Quick Take: Toshiba NB200 Netbook

I assume most people reading this site are familiar with the netbook phenomenon that's currently sweeping the PC industry. These tiny machines are a glimpse at our computing future, I think, a future that relies less on local computing resources and more on connectivity and web-based (or "cloud") computing services.

Today's netbooks are almost uniformly identical from a hardware perspective and unfortunately, to date, most have shared what I think is the netbook's Achilles Heel. No, I'm not talking about processing power or screen space, both of which have been highly overrated by the cloud computing naysayers. I'm talking instead about battery life, which is in fact key to the appeal of these highly mobile devices. A netbook is only as good as its ability to keep running when disconnected from power.

That so many netbooks are capable of just two to three hours of battery life is a major shortcoming. But this is not a shortcoming of the Toshiba NB200, which has regularly gotten 7 to 8 hours of battery life in my experience. This is something I've witnessed on two different Toshibas, one my son's and one my daughter's, both of which stayed powered up almost three times as long as the ThinkPad I brought along on a recent family trip.

Toshiba NB200 Netbook

The NB200 specs are largely common to almost all netbooks and won't elicit much excitement. It features a 1.66 GHz Atom N280 processor, 1 GB of RAM, a 160 GB hard drive, 802.11b/g wireless networking, a 10.1-inch widescreen display running at 1024 x 600, and has a small but decent webcam. It comes with Windows XP Home with Service Pack 3 (SP3), naturally, and Toshiba loads it up with their own gooney (and largely superfluous) utilities. And as with all netbooks, there's no internal DVD drive, but that hasn't caused any issues at all because my software installs are all network-based anyway.

Toshiba NB200 Netbook

The NB200 features the trendy kind of keyboard that was first used (and still is used) by Sony on its VAIO computers but then later copied by Apple for the Macbook Pro. You know the keyboard I'm talking about: The keys are spaced apart from each other and reach up from below the device's top surface through individual rectangular holes. Surprisingly, the keyboard works, and works well, even with my large gorilla-like hands. That's certainly not been my experience with most netbooks.

Toshiba NB200 Netbook

The NB200 is bristling with nice touches. It features three USB ports, which should be the minimum on any notebook-type computer (compared to say, the 13-inch Macbook Pro, which has just two). And one of them can charge connected devices even when the machine is powered down. Nice!

Toshiba NB200 Netbook

Finally, the thing weighs less than 3 pounds. So it's perfect for kids or for anyone looking for a highly portable machine that won't bore a hole in your shoulder when you're carrying it around.

In use, the NB200 is surprisingly spritely given its supposedly lackluster hardware. For the trip, I loaded up my kids' machines with full resolution H.264 DVD rips, which played back full screen without a hitch, and my son played several older games--including Unreal, Unreal Tournament 2004, and Quake III Arena--full screen and at full speed. This actually surprised me quite a bit, and my warnings about the possibility of them not working proved unnecessary.

From a pricing standpoint, the NB200 falls right in the middle of the netbook's typical price range at $349 to $399, depending on color. They're well worth it in my opinion, though Toshiba doesn't appear to offer an integrated 3G wireless solution, which could appeal to many. They do offer a number of nice colors, however, including navy blue, pink, black, white, and brown.

As for the OS, I would have kicked XP off of the machines immediately, but they arrived right before the aforementioned trip and I didn't have time. Since then, I've put the final shipping version of Windows 7 on one of them for comparative tests. So far so good.

Final thoughts

Overall, the Toshiba NB200 netbook is a winner, and my family's experience with two of these devices on a recent trip was overwhelmingly positive. I have yet to see a true netbook approach the battery life available on the NB200, though of course if you stretch the definition a bit to include 12-inch screens with larger bodies (and thus larger batteries), I guess you could get close. But at just under 3 pounds, with a fully-useful keyboard, and stellar battery life, you're going to have a hard time beating this tiny little wonder. Highly recommended.