The most remarkable aspect of the Toshiba NB250 is its absolutely superb keyboard, so we'll start with that. Unlike many netbooks, it's spread out as far as it possibly could be, from one edge of the case to the other.
It's the closest thing you're ever going to get to a full-sized layout on a netbook PC. The keys are moulded in the faux-chiclet style reminiscent of early Sony Vaio laptops, which makes for an excellent typing feel, although some concessions have had to be made.
The right hand side of the keyboard is rather restricted, crushing the symbol keys and the Enter key into a rather narrow column for example. Mistakes have been made, too -- if you, like us, tend to hit Shift with your right-hand pinky, you will cuss the decision to place the Page Up and Page Down keys directly beneath Enter when they could just have easily have nestled either side of the up arrow.
Annoyances be damned, though: you need a keyboard. This is something a touchscreen tablet just can't provide, and that a netbook – especially this one – does very well.
Next up is storage. The NB250-108 we've tested doesn't have a gigantic hard drive, but neither do most netbooks, and the 250GB on offer here will go a long way. Think about the comparison to tablets, too: you've got a lot more freedom and a heck of a lot more space.
Show us a tablet with 250GB storage, we dare you – chances are it'll set you back a lot more than a netbook and not be half as capable. Windows 7 Starter probably isn't the OS we would have chosen (Windows XP, despite its age, seems to suit these little platforms well) but you're free to use it as you wish – the iPad's iOS won't let you do half the things the NB250 can do.
Flash, for example. Windows programs. The full, unadulterated internet. Forget about measly tablets; a netbook does it all for less money.
And then there's the battery. It's astonishing, lasting an easy 8.5 hours on a single charge, besting just about any other portable device. You wouldn't want a hefty laptop for mobile working or simple lap-based web browsing, particularly because the NB250 would easily outlast it.
The Atom N455 at its core might be unremarkable in terms of processing power, but it works exceptionally hard for such a power-friendly design. Netbooks have made massive leaps forward since the early days of the MSI Wind, and it's obvious here – this is a resilient, long lasting package.
Whether it's an attractive package is really a matter of taste. We weren't especially keen on the patterned wrist-rest and lid, although this does make the NB250 less of a fingerprint magnet than many glossy machines like those from Packard Bell's netbook range.
It's clear that Toshiba has put some thought into the machine's layout, with a pair of USB ports on the right, and SD card slot on the front, and the rest of the important outputs tucked away on the left hand side. Not especially handy if you're a lefty, but excellently thought out if you're going to be using an external mouse. Not that you'd need to unless you were deskbound – the trackpad is pretty flawless.
Naturally this isn't without its issues as a whole – any machine listed at this price has had to have had some corners cut.
The screen is typical netbook fare – 10.1" of awkward viewing angles and washed-out colours. You'll struggle to adjust it to a comfortable medium; it seems to force you into an uneven display and that's irritating.
Furthermore, like all 600-pixel-high panels, it makes browsing the web rather tricky. You'll definitely want to activate full-screen mode, set the taskbar to auto hide, and remove all the toolbars you can. Admittedly complaining about a netbook screen is like complaining that ice cream is cold, but we clearly have sensitive teeth.
The speakers, too, are rather lame, far quieter than those of the iPad, even though the iPad's sound output comes from a much tinier cone.
The NB250 is also pre-loaded with a bunch of software you'll neither want or need; a sidebar dedicated to its webcam, a Toshiba 'Bulletin Board' seemingly designed just to bug the hell out of you, and something called ReelTime – an organisational tool that seems much better suited to a machine with a bit more grunt. This is on top of the usual cavalcade of bloatware that comes with any new machine.
Forget the preloaded guff, though: put this netbook in its place. It's more useful and cheaper than any tablet you'll find. You won't get the luxury of swiping your fingers over its screen, but you get so many things a tablet simply can't do well.
Yes, the netbook market is pretty flat – there's not much more to this than any other machine in its class. You need one more than you need that fancy tablet you've had your eye on, though, and that's a straight-up fact.