As Microsoft was revving its engines for the launch of Windows Vista, notebook manufacturers like Toshiba were clearly looking for special niches to fill in the market when it came to offering Vista-enabled notebooks and one result of that process is the company's newest versions of its Satellite U205 notebook lineup (available starting February 6, 2007).
According to Toshiba, the new U205 is "Toshiba’s first ultra-portable notebook for the retail market." Forgetting for a moment the actual features of the 4.1 lb U205, the message (like the messaging behind some of Toshiba's other new Vista notebooks) is confusing. Technically speaking, "retail" means available in retail stores. But, given the way Toshiba's Portégés (also in the 4 lb. neighborhood) have been available in outlets like CompUSA, we can't be talking about the classic definition of "retail." Or maybe we're not talking about the classic definition of "ultra-portable" (versus "subnotebook" which is what Portégés have been called in the past). You can see how positioning anything in a way that makes people (particularly the press) take a second look at announcement time is difficult, if not impossible.
|Photo Gallery: See the many angles and features of Toshiba's Satellite U205 (and Toshiba's three other Vista-preloaded notebooks) in our extensive image gallery.|
Historically, Portégés have been targeted at road warriors wanting the best that mobile computing has to offer (think of it as Toshiba's Lexus). Between their cost, whizbang features, and suitability to business travel, it was not a consumer-targeted system by any stretch of the imagination. So, when I see "retail" in this case, I'm thinking this is Toshiba's first attempt at reaching non-Portégé buyers. Indeed, the word "retail" however shouldn't be completely confused with consumers. CDW, one of the nations biggest retailers, serves businesses of all sizes. Not only that, small and sometimes medium business people walk into places like Costco, Sam's Club and Staples to buy computers all the time. Particularly if there's some sort of sale taking place. In most cases, a 4.1 lb. x 1.34-inches ultra-portable notebook like the U205 is the sort of system that business people (as opposed to consumers) are interested in (particularly ones that want to travel light without leaving their computing behind).
Increasingly though, I know of very mobile family members (my in-laws for example) that don't go anywhere without their notebook PCs. At least in their case, ultra-portability doesn't seem to matter to them. They'd rather have the big screens that are handy for sucking pictures out of a digital camera, uploading them to some photo-sharing service, and then looking at the big versions of online photos that others have uploaded.
So, upon closer inspection (and forgetting that includes the Home Premium edition of Windows Vista), my positioning of the U205 is as Toshiba's poor man's Portégé. At 4.1 lbs, it definitely fits the bill for an ultra-portable. But, starting at $1299 (the 1.66Ghz, 1GB RAM version), the price of the U205 is half of the starting price of its ritzy sibling. As can be expected with bargains like the U205 though, this system might as well have a black stripe on it that says "Generic." As can be seen from our image gallery (that shows the gory details of all four of Toshiba's Vista notebooks including the newPortégé R400), about all we could draw attention to with our special "feature magnification" treatment were the standard accoutrements and ports that you'd expect to find on any notebook. By the way, that gallery has over 40 images covering four of Toshiba's new notebooks (blog entries for them are forthcoming).
If there are three things that standout on this notebook, they would be the presence of a fingerprint reader (for biometric security), the optical drive and the 11 different formats it supports (however, none of them are HD), and the inclusion of Toshiba's LifeSmart technologies (found in all Satellite-branded PCs) one of which is a spill resistant keyboard. Given the way notebooks are so often lost, having biometric security is probably a good thing whether the notebooks are for consumers or businesspeople since they raise the barrier to the sort of unauthorized system access that might happen after a notebook is lost (which they often are). This is good for consumers who choose convenience over security by saving their passwords and user IDs in ways that someone who finds a lost notebook might gain access to confidential information or transaction-enabled accounts. Still, a fingerprint reader? It sounds very businesslike to me.
I can imagine some segment of the consumer world wanting an ultra-portable, particularly if there are some things that it doesn't sacrifice. This system doesn't come close to having the entertainment accoutrements that it's new sibling, the Satellite P105 does. That said, Toshiba doesn't specifically say it's for consumers. In another communicae to the press, the company says the U205 is "designed for tech enthusiasts and mobile loyalists." Mobile loyalists? I'm not sure what a mobile loyalist is. In the language for its other new sibling, the Satellite A135, Toshiba refers to "road warriors" as though they're a different target market than mobile loyalists.
Toshiba will have to forgive me. I'm not buying the tech enthusiast positioning. Tech enthusiasts are usually after the bells and whistles that ultra-portables can't include without awkward snap-ons because of their size. If there's a tech enthusiast out there to whom this system will matter, it'll be the one who has a lot of extra cash to burn just to own a spare notebook that's ultra-portable. Otherwise, ultra-portability mostly sits in the domain of road-warrior businesspeople: people for whom the PC is simply a tool; a tool that shouldn't force them to carry a bigger shoulder bag or, takeover the entire space of a seatback tray on an airplane, or, in my case, stress the already weakened discs in their backs.
Here are the tops of the waves on the Satellite U205's specifications (pay close attention to the fact that there are different processor and memory configurations):
- Processor: Intel Core 2 Duo Processor T5500-T7200 (depending on model, U205-S5057 or the U205-S5067), 1.66Ghz-2.00GHz, 2M-4MB Level 2 cache, 667MHz front side bus
- Memory: 1024-2048 MB (depending on specific model) PC4200 DDR2 SDRAM
- Graphics: Intel Graphics Media Accelerator 950
- Hard Drive: 160 GB (4200 RPM) Serial-ATA (SATA) hard disk drive
- Optical: DVD SuperMulti ( +/-R double layer) drive supporting 11 formats (but not any HD formats)
- Display: 12.1 diagonal TFT active-matrix LCD isplay, 1280x800 native resolution (WXGA)
- Connectivity: Intel PRO/Wireless WiFi (802.11a/b/g), Intel PRO/100 VE Network Connection 10/100 Base-TX Ethernet (RJ-45), RJ-11 (POTS)
- Ports: 3 USB 2.0, 4 Pin unpowered Firewire
- Operating System: Windows Vista Home Premium 32-bit Version.
- Expansion: 1 5-in-1 Bridge Media Adapter (Secure Digital, Memory Stick, Memory Stick Pro, Multi Media Card, xD), 1 PC Card slot
- Weight: Starts at 4.1 pounds
- Price: Starts at $1299, varies by processor type and memory.