With netbooks on one side and desktop replacements on the other, finding room for a laptop that's based around compromise is tough. In the Toshiba Satellite A355D-S6930, Toshiba clearly aimed for an entry-level media machine with a screen and speakers that defy expectations for the category. Its shot, however, isn't very high calibre.
The Toshiba Satellite A355D-S6930 boasts specs that at first glance indicate a reasonably equipped system. The configuration Toshiba sent us came with a 2.1Ghz AMD Turion X2 processor, 4GB of DDR2400 RAM, a 256MB ATI HD 3470 x2 graphics card, a 300GB hard drive, and 64-bit Vista Home Premium.
But our tests found somewhat disappointing performance. The Toshiba Satellite A355D-S6930 struggled more than many ostensibly less-equipped laptops, limping with a score of 66 in our WorldBench 6 test suite. Even the Acer Aspire Timeline (a netbook/notebook tweener running an Intel Core 2 Solo) fared a little better. (For perspective, models on our all-purpose laptops chart score anywhere from 75 to 115 in WorldBench.) The user experience confirms the score, as things often felt sluggish in normal operation.
And for a multimedia machine with a dedicated GPU, the graphics option also underwhelmed. In Unreal Tournament 3, the Toshiba Satellite A355D-S6930 posted 27 frames per second at a 1024-by-768 resolution, and it didn't manage much in Quake Wars: Enemy Territory, either (17fps). With Half Life 2, the A355D posted unsteady frame rates in the high teens along with long load times, and the game's most recent installment, Episode 2, was more or less unplayable even at low settings.
Things aren't all bad, though, as the Toshiba Satellite A355D-S6930's display makes a good showing. It's got great brightness indoors and even outside with some sunlight. The screen is very readable, with no fuzzy text or blurry desktop icons.
The colour reproduction is decent, though at times it looks a little washed out - especially red tones. It would have been nice to see a higher resolution than the native 1360 by 768 on such a large display, but given the price, it's a compromise we can live with, and its resolution does ensure that the Toshiba Satellite A355D-S6930 can handle 720p video.
Audio, Toshiba's calling card, is the Toshiba Satellite A355D-S6930's bright spot. The included Harman/Kardon speakers sound nice and clear with enough volume to be heard over moderate levels of noise from across the room without much distortion at all. They won't impress audiophiles, thanks to some iffy mids and the lack of decent bass (even with the included subwoofer), but for the average user, the Toshiba Satellite A355D-S6930 provides more than adequate audio for movies or music in the bedroom, the dorm room, or a smaller office.
Unlike several of its recent and more-expensive cousins, the Toshiba Satellite A355D-S6930 offers good expandability options, no jeweler's screwdrivers needed. The RAM and hard drives are located under separate, easily accessible panels. The memory modules - two DIMMs - are replaceable, and you can also replace the hard drive with little trouble.
The Toshiba Satellite A355D-S6930 has a full-size keyboard, great for touch typists shuttling between desktops and their notebook. The function key is set to the right of the control key, preventing accidental contact. The keys share the same high-gloss finish as the rest of the notebook - a detail that can make for easier typing in the dark (since the keys reflect light from the display), but our fingers sometimes slid around more than we would have liked.
The keys can also become smudgy if you have dirty hands - so keep the Purell handy. The touchpad is flush with the rest of the lower panel of the notebook but remains comfortable to use. The Toshiba Satellite A355D-S6930 also features a small row of touch-inductive buttons above the keyboard for media playback.
The software suite on the Toshiba Satellite A355D-S6930 marks it as an entry-level consumer laptop. While it features the now-standard recovery-disc creator, it lacks the hard-drive-protection software found in some of its more-expensive competitors. Instead, the main pieces of extra software on the notebook are Toshiba's acoustic silencer for the CD/DVD drive and Cyberlink's Powercinema media center application. While it won't revolutionise your media experience, the latter app is fast and pretty slick, and might manage to pull duty as your video player of choice.
The Toshiba Satellite A355D-S6930 makes a better impression on paper than it does in actual use. The bulleted list of hardware and features makes it seem like a steal, but the performance numbers and overall functionality are enough to raise some caution flags. If you don't have a lot of cash, and if a nice, big screen and good speakers are enough for you, then check out the A355D. But better options exist, such as Lenovo's IdeaPad Y530, which goes after the exact same demographic as this Toshiba and does a better overall job.