Tools Of The Trade: The Toshiba A200 laptop

Toshiba's A100 laptop clearly took its design cues from Apple. It was neat, compact and finished in glossy white, and looked surprisingly similar to the iBook range of consumer portables.

In some ways the A100 was a PC in Mac clothing. If you liked Apple's style but really needed to run Windows, the A100 was the machine to pick.

While the new A200 still matches the dimensions of Apple's 12-inch iBook laptop to the millimetre, other similarities have been toned down. The Toshiba has a white clamshell lid but is otherwise made of silver-coloured plastic. But like the iBook it remains an extremely well-designed computer offering excellent value for money.

The A200 is built around Intel's Centrino chip set, so it comes with onboard wireless (WiFi) connectivity, and a Pentium M chip running at a respectable 1.6Ghz. The hard drive, at 40GB, is perhaps on the small side for demanding applications such as digital video and photography, but reasonable for a budget laptop.

Basic memory, at 256MB, is not really enough with Windows XP Professional, unless all you do is email and word processing. However, adding a further 256MB of memory is not going to break the bank.

Toshiba has equipped the A200 with an optical drive that can write CDs and read DVDs - an acceptable compromise in a budget machine. But it also comes with a slot to read the secure digital (SD) cards used in a growing number of personal digital assistants (PDAs) as well as digital cameras and even some high-end mobile phones.

Toshiba is fitting SD slots on more and more of its machines. It is one of those features you might never have thought you needed but, for digital camera users at least, it quickly becomes indispensable. The computer also has outputs to connect to an external monitor, a TV, a Firewire/IEEE1394 port for links to camcorders or fast external drives, and microphone and headphone ports, so it should be as versatile at home as in the office.

For those considering buying an A200, there is one important compromise: the display. The Toshiba's screen is bright and clear, but at 12.1 inches it is perhaps too small for use day in and day out. For a main or only computer, a 14-inch screen is much more comfortable.

Meanwhile, although the A200 is compact at 2.0kg, the computer is also somewhat heavier than some of the other ultra-portable laptops on the market. Nor is it as compact, and nor is a stated battery life of three and a half hours (expect less in practice) leading edge.

These compromises, though, are all acceptable considering the A200's cost of £799. At this price it is an extremely attractive option as a second computer, just as it is for someone who needs to buy a laptop out of their own pocket, or for a home user who is short on space but still wants something that combines style with a reasonable amount of power.


Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Pros: stylish, very competitive price.

Cons: heavier than it looks.

Price: £799 + VAT.