Toshiba Satellite T135-S1310WH

Toshiba, let me officially welcome you to the CULV party. Today, the company unveils its not-quite-netbooks T100 line. But get this, the baseline models (the T115) in this notebook series start selling at US$449. That’s right, this thing is about 50 bucks more than Toshiba’s chart-busting netbook, the NB205-310.

Toshiba opted to send us the much higher-end T135-S1310WH–a laptop that will sell for $710 when it launches with Windows 7 on October 22. And you know what? Compared with machines like Acer’s Timeline, MSI’s X340, and the Asus UL30A, the T135 makes a promising showing among like company.

It’s similarly slim and sleek (weighing 3.8 pounds and measuring about an inch thick), but before we dig into its guts, keep in mind that we haven’t had time yet to run this ultraportable through its proper paces in WorldBench 6. Also, a bit of fair warning: Our T135 test unit arrived with Windows 7 Home Premium. So, you might see a slight performance difference from the competition. All other laptops tested as of late have run through WorldBench with the “ever-efficient” Windows Vista.

All right, let’s get down to brass tacks. Intel’s 1.3-GHz SU4100 processor is backed by 4GB of RAM and a 320GB hard drive (the RAM and hard drive can be upgraded by removing the covers underneath). And, like many Toshiba machines, this unit has an impact sensor to keep the drive from going completely screwy if you drop your laptop. Spokespeople say that the 6-cell battery will provide 9 hours of running time, a claim we haven’t yet tested.

The crisp 13.3-inch screen runs at an HD-ready 1366-by-768-pixel resolution, handling video whether streamed over Hulu or installed directly on the hard drive. Its 720p footage ran without a hitch or stutter. As for screen quality: With the brightness jacked all the way, this thing is a backlit LED beacon. Colors looked vivid and rich in still images, but appeared a little ashy in darker video playback, and black shadows seemed slightly washed out. But that’s just the word of a cranky videophile. Tinker with the video settings, and you’ll probably have little to gripe about.

In fact, almost my only complaint about this laptop is a minor beef with the keyboard and the mouse setup. The keys themselves feel comfortable in that flat, wide-button-layout sort of way, though shrinking the real estate around the keyboard would have allowed for slightly larger function and other special keys like and .

What was noticeable: A slight bit of flex in the keyboard. The left side seems to sink a little bit if you exert a modicum of pressure. And then there’s the touchpad. The actual strike zone is textured nicely–it’s a rougher finishing than the glossy plastic framing most of the case. And I’ll give the T135 points for at least offering a multitouch pad for simple functions like zooming in and out of images and documents.

A slight aside: The glossy sheen on Toshiba’s new notebook is almost blinding. The semi-hypnotic grey-white checkered pattern of our review unit looks nice (also available in red and black), but that won’t distract me from one simple fact: The Toshiba with the largest touchscreen is…..a netbook? Yep, the NB205 is bigger and better in the mouse department Crazy, I know. And the metallic mouse button on the T135, while comfortable and firm, could benefit from being just slightly bigger.

Lining the rest of the machine: VGA and HDMI video-out ports, three USB 2.0 ports (one is a sleep-and-charge port ), a 5-in-1 flash card reader, an ethernet port, and headphone and microphone jacks. You’ll probably opt for headphones. Toshiba’s trademark audio quality had to take a backseat here: The two tinny front-firing speakers are loud-ish but not nearly as meaty as what I’ve heard on a variety of Toshiba notebooks. Not a huge complaint considering that this is a bargain box.

For wireless connectivity, you get Bluetooth and 802.11n Wi-Fi. Also included: a Webcam and facial-recognition software. Mercifully, the on-board bloat isn’t horribly painful. You can see the extent of the software in a quick-launch shortcut that connects up all of Toshiba’s preinstalled proprietary software–and the junk. You’ll see plenty to uninstall without a blink (like eMusic and WildTangent) while the rest is your call. Otherwise, you’ll find quick links to Toshiba support, system recovery, and some software similar to what you’ve seen before (basic utilities and such).

Honestly, there’s enough to like here–and we haven’t even finished all the testing yet. Of course, we plan to give you a proper heads-up at a later date with a full score. But caveats aside, this is a pretty appealing little machine that seems up to the task of handling Windows 7.

PC World (US)

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