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Toshiba Satellite M305 Review

Highs

  • Sleek looks; 3GB of RAM; huge hard drive; very quiet

Rating

Our Score 7
User Score 10.0

Lows

  • Lot of bloatware; spotty webcam; facial recognition software needs work
The M305 certainly has a lot to offer folks who are looking for a semi-portable notebook.

Summary

Toshiba’s shiny M305 notebook packs a lot of performance and features into an extremely elegant and sophisticated-looking chassis. Despite its relatively low price it offers 3GB of RAM, a 250GB hard drive and a Core 2 Duo “Penryn” processor in a light and portable package. Though it won’t win any benchmark shootouts it’s certainly adequate for web surfing and office productivity; the only downside is it includes the usual Toshiba bloatware, so know that you’ll have to spend some time cleaning it up a bit to allow it to reach its full potential.

Features and Design

Toshiba offers three similar configurations of the M305 on its website, but you can also customize your model quite a bit if you are so inclined. The model we received is the M305-S4826, which is uses an Intel Santa Rosa chipset with a Penryn Core 2 Duo processor clocked at 2.1GHz with 3MB of L2 cache (the higher end Penryns have 6MB). It uses an 800MHz front side bus with 3GB of DDR2 RAM, which is more than enough to run its OS – Windows Vista Home Premium with Service Pack 1.

Display

A notebook’s display size is a key factor in considering a notebook, as anything less than 15” is usually “portable” and anything bigger will usually stay plugged in most of the time. The M305 sports the popular 14.1” display, which is small enough to reduce the chassis size, but big enough to not feel cramped. It has a widescreen aspect ratio too, which is good for movie-watching. It’s a WXGA panel with a native resolution of 1280×800, and used Toshiba’s TruBrite technology, which is what the company calls its glossy screen coating.

Storage Options

No, it does not include a solid-state drive, but it does come with a 250GB 5,400rpm hard drive as well as a Super-Multi optical drive. The drive can read and write DVDs including double-layer discs, and supports Labelflash technology that allows you to burn monochrome labels and pictures onto special Labelflash media. It also includes a 5-in-1 media slot that accepts SD cards, Memory Stick, Memory Stick Pro, MultiMedia Card and xD Picture Card.

Internet options

Most notebooks these days are connected to the Net 24/7, and the M305 provides just the basics. There’s onboard Intel wireless in B and G flavors, but no Bluetooth radio. Wireless 80211.N is also not supported. The onboard Ethernet port is the “fast” type rather than Gigabit, and runs at 10/100 speeds.

Ports and Connectors

Ever since our review of the MacBook Air, we’ve begun appreciating a notebook’s expansion ports since the Air has none. The M305 includes quite a few including VGA-out, three USB ports, FireWire, headphone and mic, VGA-out and a Kensington lock slot. There’s also an ExpressCard slot and a small area on the left-side labeled HDMI but it’s non-functional and is plugged up with a plastic cap.

Media Control

The M305 includes a row of soft-touch buttons below the LCD that glow with a soft white light. The buttons let you mute the speakers, open Windows Media Player and play/pause and skip tracks. They are flanked on both sides by Harman Kardon speakers.

The Chassis

We normally wouldn’t mention something as mundane as a notebook chassis, but the M305 sports a look that is quite unique. Most of the chassis is piano black with silver bars running horizontally across it, and the look is accented by the while lights that glow around the touchpad and at the top of the keyboard. The white lights are also used to indicate driver activity, power state and more. The keyboard is finished in the same glossy plastic used on the rest of the chassis too. Toshiba calls the aesthetic Fusion finish with Horizon pattern.

Toshiba M305
The M305’s elegant design will make people do double-takes at coffee shops.

Use and Testing

The out of the box the package includes the notebook computer, power adapter, recovery CD and a handy setup guide printed on thick paper. It describes how to get started and depicts a visual walk around of the system showing what’s on the each side and what all the buttons do. An accessory catalog is in the box as well.

We pressed the power button and it booted to the Vista desktop in 1 minute and 5 seconds, which is par for the course for an OEM Vista build.

Once we got to the desktop we were immediately appalled at the number of icons present, indicating bloatware on an unprecedented scale. Not surprisingly, the Toshiba Qosmio we recently reviewed was similar, so this seems to be standard operating procedure for Toshiba, and it’s a shame. Though it’s common for large builders such as Toshiba to bundle all this crapware with their PCs, it doesn’t mean we have to like it.

Toshiba M305 Screenshot
We resized the desktop to 800×600 for this shot, but you get the drift – lots of bloatware is included.

Speaking of bloatware, a lot of people claim it hurts system performance and while that may be true in some instances we didn’t experience it with the M305. Vista performance was snappy and responsive, and we didn’t experience any problems. Our main gripe is that it takes up disk space and slows the boot time. This notebook only had 204GB of free space out of 231GB total right out of the box, which is a lot, but that means the install of Vista and the rest of the applications is taking up 27GB of space, which seems egregious. It also slowed the boot time by about 20 seconds, which isn’t that bad but faster is always better.

General performance

As we noted, the notebook “felt” perfectly fine to our hands and eyes. Clicking windows and opening programs was a speedy process, as they would open in a second or two. We never once thought the notebook was chugging along or in need of more RAM or a similar speed boost. It’s Windows Experience Index score is a mid-range 3.4, which is what we expect from a machine of this caliber and price. Its score was primarily dragged down by its onboard Intel graphics, which are fine for casual games but not for 3D titles. We tried to run PCMark Vantage to get a feel for its overall performance but the program repeatedly crashed for some unknown reason. We’ve experienced this exact same problem on other systems and attribute it to something in PCMark rather than the system, but in general this is a midrange laptop – it’s not designed for hardcore gaming or video editing, but rather general desktop and office productivity, and for those tasks we feel it has adequate power and speed.

Usage and Comfort

We’ve always liked the feel of Toshiba’s notebook keyboards, and the m305 is similarly comfortable. We weren’t sure if the glossy black paint on the keys would have a negative impact on their feel and are happy to report it doesn’t. The keyboard feels spacious and is very easy to type on for extended periods. The only thing that bothered us just a smidgen is the fact that the left-and-right click buttons below the touchpad are hard plastic and clicking them takes just a bit more effort than we’d like, but it’s nowhere near as bad as the Asus U6S we recently tested.

We really liked the soft-touch media buttons though. They live up to their name and require just a light touch to initiate the intended action. We also like their soft white glow too, as it adds a nice touch of elegance to the notebook. We also liked that the speakers can get very loud, though they offer no bass response whatsoever.

Webcam and Microphone

The included webcam and microphone gave us a few problems during testing. We liked that the webcam could capture video at 1280×800, and recording video is very easy. Just start the camera and click the video box to record, but we were unable to get it to record audio no matter what we did. All of our videos were silent, and the “record audio” button was useless. We went into the preferences and it has an “audio volume” meter, and when we spoke it registered, but we couldn’t get it to work regardless. Strangely enough, the M305 includes Toshiba’s Speech System, which lets you bark out commands and have the PC do your bidding. We had no problems with this software and it works great. You can say “Open Internet Explorer” and the program opens a few seconds later. Why the microphone works for this feature but not the webcam is unknown.

Toshiba also includes a facial recognition feature that can use your face to log onto the computer, but it’s way too difficult to calibrate. In order for it to recognize your face you have to hold your face inside a transparent “face ouline” that has two eyes, a nose and a mouth. You have to align your parts with the frame’s parts, then follow it back and forth and up and down for about 30 seconds. We tried this exercise three times and every time it failed, which is ridiculous. It should be more like the Asus U6S, which simply zooms in on your face and takes a picture.

Battery life

We performed our DVD run-down test on the M305, and it lasted for a respectable 2 hours and 3 minutes, which is enough to catch a movie on a plane. You can buy a bigger 9-cell battery from Toshiba for just $129, and together they’d probably offer around 5 hours of battery life, which is great for frequent travelers.

Conclusion

The M305 certainly has a lot to offer folks who are looking for a semi-portable notebook. At just 5.2 lbs. it’s relatively light, small and would easily slip into a backpack. We love the elegant design and white lights that accent the black and grey colors – it’s a very attractive notebook, and clearly the company’s paying more attention to style as indicated by the M305 and the Qosmio. There were several small things that bothered us such as the webcam and facial recognition software, but the biggest gripe we have is with the bloatware. We really wish Toshiba would at least give customers the option to have it removed or just put it all on a CD that the user could browse at he or she’s leisure instead of mucking up the desktop with links to trialware.

Pros:

• Sleek looks
• 3GB of RAM
• Huge hard drive
• Very quiet

Cons:

• Lot of bloatware
• Couldn’t get mic to work on webcam
• Facial recognition software difficult to configure