Though it may seem like many Toshiba Satellites look the same, that’s not necessarily the case if you hang around your local Best Buy. For a few years now, Toshiba has been supplying a Best Buy-exclusive laptop as part of the retailer’s Blue Label series, with a redesigned look that stands out from the rest of the Satellite pack. We reviewed the Satellite E205 last year, and we thought at the time that it beat out other Toshiba laptops in terms of overall value and design. Of course, we were curious whether the trend would continue in 2011.
This year, Toshiba’s back at it with the Satellite E305, and once again we’ve come away impressed. The $899 14-inch laptop has a thinner design, a slicker look, and a very solid set of specs, including a Blu-ray/DVD combo drive, a second-gen Core i5 processor, a 7,200rpm 500GB hard drive, and Intel Wireless Display 1.2. And, unlike many laptops with Wi-Di, this retail package includes the required Netgear box that interfaces with your TV in the bundle. (In case you’re unfamiliar with Intel Wireless Display, read more about it here.)
It’s not revolutionary, but the E305 earns a spot on our list for a quality midrange laptop worth considering. Aside from lacking robust dedicated graphics, this is a laptop with barely any flaws.
|Price as reviewed||$899|
|Processor||2.3GHz Intel Core i5-2410M|
|Memory||4GB, 1,333MHz DDR3 RAM|
|Hard drive||500GB, 7,200rpm|
|Graphics||Intel HD 3000|
|Operating System||Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)|
|Dimensions (WD)||13.5 x 9.1 inches|
|Screen size (diagonal)||14.0 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||4.7/5.4 pounds|
The Satellite E305 doesn’t cut quite as eye-catching a profile as its predecessor, the E205, but it’s actually a more functional design. Clad in patterned metal, it’s not as thick as recent Satellites we’ve reviewed, such as the M645 or the A665.
The E305 has a metal chassis and repels fingerprints, thanks to the patterned design. The tapered sides cut a sharper angle, while still managing to fit all the expected ports, plus an optical drive. The metal continues on the inside around the keyboard deck, and the upper lid features glossy black plastic around the inset display. It’s reminiscent of a MacBook Pro, or of Samsung’s recent laptops, and even looks more professional than some of the tackier-looking Satellites we’ve seen.
The backlit keyboard is a revelation; it might be the best laptop keyboard we’ve used in a long while. The raised island-style keys are similar to what you’d get on other Toshiba laptops, but the keys are less cramped than they are on the 13-inch Portege R835. The keys feel less slick than on recent Satellites we’ve reviewed. With the E305, the company has addressed the complaints we’ve previously made about Satellite keyboards, improving the product significantly. And, as a plus, the volume and other control keys are function-reversed; tapping “volume up” works without simultaneously pressing the Fn key. Even better, that annoying default beep that’s plagued Satellite volume controls has been removed.
The included touch pad is no slouch, either. The E305’s wide clickpad-style touch pad is larger than on other Satellites, and has plenty of room for multifinger gestures. Gone are the tacky, large plastic buttons we’ve seen on other models, replaced by clickzones at the bottom. The matte surface walks the perfect line of friction. No annoying LED lights around the pad, either, like we saw on the M645 and A665. We are grateful.
Buttons are sparse around the keyboard; there’s only a thin power button above the left side, and an Eco Mode power settings button and a Wireless Display toggle on the right side. We applaud the move to minimalism.
The 14-inch glossy LED-backlit display on the E305 has a resolution of 1,366×768 pixels, standard for this screen size. Picture quality is sharp, but not outstanding; Blu-ray movies looked good enough, but viewing angles are tighter than on superior displays like the one on the Samsung Series 9. It’s better than average, however. You’ll gain an edge for DVD playback thanks to included software. Toshiba’s DVD-playback application has upscaling, which makes any old discs you have lying around look just a little bit better.
The speakers on the Satellite E305 are strong, surprisingly so considering they occupy so little space. Unlike other Satellites, the E305’s speakers are front-firing and are tucked along the edge of the bottom lip. They sound loud and crisp when playing movies or music–perhaps not as good as the Harman/Kardons in high-end Satellites, but much better than the ones you’ll find on an average mainstream laptop.
Thanks to the built-in Intel Wireless Display capabilities on the E305, video can be streamed to a TV. Wi-Di now supports 1080p video playback, but it still doesn’t play back DVDs or Blu-ray content–likely a bummer for E305 owners, since it come with a Blu-ray drive–however, 1080p playback of streaming video content looked surprisingly strong in our tests. Best Buy bundles the Netgear Push2TV box with the E305 laptop, making this particular Wi-Di-equipped notebook a better out-of-the-box experience than some others that make you buy it separately.
The included Webcam has a 640×480-pixel maximum resolution. Normal light sensitivity was particularly poor in a low-light test conducted at home, although the Webcam does have a lower-light mode that compromises frame rate.
|Video||VGA, HDMI||VGA plus HDMI or DisplayPort|
|Audio||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||1 USB 3.0, 2 USB 2.0 (1 with sleep-and-charge), SD card slot||3 USB 2.0, SD card reader|
|Networking||Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Intel Wireless Display||Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, optional mobile broadband|
|Optical drive||Blu-ray combo drive||DVD burner|
Other than dedicated graphics, there’s little left out on the Toshiba Satellite E305-S1990X. We already touched on Intel Wireless Display; this laptop’s also got Bluetooth and a high-speed USB 3.0 port. It also comes with the sleep-and-charge USB port that’s a calling card on Toshiba laptops; it charges USB-connected devices, such as smartphones, even when the E305 is sleeping or turned off. An included 4GB of RAM is standard nowadays on mainstream laptops, but the 500GB hard drive packaged in is the better, higher-speed type, 7,200rpm versus 5,400rpm.
The Satellite E305-S1990X comes with a second-generation 2.3 GHz Intel Core i5-2410M processor. We’ve seen this CPU on several laptops, including the Satellite M645-S4118X and Portege R835. The Core i5 sits in the middle of the pack on current Intel Core i-series processors, but its performance is exceptional for nearly every use an average person could think of, short of serious graphics programs that would require four-core processing. We opened multiple windows, ran many applications at once, and everything worked smoothly with the exception of loud fans and very warm vented air–neither of which are unique in the laptop universe. The E305 held its own with other notable mainstream laptops this year, and performed equivalently.
One thing this Satellite does lack is dedicated graphics. Though it’s common for many laptops to eschew beefed-up Nvidia or AMD graphics as a cost-cutting measure, we’re a little sad they were left off this model. It’s not particularly surprising, though; the E205 didn’t have dedicated graphics, either. At least this year’s model benefits from much-improved integrated graphics on the Sandy Bridge Core i5 processor. In a pinch, this laptop can play games.
We got Unreal Tournament III to play at 68.9 frames per second at 1,366×768-pixel resolution, with medium graphics settings. Activision’s Blur, a high-speed racing game, was playable, though its frame rate was clipped. That’s the benefit of 2011’s “graphics-free” laptops: even ones without dedicated GPUs can still play games, though any serious gamer (or anyone who wants to play the newest high-end PC games) would still do better off with more-powerful graphics. See the review of the Satellite M645-S4118X for a comparison in that regard.