The netbook market is already pretty crowded, but today two more contenders enter the fray: Toshiba's NB205-310 ($400) and Fujitsu's M2010 ($449). Toshiba and Fujitsu are new to netbooks, they're no strangers to small machines. After all, Toshiba blazed a trail back in the 1990s with its Libretto subnotebooks, and Fujitsu has been dabbling in ultra-ultraportable-size models with its U810 Tablet PC.
In the initial bout between the two new netbooks, we can't announce a final decision because we haven't received and tested final hardware yet. But we can report the results of a subjective hands-on matchup of the two and let you know which one is currently ahead on points.
A killer keyboard and a touchpad to match are essential for a champion netbook. After all, how useful is a machine you can't type on it without hurting your hands? Toshiba scores by making the Chiclet-size cutout keys just big enough, and by dropping down a huge touchpad. This is simply the best netbook mouse pad to date. For starters, the surface area of the strike zone is is larger than that of many full-size laptops! Next, the beefy mouse buttons camp at the southern edge of the machine--easing hand strain. My physical therapist would approve.
Fujitsu's M2010, according to company spokespeople, is geared a bit more toward kids. The unit's touchpad has a nice, textured surface; but its size is about average for a netbook, and the keys seem similarly small--reminiscent of the keyboard on the 10-inch Acer Aspire One, with its perfectly serviceable buttons with a good, clacky key response. One point in Fujitsu's favor: The arrow keys are much larger on the M2010 than on the Toshiba netbook. Given the size of the touchpad, you'll need them.
Winner: Toshiba NB205-310
Toshiba's NB205-310 has good (though occasionally muted) color reproduction and supports a reasonably precise resolution of 1024 by 600 pixels on its glossy 10.1-inch screen. On the preproduction unit I looked at, I spotted some dark spots that got washed into a splotch or two--but otherwise, the images looked plenty sharp.
Fujitsu's M2010, on the other hand, had colors popping off the screen. Despite having the same screen size and glare-inducing coating as the Toshiba, and a slightly lesser resolution (1024 by 576 pixels), it produced colors that seemed a little more vibrant and didn't get lost in the shadows.
Winner: Fujitsu M2010
Overall, the Fujitsu M2010's design is uninspired. Its two-tone hard plastic case can be eye-catching, depending on the color you order your machine with (the flashy red unit drew a couple of double-takes here at the office), but the 2.5-pound netbook doesn't look much different from other netbooks on the market. Its configuration is fairly standard, too: three USB ports, an SDHC card reader, a Webcam, one VGA-out, ethernet, and headphone and microphone jacks.
Toshiba offers the same ports, but configured with a much sleeker sense of style.Though you'll shell out just $400 for this 2.9-pound machine, it doesn't look or feel cheap at all.
Winner: Toshiba NB205-310
Toshiba added a few extras to the NB205-310 that are sure to appeal to folks on the go--and even moreso to IT departments looking to deploy cheap PCs to a mobile workforce. One notable perk is a pass-through USB port that enables users to charge USB-powered devices while the computer is off. The NB205-310 also provides an internal accelerometer to protect the hard drive in case of falls (much as the HP Mini 2140 does)--and it offers wireless WAN support.
Fujitsu doesn't add much to the mix beyond Bluetooth and a couple of bits of bundled software. Roxio Creator LJ saves files out to external drives...as does the simple, but extremely effective MyRecovery software (which is a three-button interface for creating and restoring system backups). Otherwise, you're getting the standard-issue Windows XP netbook experience (Microsoft Works, 60-day trial of MS Office and all).
Winner: Toshiba NB205-310
This is a tricky category, since all we have to go on at the moment are the manufacturers' claims and the number of cells in the battery. Toshiba spokespeople say that the NB205-310's six-cell battery can last for almost 9 hours. Fujitsu says that the M2010's three-cell battery hangs in for 2.5 hours. Nevertheless, we have no intention of calling a winner in this category until we see our own battery test results.
Winner: To be determined
I left this category for last because the guts of these wee PCs vary little--as is the case with most netbooks. Both machines house a 1.6GHz Intel Atom N270 CPU, 1GB of RAM, and a 160GB 5400-rpm hard drive.
The Other Contender: Toshiba's NB205-210
Waiting in the wings, just in case the NB205-310 gets knocked down, the lighter, scrappy NB205-210 is ready to throw down. The big differences between these sibling Toshiba netbooks boil down to price (the N210 costs $350, $50 less than the N310), key shape (the N210 has flat, wide keys, as opposed to the N310's cut-out style), and the N310's bluetooth support (the N210 doesn't have it).
Fujitsu M2010 or Toshiba NB205-310?
Of the two machines I tested, which is ahead so far? Well, considering all of its perks and design successes, I'm inclined to give the early nod to Toshiba's NB205-310. Of course, this is without having run final units through our WorldBench 6 benchmark tests yet. But considering the similarities in configuration between the NB205-310 and the M2010, I would be surprised if we turn up any major differences in performance results here. But check back with us later, and we'll soon be able to give you the official word on which machine is your better bet. (Hint: It probably won't be the M2010.)