’ve tested. Since Toshiba is a notorious bloatware addict we decided to employ our Geek-fu and disable all ancillary startup items in MSConfig. Sure enough, the boot time plummeted to a zippy 35 seconds. This is the Windows XP we know and love!
The M300 proved peppy enough for day-to-day productivity, and we especially liked its keyboard and display a lot – more so than most notebooks we’ve taken a peek at recently. The keyboard is unlike anything we’ve seen from Toshiba previously, and has a wonderfully “clicky” feel and sound to it that tickles our Geek Spot if you know what we mean. If you like soft, mushy keyboards you’ll hate this one, but if you’re like us and love it when you hear a loud click when pressing a key, you’ll be in heaven. We almost love this keyboard more than the fabled Lenovo ThinkPad keyboards.
The display is also remarkable, as it has a glossy covering but it’s not very reflective, which has always been a big problem with these types of displays. We’re not sure how Toshiba pulled this off but we like it, a lot. It’s almost like a best-of-both-worlds scenario where you get the shiny-ness of a glossy display with the lack of glare that a matter cover provides.
Also, this may sound like a minor feature but Toshiba has finally “fixed” the audio volume knob that has cursed many of its notebooks in the past. Previously, the knob spun forever, with no hard stops on either end, so we found ourselves spinning it for a good ten to fifteen seconds just to turn the volume down, and then we were never quite sure if it could go louder since there was no “stop” to it. On the M300, the knob stops at both maximum volume and minimum volume, and the distance between them is just a few turns, as the knob is very responsive.
All in all it’s a very well-designed and easy to use notebook. We could see ourselves living with this notebook very easily, as it’s a joy to type on and to look at. We like the comfortable feel of the palm rests as well as the easy to use function keys that do everything from dim the display to mute the volume.
The M300 comes with a large six-cell battery, and unfortunately you can not buy a larger one should you ever find yourself airborne frequently. You can however buy a replacement battery for just $89.99. To test the M300’s battery life we disabled its screen saver and hibernation functions and watched a DVD movie until it went kaput. The M300 achieved a time of 1 hour and 55 minutes, which is about average. Not spectacular, but not terrible either. As always, this time could have been extended a bit by enabling the power saving features provided by the Toshiba Power Saver utility, possibly stretching it out to three hours or so.
We’ve been continually impressed with Toshiba notebooks lately, and the M300 continues that trend. We love the look, how the keyboard feels, and the display is one of the best we’ve seen. And the fact that it’s just $1,149 is fantastic too, as a lot of business notebooks are far more expensive. Like all Toshibas, there’s the typical bloatware installed, so you’ll have to go through a cleansing ritual after purchase, but that shouldn’t take longer than a half-hour or so. And once it’s cleaned up, it’ll be a darn good notebook, though we’re surprised Toshiba decided to forego including any security features on a notebook intended for business. This is easily the M300’s biggest drawback, and could be a deal-breaker in some corporate environments. If not, we can easily recommend the M300 as it’s a fine all-purpose notebook that is comfortable to use and won’t break your back or your wallet.
• Very affordable
• Windows XP
• Awesome keyboard
• Solid all-around package
• Typical Toshiba bloatware
• No security features
• Long boot time