By Jon Deragon, Visca Consulting
Wednesday September 22, 2004; 1:44am EST
Many business users these days are making the migration from the desktop to a notebook desktop replacement. With the latest generation of mid to high range notebooks offering performance and features rivaling desktops; continually plummeting prices; and the convenience of no longer having to synchronize between your mobile and desktop - it makes more sense then ever to switch to a notebook.
A desktop replacement that fits the bill of being feature rich, with desktop comparable performance at an economical price point is the new Toshiba Satellite A70 notebook. Coming in at approximately $1700USD, it is amazing what they pack into this unit to make your life easier at the office, home or on the road.
The Toshiba A70 out of the box includes all the usual items; instruction manuals, backup software CD's, power adaptor and of course the notebook. The exterior of the A70 is attractive with a beautiful deep blue top accented with a silver Toshiba logo. The base is black with enlarged rubber feet for good traction and clearance from the working surface. Opening the notebook reveals a minimalist design with prominent widescreen 15.4" screen with dark bezel, light grey working surface featuring keyboard with power and CD controls to left, touchpad in center front and small circular speaker grills on either front corners. The lock and hinge mechanisms for opening and closing the notebook perform well and allow easy positioning of the monitor. Notebook weight is typical, if not slightly on the heavy side.
Starting up the notebook with the conveniently placed and informative multicolored lighting power button gets the notebook going relatively quickly. Loading the pre-installed Windows XP Home edition is at a decent pace but by no means extraordinary in speed. Once up and running we found the pre-loaded software the usual fare of lite and trial ware software such as CD burning software, antivirus, utilities specific to the proprietary software built into the notebook. The included Microsoft One Note is alright, but something more useful like Outlook or a productivity suite would have been preferable. Many users would feel the included software to be "limited" so be prepared to spend additional money for things such as utilities and applications. Otherwise, the configuration is for the most part uncluttered and should serve the purpose for most users with a bit of cleaning up (read, an afternoon of cleaning up a plethora of desktop icons and rearranging start menus). Once you're more settled in and using applications on the A70, load times seem somewhat slow for many applications, but application performance once loaded is without any problems and everything is smooth even with multiple heavy applications loaded at a time.
The notebook starts up with a whirl of fan noise, settling down seconds later to near silent operation. Occasionally interrupted with a slight fan noise clearing out any heat build up. It's generally an exceptionally quiet machine to work with. The keyboard is definitely nothing to marvel at. Key feedback is somewhat lacking, some keys squeak over extended use, placement of a limited number of keys is lacking, and the keys feel thin and slightly 'wobbly'. The touchpad works well with good mouse pointer tracking and the ability to customize specific touchpad uses to activate commands. However, the touchpad buttons feel somewhat indecisive and lacking in solid feedback. The power button has a circular clear part which indicates the notebooks power status by its color. A cool blue for regular operation or a fading amber for hibernation. Below the power button are the hard drive and CD operation indicator lights and a set of CD operation controls such as play, stop, forward and back. Volume buttons would have been better than the rotary style volume on the right of the case.
Key status such as Caps Lock is indicated with a light at the specific key, and long the front of the notebook are the AC, power and battery indicator lights. The left of the case features a multi-format memory card reader, an excellent convenience feature that is commended; PCMCIA card slot, IEEE port and CD/DVD drive. The right features volume control, headphone and microphone port (the lack of built in microphone is disappointing), 1 USB2.0 port and the wireless on/off switch. The back features 2 additional USB2.0 ports, networking (10/100 Ethernet LAN) and modem (V.92/56K) jacks, parallel port, mouse port, power plug and heat vents.
Specification wise, the Toshiba A70 has a solid set of features. An Intel Pentium 4 2.8 processor keeps things rolling along at a decent pace; its 512MB DDR memory is perfect; 802.11b/g wireless built-in; dedicated ATI Radeon 9000 graphics; CD-RW/DVD-RAM drive, and the 40GB hard drive is not exactly generous, but certainly sufficient.
The widescreen 15.4" 1280x800 TFT active-matrix screen is simply a joy to work with, its bright, crisp, colorful and has an excellent viewing angle range. Its light distribution is uniform and the colors are rich and animated. Refresh rates were not a problem, nor was glare. The widescreen is also no gimmick. When using tools that require extra space for tool docks and other objects on the screen (example, graphics design software), that extra width is a great place to put it all so that it doesn't obstruct what you are doing. The graphics card is also able to handle pretty much anything you can throw at it within exception to demanding games and other high-end video applications. ATI drivers are great to have, highly customizable and allow you to set the amount of shared resources they use from 16mb (default is 64mb) to 128mb. Built-in CD-RW/DVD-RAM drive function well, with little noise (which is actually configurable with an included utility), and easy disc loading and removal. The wireless functionality worked well picking up local are wireless routers without difficulty and connecting to them with relative ease. Having the physical wireless on / off switch is a nice addition.
The built-in speakers were truly a severe disappointment. They are completely and utterly useless, only barely handling the absolute basic needs of using Windows. There is absolutely no music fidelity, volume, depth and quite frankly they sound distorted and totally underpowered for any real world use. For music listening or gaming it is pretty much a requirement to use external speakers or headphones. This is a shame because we have heard much better from lower cost notebooks.
The Toshiba A70 is available at most electronics retails and computer stores. The notebook retails at $1699CAD, but can usually be found with discounted pricing. It includes 1 year (back to the factory) warranty which is definitely nothing to sing about, 2 or 3 years would have been more reassuring, as well as on-site service.
Over prolonged use of the notebook, the Toshiba A70 was generally a comfortable computer to use. The incredible widescreen, fast processor and generous memory are certainly the Toshiba A70's strong points. You really do get quite a bit of bang for the buck. There are some small build quality points which would have been nice if Toshiba addressed, especially for a notebook in this price bracket. But overall it is certainly a competent notebook that overall fares well, if not favorably, when compared to some of its direct competitors.
PROS - Beautifully crisp and clear widescreen; dedicated ATI Radeon graphics; multi-format memory card reader convenience; generous memory and solid processor specification, built-in wireless.
CONS - Absolutely terrible built-in speakers; average keyboard and touchpad buttons; less than stellar hard drive performance and size; more USB2.0 ports would have been good; somewhat on the heavy side, limited warranty.
About The Author
Jon Deragon is president and founder of Visca Consulting, a firm specializing in web site design, development and usability for businesses of all sizes. His many years in the technology industry has enabled him to write quality, in-depth product reviews to assist businesses make more informed technology purchases. He welcomes any questions or comments you may have regarding his company's services, this review or interest in having your company's products reviewed.
http://www. viscaconsulting. com/