Toshiba Satellite Pro U300

  • Editors' rating
    7.6 Very good

Pros

  • Compact and stylish
  • Good performance
  • Built-in webcam with good utility software

Cons

  • Webcam is fixed rather than swivel-mounted
  • Keyboard is very spongy

Toshiba’s Satellite Pro U300 is a small and neat notebook that's equally suited to the office and the home thanks to its stylish design. Indeed, it comes in various configurations intended for home users, where it's simply known as the Satellite U300.

Design
The U300's footprint (31cm wide by 22.7mm deep) is barely larger than a sheet of A4 paper, although it's not exactly slim with a maximum thickness of 3.4cm. Weighing 1.99kg, it just scrapes into the sub-2kg 'ultraportable' category.

The shiny black lid section is emblazoned with the Toshiba branding in large silver lettering. It's not subtle, but it is certainly distinctive. Like many of today's notebooks, the U300 lacks a clasp to hold the lid and system unit together, so you'll need to make sure it's securely packed in a protective case when you're travelling.

The build is generally solid, although there is some give in the lid section, and a definite sponginess to the keyboard that won't suit every taste — heavier-handed typists might find the keyboard too elastic for comfort. We also noticed a fair amount of give at the front of the right-hand side, where the optical drive bay sits.

The keyboard includes a number row, which is topped by a row of half-height function keys. Above this is a key for quick-launching Internet Explorer, another that switches to an external monitor (in some U300 models this key launches Windows Media Player) and three media-playback keys.

Beneath the keyboard is a small touchpad with vertical scroll feature embedded in its right edge. Beneath it are two large mouse buttons.

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The screen measures 13.3in. across the diagonal and has a native resolution of 1,280 by 800 pixels. Toshiba uses its TruBrite technology to enhance clarity, and this does indeed result in a remarkably clear and bright display. However, as with all such display enhancements, working with a light source behind you does make the screen rather reflective.

Toshiba provides a zooming utility that requires you to press the Fn key and the space bar. Successive presses of the space bar give you 1x, 2x and normal zoom levels.

The status lights are on the front edge, along with a 'Satellite' branding that's silver when the notebook is powered down and backlit blue when it's running. Both elements are visible when the notebook lid is closed.

Features
As noted above, there are several configurations of the U300. The Satellite Pro U300-14S runs Windows XP Professional, while the U300-14R can run either Windows XP Professional or Windows Vista Business — the latter preinstalled, the former provided as a recovery option on DVD. Meanwhile the U300-13P runs Windows Vista Business only. We were sent yet another configuration, the £765 (ex. VAT) U300-13V, which has Windows Vista Home Premium installed.

The various configurations use different Intel Core 2 Duo processors, with options including the 1.66GHz T5450 , 2.2GHz T7500 and 2.4GHz T7700. Our review sample had 2GB of RAM, which is standard across all the models mentioned above; the maximum RAM capacity is 4GB. The chipset, which includes an integrated X3100 graphics module, is the Intel GM965 Express.

Ethernet (10/100Mbps), Bluetooth (2.0+EDR) and Wi-Fi (802.11a/b/g and Draft-N) are standard components, as is a 1.3-megapixel camera designed for use with VoIP applications. The camera is fixed in the top edge of the screen bezel: we prefer swivel-mounted webcams that don't require you to adjust the screen in order to get the best image, although of course these will be slightly more expensive.

A ultility for controlling the webcam can be docked on the left, right or top edge of the desktop. Simply dragging the cursor to the appropriate place causes the program to pop out of the screen edge.

There are some neat camera functions. For example, it can be switched from its normal image to displaying the desktop, which could prove very handy if you want to show an interlocutor an image or other document saved on your computer. You can even choose a configuration that shows both the camera view and the desktop.

The camera captures video and stills, and there are preconfigured lighting settings designed for different working scenarios. Our only gripe about the camera software it is that it consistently rendered images rather darker than we would like.

Our review sample had a 200GB hard drive, but models in the Satellite Pro range come with 160GB of fixed storage. All versions have a DVD Super Multi (Double Layer) optical drive in the right-hand side of the system.

The right side also houses a single USB slot and the Ethernet (RJ-45) and Modem (RJ-11) ports, plus an ExpressCard slot squeezed in above the optical drive. The left side, from back to front, carries a VGA connector, two further USB ports sitting side by side, microphone and headset connectors, and a volume dial.

At the front, you'll find an on/off switch for the Bluetooth and Wi-Fi radios, a FireWire (IEEE 1394a) port and a flash card reader that accepts SD, Memory Stick and xD media.

Performance
Our review sample of the Satellite Pro U300 delivered a Windows Experience Index (WEI) score of 3.4 (out of 5.9). The overall WEI rating corresponds to that of the lowest-scoring component, which in this case was Graphics (desktop performance for Windows Aero).

The highest score, 5.4, was for RAM (Memory operations per second) — no doubt the system's generous 2GB of RAM contributed to this rating. The other scores were 5.3 for Processor (calculations per second), 4.7 for Pimary hard disk (Disk data transfer rate) and 3.5 for Gaming Graphics (3D business and gaming graphics performance). Clearly the graphics subsystem is the performance bottleneck with the U300, and if you need to do serious graphics-intensive work, you might want to look elsewhere; otherwise, it's a very respectable performer indeed.

Toshiba does not quote battery life ratings for any of the models in the U300 range. During testing, using the Balanced power management setting, we achieved just over 3.5 hours of battery life, with the wireless modules turned on and workloads mostly involving periodic web access.

Conclusion
This notebook is available in a wide range of hardware and operating system configurations, making it a flexible option. We did have some issues with build quality and the keyboard, so the U300 might not make the most convenient travel companion. It's a good performer, though, and could be a wise choice if your notebook remains mostly desk-bound.

 

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