It's all 'tablet this' and 'tablet that' these days. But we remember the good old times, when netbooks were all the rage, what with their low prices, long battery life and zany 'keyboards'. The 10.1-inch NB500 netbook doesn't break any new ground, but, at around £250, it could be a decent budget buy.
Haven't we met before?
Toshiba hasn't updated its netbook design since last year, so the NB500 looks very similar to the NB520 and NB305. The design has its plus points, such as the soft, rubberised finish used on the lid and the fact it's available in various colours, including blue, green, brown and black. The colour of the lid is echoed on the trackpad buttons too, but otherwise the design feels uninspiring, especially compared to similarly sized models from Samsung, such as the new NC110.
Toshiba has fitted the NB500 with three USB ports, but, unlike some of the other models in its range, none of these ports are enabled for 'sleep and charge', so you can't use them to charge up mobile devices when the netbook is switched off.
There's a VGA port, but there's no HDMI socket, which perhaps isn't surprising on a model in this price range. Bluetooth is also absent -- like an HDMI port, it's something that Toshiba reserves for the pricier models in its netbook range.
Nevertheless, the company has equipped the NB500 with a reasonably large 250GB hard drive, so there's plenty of room for storing work documents, as well as stuff that doesn't make you want to blow your brains out, like music and video files.
The keyboard is impressive, too. The layout is sensible and the keys are large and wide enough to touch type on, even at a fairly rapid pace. The action initially seems rather loose, but you soon come to appreciate the keys' springy, responsive feel.
The glossy screen has a resolution of 1,024x600 pixels, which is fairly standard for a netbook at this price level. Colours look rich and vibrant, and the LED backlight ensures the screen looks bright. The viewing angles aren't great though, especially on the horizontal axis. If you sit off-centre from the screen, colours can look quite dark and murky.
Ramp up the RAM
Like all netbooks that run Windows 7 Starter, this model comes with just 1GB of RAM, although this can be upgraded to 2GB later -- something that, in our experience, significantly improves the performance of a netbook.
Processing duties are taken care of by a single-core Intel Atom N455, clocked at 1.66GHz. The NB500's performance in the PCMark05 benchmark test was no worse or better than that of other single-core netbooks, posting a score of 1,303. That means this machine will be fine for light duties like emailing, updating Facebook and general Web browsing, but it will really struggle with multitasking.
The NB500 relies on the Atom chip's integrated graphics. In 3DMark06, it scored a measly 148. This is in line with other Atom-powered netbooks, so gaming just isn't on the cards. Even playback of hi-def streams on iPlayer is too much effort for this computer.
The N500 doesn't do too badly when it comes to battery life, but neither is it among the very best netbooks in this area. In the Battery Eater Classic test, which runs the processor at full whack to simulate worst-case-scenario battery life, it managed to keep running for 4 hours and 23 minutes. That's not bad, but it's not as good as the 5 hours managed by the Samsung NF110, which uses the same processor.
The Toshiba NB500 is a decent-enough netbook, but it's hard to get excited about this machine. Its performance and battery life are pretty average, which just leaves the design to differentiate it from the competition. On that front, the NB500 can't quite match some of its peers, especially Samsung's better-looking models.
Edited by Charles Kloet