capsule review

Toshiba Satellite E205-S1904: Cool 'Wi-Di' Capability, Good Display, Terrible Ergonomics

At a Glance
  • Toshiba Satellite E205-S1904

    PCWorld Rating

Toshiba Satellite E205-S1904 all-purpose laptop
The Toshiba Satellite E205-S1904 all-purpose laptop, currently a Best Buy exclusive priced at just under $900 (as of March 17, 2010), offers some nifty features, such as the option to connect the laptop's display to your HDTV wirelessly through an HDMI-equipped peripheral. Unfortunately, it's hobbled by a poor keyboard layout, mediocre audio, and terrible ergonomics.

At first blush, the feature set is appealing. The system includes a Core i5 430M CPU with a base clock speed of 2.26GHz, plus 4GB of DDR3 memory. Housed in a sleek, relatively thin blue plastic chassis, the laptop comes with Windows 7 Home Premium, a built-in Webcam, and 802.11n wireless networking.

The E205 comes bundled with Netgear's Push2TV wireless adapter. This cool little gizmo attaches to your HDTV by way of an included HDMI cable. You can also use composite video and analog audio, but that isn't recommended since composite video looks terrible on most HDTVs. Intel's Wireless Display (aka "WiDi") software is preinstalled on the laptop, allowing you to push the screen contents to your TV.

Though it still has a few rough edges, WiDi is a cool idea. A small, easy-to-overlook flyer inside the box urged us to download new wireless drivers for the Intel 802.11n adapter to obtain better performance. When you connect the Push2TV adapter to your TV, a simple interface pops up, allowing you to adjust the image size to fill up the screen (or to make it smaller if it's too large). Since the Push2TV adapter is paired directly to your laptop, it doesn't talk to your router--which bypasses the usual messy network configuration steps.

We did notice significant input lag when using WiDi. The mouse-pointer movement and keyboard input on the TV would be a half-second or more behind what the laptop showed. You get used to it, but the delay is still annoying. Video content looked fairly good on the TV, though a little softer than on the laptop. HDMI audio seemed to work flawlessly. Overall, aside from the input lag, WiDi is pretty slick once you get it working.

The Satellite E205-S1904 itself offers a fairly basic set of ports. On the right side are two USB ports (one is the now-familiar combo USB/eSATA port), an HDMI port, the slot-loading DVD drive, and a flash card reader that accepts SD Card, SDHC, XD-Picture Card, and Sony Memory Stick. Another USB port plus an analog audio input and output grace the left side. The rear of the unit sports a VGA output, an ethernet jack, and the power connector. The laptop lacks an analog modem.

In the software suite are Microsoft Works, Norton Internet Security, Toshiba's software DVD player, and a trial version of Microsoft Office Home and Student, which will run you another $130 if you opt to purchase it.

Performance from the Satellite E205-S1904 is about on a par with that of similar units. Since the system uses Intel's HD Graphics, its game capabilities are pretty limited, and really suitable only for light-duty gaming at fairly low detail levels. Its WorldBench 6 score, 91, is about what we expect from laptops in this class; its battery life is nearly 4.5 hours. In normal use, with 28 tabs open in the browser plus a number of other windows open, the system's responsiveness remained high.

When viewed head-on, the display is crisp, and offers pleasingly saturated colors. However, tilting the display even slightly reveals extremely poor vertical viewing angles. The horizontal viewing angles are a bit better, but still not great. As for the sound, in our tests the audio quality from the built-in speakers was tinny on all music and movie material. Bass was laughably lacking; and even at maximum volume, dialogue and music with lots of dynamic range was hard to hear. If you don't have this laptop connected to a TV through HDMI, we strongly suggest using good headphones.

The worst aspect of the E205-S1904 by far, however, is the setup of the keyboard and pointing device. The keyboard layout includes an obnoxiously positioned touch-sensitive volume control just to the right of the keyboard itself. We were constantly brushing against the volume control while typing, causing the machine to issue a loud "BEEP" every time. Above this poorly positioned volume control are the transport controls, but the DVD eject button requires pressing the Fn key, and is on the Tab key on the other side of the keyboard.

The rest of the keyboard layout is pretty mediocre. The PgDn and PgUp keys are widely separated from the Home and End keys, while the arrow keys are half-size and butt up against other keys. The trackpad works well enough, but the mouse buttons require excessive force. After extended use, our hands became quite fatigued.

In the end, the Toshiba Satellite E205-S1904 is a mixed bag, offering cool new technologies and a reasonably good display, mated with terrible speakers and one of the more annoying keyboard layouts we've seen. Toss in mouse buttons that are hard to press, and it's tough to recommend this laptop for daily use in office applications. But if you want to browse the Web or watch online videos on your HDTV, that feature works well and is sure to please.

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At a Glance
  • PCWorld Rating

    On its own, the Satellite E205-S1904 is an average laptop, but its Wireless Display capability is pretty cool.

    Pros

    • Intel Wi-Di connection is slick and works well
    • Display image quality is very good head-on

    Cons

    • Poor sound quality
    • Terrible keyboard and pointing-device ergonomics
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