Toshiba Satellite T135 notebook review – perfect balance of size, weight and power

In this review, we’ll introduce you to the Toshiba Satellite T135 notebook. Inside the model on review (the T135D-S1320) is an AMD NEO MV40 processor, 3GB of memory and a 250GB hard drive. Graphics are powered by a dedicated ATI Radeon chip on a 13.3″ widescreen LED backlit display.

In every possible way, this machine is the perfect option for someone not content with the size constraints of a netbook, but not interested in a large 15″ notebook. By removing the optical drive, Toshiba kept the weight of the machine at just under 3.9lbs.

On the outside, the machine is quite striking. Our review unit came in a kind of red carbon fiber pattern, not overly bright, definitely a departure from the boring designs on most other machines. Connectivity comes from a memory card slot, three USB ports, audio in/out, VGA and HDMI. Having built in access to both video output ports is a huge plus – too many machines force you to pick nowadays, often resulting in investments in special adapter cables.

They keyboard on the T135 is a kind of hybrid between a regular keyboard and a chiclet keyboard. Key spacing is excellent, but there is a little bit of “flex” towards the middle. Thankfully, it doesn’t impact typing efficiency. Despite the small size of the machine, the keys are well layed out, and everything is where you’d expect it to be.

The multi touch trackpad is nice and large – and is part of the outer case. The coating on the trackpad is a little rougher than the rest of the unit, making it both comfortable and accurate. At the bottom of the trackpad are the left and right buttons – which are easy to press and respond with a nice click.

Under the trackpad buttons are LED indicators for power, battery charging status, HDD activity, memory card activity and wireless status.

The memory card slot on the right fits SD, Memory Stick and xD card compatibility. One other neat connectivity feature comes from the left side USB port. By enabling a software feature, this USB port provides power even when the notebook is turned off. With this, you can charge your phone, iPod or other device, without having to find an outlet or invest in a battery pack.

Speaking of batteries, battery life on the T135 is quite good for a machine this size – its six cell battery sits flush with bottom, and is rated for six hours. In real life usage, I was usually able to keep it running for just over five and a half hours, without too many energy tweaks.

Other features inside the T135 include a webcam with facial recognition (for security), 802.11n WiFi and a hard drive impact sensor, which locks the drive when any sudden movements are detected.

Performance from the AMD NEO MV40 processor is another perfect balance – it won’t run down your battery, but it still packs enough power to do things like Flash video and HD playback. The integrated ATI Radeon video chip obviously helps with this.

On the bottom of the T135 is a memory card cover, which can be opened by the user -but since the machine already comes with 3GB, chances are you won’t ever need to expand it.

The Toshiba Satellite T135 for travel

As I mentioned earlier, the T135 is what I consider to be the “sweet spot” size for travel. There is still a time and place for smaller machines, but I often find that 10″ netbooks can be too much of a sacrifice on the road. A 13″ machine is just right for me – it offers a large high resolution screen, full size keyboard and good battery life, without the weight and heft of a 15″ machine.

The Toshiba T135 runs Windows 7 home premium 64 bit – a nice step up from the basic OS versions found on some machines. Out of the box, the Toshiba also comes with a good array of software – you obviously get the usual lineup of things like a Microsoft Office trial, Norton Internet Security and Windows Live Essentials. But the value added Toshiba applications are actually quite good – the Toshiba suite provides DVD playback software, a CD/DVD editing application, face recognition security, a variety of support apps and a very extensive energy management suite.

All in all, at just over $500, the Toshiba is one of the best machines I have tested in this price/size range. The Toshiba T135 line is available from and Toshiba retailers. The specific model tested in this review (T135-S1320) is available at Walmart retail stores.

Going back to basics on the road – when high tech becomes high burden

In the past two decades, the high tech arsenal of the frequent traveler has gone through some major upgrades. What started with the brick phone, has evolved into a package of smartphone-digital-camera-socialmedia-netbook -3G equipment. On any given day, even the most amateur of travelers may be carrying over $1000 in high-tech gear. During one of my recent trips, I came to the realization that all this technology has stopped me enjoying travel as much as I should.

On the road, too many of us are more focused on making sure we keep our Twitter, Facebook and Foursquare account up to date, than actually looking out the window to enjoy the scenery. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not advocating a return to complete non-tech, but there are ways we can stay connected and entertained without technology becoming a major part of our trips.
Social media

If I had to pull some kind of numbers out of my ass, I’d say that 50% of travelers are engaged in some form of social media when they travel. Some may keep this limited to a daily Tweet, others spend half their time making sure everyone in the world knows they just checked into the local coffee shop, museum, restaurant and attraction park on Foursquare. If you spend more than one hour a day updating your social media life, take a break. For starters, you need to determine just who you are doing this for.

I’m sure many of you social media aces think all your followers are constantly waiting for your next update, but you need to remember who you are traveling for – you don’t take trips for your followers, you take trips for your own enjoyment. If you fail to see just one amazing landmark because you were glued to your PDA or smartphone, then social media has failed you.

This doesn’t mean social media has no place in travel – I think there are plenty of things your online friends can help with. Especially when it comes to recommendations or other tips, the world of social media can be a great help. But don’t let online tools replace the old fashioned “ask a local” – remember when we used to do that?

Digital photography

Look, unless you are on a paid assignment from Newsweek, there is no real reason to be traveling with a $4000 camera and a bag full of lenses. Don’t get me wrong – I’d never recommend traveling without a camera, and I am jealous of great photographers, but just like with social media, spending too much time with your camera is going to divert your attention away from the reason you are on vacation.

The current generation point and shoot cameras are great for travel – you turn them on, take a photo and move on. There is no fiddling with the lens, no switching out the lens to something better, and no setting up tripods to get “the perfect shot”. At the end of the day, all your want to achieve is a collection of memories of the sights and sounds you saw, and perfect photos are really not required to bring back memories. In fact, the best way to record the feeling of your destination may be with something as simple as a $100 HD camcorder.

When shopping for a good point and shoot camera, you’ll want something that can last all day on a battery, can record HD video (with good audio), and something with good build quality. With a compact camera, you just pop it in your shirt pocket, without having to worry about dragging your massive camera bag around all day.

[Image from: Flickr / Claudio Matsuoka]

Ditch the laptop

In recent years, bulky laptop computers have become lighter and more powerful – making perfect travel companions. But at the end of the day, they still won’t last more than ten hours on a battery, and you always run the risk of breaking them or having them stolen. Yes – the iPad is a great alternative, but that hardly fits in the challenge of switching to a low-tech world, does it?.

For the first time in almost 15 years, I traveled with a notepad last week. And it was fantastic. Not a battery powered touch screen notepad – just a classic Moleskine and pen. Going back to how we kept notes back in school was weirdly satisfying, and I was able to put thoughts on paper much quicker than with any of my digital tools. Best of all, if you can’t completely break free from technology, you can scan notes or digitize them for use back home.

A perfect hybrid of old and new comes from Livescribe, who sell a pen that can record what you write, along with your voice. Simply jot your thoughts on paper, and when you get back home (or your hotel room) you transfer them to your computer.

Mobile phone simplicity

I’ve become so accustomed to my smartphone that I don’t ever foresee making the switch back to a “dumbphone.” Still, there are some advantages of a basic phone over a fancy smartphone:

  • Battery life – do you remember when your phone lasted 4 or 5 days? I’m betting that wasn’t with a smartphone. Today’s basic mobile phones have battery life in the 100’s of hours, some even last more than a week.
  • Price – I’m sure most of you spend well over $60 a month for the luxury of a smartphone, a switch to basic will save a fortune.
  • Risk – Walk down the street of some cities with your iPhone or Android phone, and you are an immediate target for a quick theft. Very few muggers will even consider the hassle of trying to steal your $20 Nokia from you.
  • Ease of use – Forget fiddling with syncing or configuring your email client, With a dumbphone, you just pop a sim card in it, and make calls. Not much more involved.

One affordable move could save you a fortune – switch to the combination of an iPod Touch and a basic mobile phone. With this, you get the best of both worlds – the same apps, email and Internet as on the iPhone, and no insane monthly data costs. You’ll need to learn to find free Wi-Fi to get online, but when you save $40/month, it may be worth the hassle.

Product review – Belkin FlyThru TSA checkpoint friendly laptop bag

In this product review, I’m going to give you a brief look at the newest checkpoint friendly laptop bag from Belkin.

The new regulations from the TSA permit you to keep your laptop inside its carrying case if the bag meets certain rules.

Essentially, the TSA X-ray operator has to be able to see through the laptop, with nothing obstructing it.

The Belkin FlyThru checkpoint bag accomplishes this by placing the laptop in its own compartment, like any other bag, but adds the option to unzip that compartment from the rest of the bag and fold it flat.

Unlike any other checkpoint friendly laptop bag I have seen so far, the FlyThru even has a large clear window showing the laptop, which should make the screening process even easier for the TSA agent, as they’ll instantly be able to see that you are using an approved bag.

The FlyThru bag has 3 sections; one for the laptop, one on the front, and one main section for your paperwork and other larger items that also hides a small internal zippered pocket. The pocket on the front is expandable, making it perfect for stuffing full of any last minute things you decide to carry on your flight.

The FlyThru bag is designed for laptops up to 15.4″. The FlyThru pocket itself is very cleverly marked, with a zipper pull that attaches to the bag using a velcro strip. When you arrive at the checkpoint, you simply unzip the laptop portion, and fold the bag flat. It’s a simple design, but one that should help get you through the security screening nice and quickly.

The Belkin FlyThru checkpoint friendly laptop bag costs $59.99, making it one of the cheapest in its class. The bag feels very well made and is surprisingly light; just a little under 2lbs including the strap.

The Belkin FlyThru checkpoint friendly bag will be available later today directly from and many other (online) retailers.

Product review – The Notebook Buddy

In this product review, I’m going to give you a quick look at a simple, yet effective product that makes using your laptop on the road a little easier (and cooler).

The Notebook Buddy is a 13.5″x9.5″ mat designed to place under your laptop. The mat is about half an inch thick, and is comprised of what I can only describe as thousands of little plastic springs.

On the top of the mat is a fabric mesh and by creating this open design, you can put your laptop on the mat, and heat will be transported away from it without blocking the vents.

If you have ever used your computer on your lap for any period of time, you’ll know that after about 30 minutes the heat can become unbearable. In the past, I’ve used all kinds of active cooling pads with little fans, but the major disadvantage of those, is that they drain your battery really fast and that they are a nuisance to carry around, The Notebook Buddy weighs just 3.2 ounces, and slips right into your laptop bag.The product is about as simple as it can get; you don’t need to plug it in, it does not require much space and it is ready to use right away. Another added advantage is that the padding makes it a comfortable product to use on your lap.

I put the product to the test by letting my laptop run for 30 minutes without a cooling pad, and measured the temperature. When it was directly on my lap, the temperature of the bottom of the machine was 114F.

After letting the machine cool down for 2 hours, I tested it again, using the Notebook Buddy. In this test I could not measure any rise in temperature on my lap, even after the laptop had been powered on for 30 minutes.

Naturally, the half inch gap between my lap and the notebook helps insulate things, but the special material used in the product helps circulate air from under the computer. If you have ever placed your computer on a bed, you’ll know that the bottom of the machine is where most of the vents (and heat) can be found.

The Notebook Buddy retails for $18.95 and can be purchased directly from their web site. Shipping is with UPS Ground, and is just $5. With Christmas slowly approaching, you might also be interested to know that the company behind the Notebook Buddy can customize the product with your logo, turning it into a nice corporate gift.

There are other cooling products out there, but this is by far the lightest, easiest and cheapest product I’ve found. The design of the Notebook Buddy really follows the “keep it simple” principle, no moving parts and nothing to bend or break. The price may seem a little steep for what you get, but when you consider that overheating on your laptop can cause the entire machine to become unusable, it’s a pretty justifiable investment.

Product review – HP Mini-note 2133 ultra portable notebook

My review for today is of the HP Mini-note 2133 “Netbook”. When I first got my hands on the Mini-note, I had pictured myself writing a review comparing it with the machine that started the whole Netbook “revolution”; the Asus Eee PC.

Most of these new mini notebooks (netbooks) are designed to be light, cute and very, very affordable. Light and affordable usually means lots of plastic, and cutting corners in the features department.

The HP mini-note is different in every possible way – it’s a normal notebook, just smaller. It even looks and feels like a normal notebook. It has a large screen, a normal size keyboard and a usable size track pad, but it still weighs under 2.7 pounds (a little over 1 kilogram). And, at just 10×6 inches, it’s the perfect size for throwing in your carry-on bag and taking it along on a trip.

The model I’m reviewing here is the “HP 2133 Mini-Note PC model FF0099AA“. It comes with Windows Vista Business, a 1.6GHz Via C7 CPU, an 8.9 inch (1280×800 pixels) display, 2Gb ram, 120Gb 7200RPM drive, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and a 6 cell Li-Ion battery. The list price is $829. Don’t let yourself get scared away by the price; this particular model of the Mini-note has every single optional extra added, from a 7200rpm drive to a larger battery. Lighter models of the machine start at just $499.

The outside

The outside of the machine instantly catches your attention. Forget cheap plastic – the HP is covered in sleek brushed aluminum on the top and bottom. This even extends around the battery.

The result is something that looks fantastic and is very durable (when talking to an HP product manager, I was told that they actually tried to scratch the thing with steel wool, but failed!).

On the outside you’ll find 2 USB ports (one with high power output, suitable for a portable optical drive), a VGA connector, audio out/in plugs, an Ethernet port, a Kensington lock port, an SD card reader and an Expresscard/54 slot.

With Expresscard, HP obviously understands that a lot of us currently travel with a wireless broadband modem, and that our modems are not always USB.

HP even put some thought into the power connector; it’s the same one used on all HP business class notebooks, which means you’ll be able to pick up tips for your universal power supply, or use an existing HP power brick you have lying around.

On the front of the machine is the power switch, a hard disk status light (with a special feature I’ll mention later) and a hardware wireless switch.

The inside

The inside is just as gorgeous as the outside. Once you open the 2133, you’ll find a (near) full size keyboard, a nice wide track pad and a spacious 8.9″ display with stereo speakers. Above the screen is a VGA webcam.

The keyboard is 92% full size, which means that the keys are spaced almost like on a desktop keyboard. There is a decent size space bar, 2 large shift keys and a row of function keys which also control things like volume, brightness, sleep mode and external display options.

The keys on the mini-note are treated with a special rub-resistant coating, which means you won’t end up with a “QRTY keyboard” after several years of use.

Once again it’s obvious that HP asked their business machines people to design the Mini-Note; they added several layers of protection in the design. Besides the already mentioned aluminum body, they also incorporated a magnesium frame which makes things strong and light. On the inside of the machine you’ll also find HP’s “advanced 3D DriveGuard protection system”.

HP has the following to say about their DriveGuard system: “A three-axis digital accelerometer senses sudden movement and instructs the system software to temporarily park the hard drive“.

3D DriveGuard isn’t just another buzzword; you can actually see it work. The front hard drive activity LED turns orange when the machine detects too much movement. An orange LED means the drive has parked itself while it waits for the Mini-Note to hit the ground, or for you to stop shaking it. DriveGuard only works on the Windows versions of the Mini-Note, so if you purchase the cheaper Linux version, you won’t benefit from it.

The display

Normally I stay away from number ratings, but if I had to rate the display on the Mini-Note, I’d have to give it a 6 out of 10. It’s clear, bright and very crisp, but it suffers from an extremely annoying glossy coating.

Any time light shines on the screen, it becomes nearly impossible to read, and you’ll find yourself fidgeting to turn it away from the light.

The resolution is a very acceptable 1280×800, which means you’ll be able to run any application you want without having to scroll around too much like on machines with a lower resolution screen. The brightness can be controlled though the power profile or by using the f3/f4 function buttons. If you suffer from poor eyesight, you might find the high resolution to be a little too much, especially on such a small screen.

Computer performance

Inside the model I’m reviewing is a VIA C7 processor. This 1.6GHz CPU is quite sufficient for most of the things you’ll do on the road. During my review, I installed all the applications I normally need;

  • Office 2007
  • Firefox
  • Skype
  • Magicjack
  • Trillian Astra (IM client)
  • Media Player Classic
  • iTunes
  • HAVA Player (for remote TV viewing).

All these applications ran fairly well, but I always had a little bit of a lag when switching between applications, or when trying to do some video playback on full screen. The 1.6GHz processor is the top of the line, cheaper versions are sold with a 1.2 or 1.0GHz chip, which in my opinion will probably be too slow for the applications I listed.

There is however one other issue I need to mention with the processor; heat. The exhaust on the side of the Mini-note blows the heat away from the processor and the motherboard. The air coming out the vent reaches almost 120F when the machine is running in full speed mode. You really need to be careful what you place around the vent, and will certainly have to be sure you don’t block it.

Battery life

As I mentioned earlier, the version I am testing is equipped with a 6 cell battery. The standard battery is a 3 cell version, so this larger version doubles the battery life. To get a fairly reliable battery test, I set Windows Vista to the “balanced” power saving mode and changed the setting to keep the display on. I then started playback of a video file (with repeat) off the hard drive. When I checked back after 2 hours, it was still running fine, and continued to do so until the 3 hour 22 minute mark, at which point, Vista turned the machine off. Three hours is not too bad for a machine like this, but it does involve a larger battery. If you purchase the smaller 3 cell battery, you’ll probably get around 2 hours which is also quite acceptable. Thankfully, many airlines are working on installing power ports for their seats.

Wireless performance

The Mini-Note is equipped with an 802.11 internal wireless card with support for A, B and G networks. While most home users won’t need the support for A, it is a fairly common system in corporate environments.

The model I’m testing also has Bluetooth, which in my opinion is a “must have” in any notebook nowadays. It enables the use of devices like a Bluetooth headset, mouse, or allows you to wirelessly connect with your mobile phone.

In my case, I’ve added my trusty MoGo mouse to the Mini-Note, and they really do feel like they are made for each other. The MoGo mouse stores neatly inside the Expresscard slot and charges when I’m not using it.

The Bluetooth adapter supports Bluetooth 2.0+EDR, which increases the range and data speeds. In real life this means you’ll be able to connect a Bluetooth headset and walk around your hotel room without your call crackling or dropping every 5 seconds.

The Wi-Fi adapter picked up plenty of access points and once connected I had a rock solid connection which never dropped, which about all you can ask of a Wi-Fi adapter.

The HP Mini-note for travelers

So, how well does the HP travel? Quite well thankfully! The machine is light enough to not bother you, and powerful enough to give you the feeling that you are carrying an full blown laptop.

The ability to use most existing HP chargers, as well as power tips on most universal power chargers means you shouldn’t run into any power issues. The webcam has a fairly low resolution, but is quite sufficient for a basic video call with your friends or family. And finally, the sturdy magnesium frame and DriveGuard protection feature mean you won’t end up with a dud if a clumsy TSA agent drops it.

Final thoughts…

This HP Mini-note is a beautiful machine. It has every feature you could possible need to do some work on the road. But all those features come at a price; $749 is almost twice as much as a low end Netbook like the Asus Eee 4G.

It’s a decision you’ll have to make based on your needs; if you need an Expresscard slot, Bluetooth and a high resolution display, then you will immediately end up in Mini-note land.

If you are just looking for something to do a little web browsing with, then a $349 Eee will probably suit you fine. That said; there are cheaper versions of the HP Mini-note. Their $499 version comes with a 1GHz C7 processor, 4GB of storage and 512MB of ram. In this model, you still get the Expresscard slot, but you lose Bluetooth. All in all, I found the HP Mini-Note 2133 to be close to perfect; the only 2 things that let me down were the slightly slow CPU and the glossy screen.