- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Best Buy has a very good idea: Sell specially built notebook computers and accessories at a reasonable price, and the customer should be quite happy.

Last month, the firm bowed three new laptops, one each from Dell, Sony and Toshiba, each equipped with Intel Corp.’s new Core i5 processor, 4 Gbytes of RAM and a 500 Gbyte hard drive. With a 14.1-inch display, the Toshiba is midway between the 13.3-inch display on the Sony portable and the 15.6-inch display of the Dell. It’s also the lowest-priced model, with a current package price of $899.

The “package,” it should be noted, includes the computer, an anti-virus software package, and a Netgear Push2TV Adapter. The latter will connect to your television set, preferably a flat-panel, HD set, and transmit the content on your screen to the larger display, thanks to the Intel Wireless Display technology incorporated in the new machines. (Ostensibly, it also will pull content from other computers on your home network, but I was unable to accomplish this during my testing.)

I’m guessing the idea is to somewhat mirror the concept of Apple TV, the combo media device and hard drive that also connects to a home computer network (wired or wireless) as well as to Apple’s iTunes service for online rental and purchase of TV shows and movies. I say “somewhat mirror” because the Intel/Netgear combo doesn’t offer an outside source for media; perhaps one can play iTunes or Amazon.com or Netflix downloads/rentals using this. Along with movies, the idea is also, apparently, to be able to show off slide shows and home videos on the big screen.

However, before one even gets to that point, one has to have the proper equipment — so far, one of the three Blue Label notebooks being sold by Best Buy, such as the Toshiba Satellite E205 — and the Netgear adapter.

I like the Toshiba notebook a lot. It certainly has most of the features a user would want; the 14.1-inch display is good; the 5-pound weight is easy on the shoulder when traveling. I like the LED-backlit keyboard, which makes typing easier in low light conditions, as well as “sleep and charge,” which lets users charge USB-connected devices even when the computer is asleep. One quibble: The touch-sensitive volume controls, easily found when typing, might be a little less sensitive, avoiding a sudden turn-on of the speakers when you want things quiet.

I’m less thrilled with the Netgear adapter and the underlying Intel Wireless Display technology. I guess it’s OK for slide shows, but if you think a 42-inch LCD TV will suddenly become the jumbo-sized PC display of your dreams, think again.

Text display isn’t all that great using the wireless setup, and, according to a Netgear spokeswoman, the adapter’s product manager says, “Push2TV is aimed at people who will use it primarily for watching film and video, music, Skype chats, Google Earth — not for reading text. The trials have shown that people tend to ‘browse locally, view remotely,’ meaning theyll use their laptop to go to sites, read, select the video or photos they want to watch, and when theyre ready, they send it to Push2TV to see it on the big screen.”

Back on planet Earth, I would like to have both the big picture and my text, thank you very much. This strikes me as a little more complicated than it needs to be.

The same can be said for the actual operation of the device. The Push2TV adapter has a power switch (Apple TV’s power is “always on,” by contrast) and places it in the rear of the device. So, once I put the adapter in my TV cabinet, I have to jump, reach high and fumble around the back of the unit to power it. Not a good idea, in my view.

Bottom line: shop Best Buy and buy the Toshiba laptop package. Just leave the Netgear item on the side, unless you enjoy that sort of thing.

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