As its name would suggest, the laptop uses a 13.3-inch screen. This has a resolution of 1,366x768 pixels, which isn't bad for a screen of this size, and its LED backlighting means it looks very bright as well. The vertical viewing angle is rather narrow, though, so you do sometimes find yourself moving the screen back and forth on the hinge to find the sweet spot where colours and brightness remain consistent across the surface of the display. As the laptop is aimed primarily at business users, Dell has sensibly used a matte, anti-glare finish on the screen, helping to keep reflections to a minimum.
The slim chassis means there's only room for two USB ports.
The screen may have its issues, but we've got no complaints about the keyboard. As it fills practically the whole width of the laptop, the keys are pleasingly large. There's almost no flex in the middle and this, combined with the springy nature of the keys, makes it easy to quickly get up to a decent typing speed. There's no room to fit in a numerical keyboard, but, other than this, the layout is excellent, with the only slight compromise being half-height 'F' keys across the top.Business users often aren't interested in flashy designs, instead preferring a laptop that looks and feels like it'll stand up to some abuse, while also offering good levels of performance. This is the niche that the robust, 14-inch Toshiba Tecra M11 aims to fill. Our configuration, the M11-11M, is priced at around £960 and powered by a high-end Intel Core i7-620M processor.
The M11 has a relatively boxy design. It weighs a not inconsiderable 2.4kg and is a hefty 37mm thick, so it doesn't exactly fit into the slim-and-light category. Nevertheless, its 14-inch frame does make it relatively portable. It's available in any colour as long as it's black, but the dimpled texture used on the lid and keyboard surround is much less likely to show up scratches than the glossy finish you find on most consumer laptops.While the overall design may not be eye-catching, the laptop's build quality can't be called into question. It feels very solid when you pick it up and, even when you apply twisting force to the chassis, it doesn't bend or creak.This excellent build quality also extends to the keyboard -- there's very little flex in it, even when you push down hard on the centre. Sensibly, Toshiba has stuck with traditional, large, tapered-style keys that have a decent amount of travel. The layout is good too, with the only compromise being a slightly narrow return key. You soon get used to this, though.
Like Lenovo's ThinkPad laptops, the M11 has both a trackpad and pointing device. The trackpad isn't overly large, but it feels fast and smooth under your finger, and the chrome buttons are quite responsive, although they do attract fingerprint smudges. We had no problems with the pointing stick either, and there's an extra set of buttons above the trackpad to use with this.
The M11 is pre-loaded with Toshiba's power-saving Eco Utility software.
Toshiba has wisely steered clear of the glossy finish that you find on most laptop displays these days, instead using a screen with a matte, anti-glare coating. This is much easier on your eyes when you're putting in long periods working on Office documents. The screen is LED-backlit, so it's very bright and colours are impressively vivid. The display's resolution of 1,366x768 pixels is bog-standard, but, as it's a smaller, 14-inch screen, text and graphics still look crisp and sharp.The laptop supports Ethernet, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity, but the range of ports on offer is limited. There are only three USB ports, for example, although one of these doubles up as an eSATA port. The laptop also has both a standard VGA socket and a mini-DisplayPort connector for hooking it up to an external display, as well as an ExpressCard/34 slot. The front lip is home to a handy memory-card slot, too. The $999 price represents the high end of today's mainstream retail market. While getting this level of graphics power at that price isn't bad, the boring design, lack of other features like Intel Wireless Display or Blu-ray, and poor battery life suggest you could do better.
Despite being marketed as a "media notebook" by Asus, there's not much that really makes this any more of a media notebook than other 14-inch machines. That's not to say the performance wasn't solid--it just isn't particularly noteworthy in a sea of increasingly similar Core i5 laptops, except for including a high-speed USB 3.0 port.In fact, some of its ergonomics set it back from the competition. Honestly, despite processor limitations, we'd rather buy an HP Envy 14 or white Apple MacBook instead.From the outside, there isn't much to distinguish the Asus N82Jv-X1 apart from its outer shell. A copper-colored metallic Infusion finish design has a textured hexagonal grid pattern, and undeniably gives the laptop a nice look. The rest is black matte plastic. Tapered, slightly curved edges invoke the rest of the Asus laptops, particularly the Eee PC series, as if it were magnified into a full-size form.The base is thicker than it looks, hiding some bulk under smartly angled fore-edges. At 5 pounds, it's not a lightweight. The inner areas of the laptop look clean and attractive, but it's more a feat of minimalism than features. The whole lower deck is sunken in from its edges, giving it a slightly concave look. Smooth, bronze-black plastic surrounds a raised Chiclet-style Asus keyboard. Above the keyboard, a pair of symmetrical identical buttons acts as a power button and a battery-mode selector. It's confusing at first glance: why not simply make the power button look more distinct? There's no reason for symmetry this subtle (hint: the power button's the right-side one).
The keyboard's a standard Asus affair, though dipping below average in key feel and keyboard flex. The slightly wobbly keys were more flimsy-feeling than those on other models. A row of page up/down keys lining the keyboard's right side crowds the shift and return keys, as does the small T of arrow keys. It made us lose sense of where the keys were. Functions such as volume and brightness are relegated to function keys, and they require pressing the function button at the same time to work. At this point, all laptops should have distinct or function-reverse keys for volume and other basic controls.The medium-size and slightly recessed touch pad is saddled with a small rocker bar for buttons, but both the bar and the pad's patterned/textured surface worked quite well for us. If only this pad had true multitouch: instead of Synaptics, Elan software enables two-finger scrolling and multifinger tap, but it doesn't have pinch-to-zoom at all. Thus, it doesn't really feel like multitouch.
The 14-inch LED-backlit 16:9 glossy screen on the Asus N82Jv-X1 has a native pixel resolution of 1,366x768, which is standard for laptops this size. Web pages, videos, pictures and icons were readable, but the screen looked a little washed out at full brightness and suffered from weak side-viewing angles.
The Altec-Lansing stereo speakers, which are embedded in the bottom of the laptop facing forward on an angled edge, had limited volume and weren't nearly as musically impressive as Toshiba's Harman Kardon speakers on that brand's comparative midrange Satellites.The built-in Webcam has resolution settings up to 1,600x1,200, but its framerates dip to unusable levels that high--it's best used at 640x480 or 800x600 resolutions. Asus' included webcam software, called Lifeframe, has an astonishing number of innovative and flat-out silly settings, ranging from complete picture setting control to weird floating hats. It's as much a novelty photo booth as a communications tool.Asus includes some other custom software on the N82Jv-X1, most of it not truly necessary. ControlDeck offers a 3D-style method of browsing applications by category, but the process is no more or less clunky than simply browsing Windows 7.
The most notable feature on the Asus N82Jv-X1 is its single USB 3.0 port. While Asus proudly advertises 10x faster speeds on the sticker slapped on the keyboard deck, there are only a handful of peripherals that can even take advantage of USB 3.0 at this point. It's nice to have a bit of future-proofing, but don't expect to get a lot out of it until sometime next year. The eSATA/USB 2.0 combo port, also provided, will likely be a better stand-in in the meantime. There's no Bluetooth, nor is there an ExpressCard slot; in a nearly thousand-dollar laptop, we'd expect one or both.The Asus N82Jv-X1 is a zippy machine, but no more or less than other Core i5 laptops in its class. The Core i5 M450 CPU is great at handling nearly everything thrown at it and multitasking like a pro; it's nearly the perfect midrange CPU at this point in the laptop world. High-def video streaming, complex office projects, file converting, and many other tasks will be pulled off without a sweat.
This Asus laptop also has above-average Nvidia graphics, equipped with automatically switching Nvidia Optimus technology to boot. Optimus turns off the dedicated Nvidia GeForce GT335M GPU when it's not in use, switching over to integrated Intel graphics automatically to conserve a little battery life. It's an invisible process, though, which you aren't likely to notice unless you start fiddling with the Nvidia control panel and tweak the settings--which you don't need to do. The graphics are quite good--Unreal Tournament III played at a fiery 98.1 frames per second at native 1,366x768 pixel resolution and medium settings. This can be a great laptop for playing most games, although it's not as good as higher-end gaming rigs. Still, for $999 it's one of this laptop's most compelling pluses.The N230 isn't ugly by any stretch of the imagination, but it looks much the same as any of the Samsung netbooks currently on the market. It sports a familiar glossy black lid, the main function of which seems to be to attract fingerprint smudges. Samsung's used a slightly more attractive, matte black finish on the keyboard section, though, and a black, brushed-metal effect on the wrist pad, so it's not all bad news.
Keyboards are a real source of disappointment on many netbooks. Luckily, Samsung's fitted the N230 with a top-quality keyboard. It uses isolated keys, with each button surrounded by a small sea of plastic. There's plenty of room between every key and its neighbours, so it's easy to hit each button without striking adjacent ones. The N230 doesn't pack many surprises as far as connectivity is concerned. It has one VGA video-output port, an Ethernet port, and headphone and mic jacks. Samsung's also thrown in an SD memory-card reader on the front edge, which works brilliantly for copying pictures over from a digital camera or mobile phone.
The isolated keys make it a pleasure to bash out missives.
The machine's USB ports are arguably the most interesting aspect of its connectivity. It has three of these but one can be used to charge your USB devices -- mobile phones, iPods and so on -- without the laptop being switched on. As you can imagine, this comes in handy when travelling, or when you don't want to have your laptop switched on simply to charge a gadget.