Toshiba’s L500 range is affordable. According to Toshiba they "deliver solid performance for handling life’s essentials". Which is handy as this is typically the type of machine a lot of us are looking for!
Handling, design and build: standard, straight up and down
The design of this Toshiba L500-13Z is quite standard. The plastic is almost entirely glossy, which is only a problem around the screen because of reflections and finger marks.
Around the screen the plastic is black whereas it’s grey around the keyboard, which masks finger marks. The finish is good, though it would have been better perhaps not to make various elements part of the shell itself: the speakers, multimedia buttons, touchpad clicks and even the keyboard could all have been sunk into the shell.
The keyboard includes a number pad, which is rare. Almost the whole width is taken up. It’s a shame that the 'Enter' button and the space bar are slightly reduced in size.
Typing is comfortable and the keys quite supple. The matte coating however, that we usually praise, is not very nice to the touch on this keyboard, making the keys a bit rough. We’ve seen better.
Above the keyboard, you’ll find the on/off and touchpad disactivation buttons, as well as 3 multimedia buttons to control different audio/video software.
The touchpad is a good size. Quite wide, it's part of the rest of the shell. While many manufacturers make the mistake of giving the touchpad a glossy coating, Toshiba have had the wisdom to use a matte surface. This gives a soft, fluid movement with nice precision.
The webcam is poor. It lacks sharpness and fluidity and you need to be in a bright place for it to give any sort of result. The photo displayed here was taken in daylight and though perhaps not in the brightest of places, the camera should still not have given such a dark image. So, if you want to be seen, make sure you turn on the lights.
The L500-13Z is quiet. The constant fan doesn’t draw much attention to itself when you’re working on office docs and is only a little more noticeable when you’re carrying out more demanding tasks (video encoding, photo work, gaming). It's nice not to be stressed out by the noise of the fan.
Connectivity covers all the bases. At the front, here’s a 5-in1 memory card reader and a very practical volume adjustment scroll. On the right, a DVD burner is positioned beside 2 USB 2.0 ports and the power socket. On the left: 1 VGA, 1 RJ45, 1 USB 2.0 combo e-SATA, 1 HDMI, 1 mic and 1 headphones and 1 ExpressCard 54. You also get Wi-Fi b/g/n.
Under the laptop, two panels give access to the RAM and the hard drive.
|VGA, RJ45, HDMI, e-SATA/USB, mic and headphones
||Touchpad and clicks
|Volume scroll and memory card reader
||DVD burner, 2 USBs, power socket and antitheft
Processing power: patience needed for photo/video opeations
With the entry level dual-core processor, the Intel Pentium Dual Core T4200, the Toshiba L500-13Z scores 65 on our processor index. Our reference machine (100 on the index), is the Fujitsu Siemens Amilo Xi3650 (equipped with an Intel Core 2 Duo T9400). Performance levels are fine and quite enough for office docs and the Internet with photo and video viewing. For heavier video and photo processing tasks, you need to be patient, especially with any recent films filmed in Full HD.
The L500-13Z comes with Windows Vista Family Premium, 32 and 64-bit. Go for the 64-bit version to best put the machine and its 4 GB of RAM to good use.
The processor handles HD 1080p no problem (Blu-Ray equivalent). We do advise you to use the excellent graphics card decoding capacities however, which will take some of the load off the processor.
Gaming: recent 3D titles at limited graphics settings
The graphics card used for the L500-13Z is fine (bottom of mid-range): the ATI Mobility Radeon HD 4570. You’ll be able to play recent titles in native definition as long as you lower the graphics settings. Crysis runs with all settings at minimum, while Race Driver GRID is fluid with settings somewhere near the middle. Games that use the 3D Unreal Engine 3 are also fluid with settings near the middle on the whole, as are those that use the Source Engine with settings at mid to high (Half-Life 2, Left 4 Dead).
Audio: just about ok
Audio is ok. It lacks depth, with no bass as with most laptop speakers. The headphones out is clean and well defined.
Battery life and portability: a bit disappointing
It almost got to the two-hour marker. The Toshiba L500-13Z stops after 1h54 when playing video (screen at 100 cd/m², Wi-Fi disactivated and headphones plugged in). Not a great performance then and well below the Dell Studio 15 that lasted 2h34. The MacBook Pro 15 inch is far ahead, at 3H19.
This is a fairly big machine. At 2.72 Kg and almost 4 cm thick, better not to have to carry it around with you all day. That said, the Dell Studio 15 isn’t much smaller. If you’re wanting something a bit slimmer and lighter, go for an Apple or a CULV model, like the Acer Aspire TimeLine 5810T.