The Toshiba M55's best feature is its most visible one: Its 14-inch screen sparkles. Images look brighter and clearer, even from the side, thanks to the anti-reflective coating Toshiba's marketing folks have dubbed "TruBrite" and which is available on most of the company's laptops.
It's quite a dizzying array of portable computers that Toshiba offers. A quick survey of the company's Web site reveals dozens of models, most with several option packages. To learn the differences among them requires clicking past the useless, bullet-point descriptions on the index page (the M45 is "intense" and "powerful," while the M60 is "progressive" and the G25 is "savvy.") Of all these options, the M55 provides a decent balance of affordability, portability and performance.
This 5.3-pound machine's metallic-blue cover gives it some stylish appeal -- notwithstanding its flimsy-feeling plastic construction. Two Harman/Kardon speakers reside behind a silver mesh but deliver merely adequate output.
If you only want to watch a DVD or play an audio CD, you can boot the M55 into its "Express Media Player" program instead of starting Windows. Press the CD/DVD button below the power switch, pop in a DVD or CD and control it with a set of play/pause/reverse/forward buttons and the arrow keys.
You do, however, have to figure out this software's workings on your own, thanks to weak documentation.
Toshiba generally makes good laptop keyboards, but the touchpad here falls short of that quality. It's too small and located puzzlingly left of center; those compact dimensions make it too easy to accidentally swipe the top portion that comes programmed to interpret taps as "forward" and "back" commands in Internet Explorer.
Battery life on the M55 was unremarkable, lasting just under two hours of DVD movie playback (not enough for the average Hollywood offering) and less than 21/2 hours of music playback (not enough for the average box set). With the laptop completely idle, it still only lasted 31/2 hours. The underside of this laptop got quite warm during use, but the top stayed cool.
The software bundle features Microsoft Works, a basic edition of Quicken 2005 and a month of McAfee virus protection. Photo album and anti-spyware programs are sorely lacking. Toshiba's round-the-clock tech support reps were consistently available after only brief waits. -- Anthony Zurcher
Tested hardware: Toshiba Satellite M55-S325 , $1,399
5.4 pounds (6.3 pounds with power adapter), 14-inch widescreen LCD (1,280 by 768 pixels), 1.7 GHz Pentium M processor, 512 MB memory (up to 128 MB shared for graphics use), 92.9 GB hard drive, CD-RW/DVD+/-RW/-RAM drive, Memory Stick/SD Card/xD-Picture Card slot, Ethernet, WiFi, modem, PC Card slot, FireWire port, four USB 2.0 ports.
One-year warranty, one year of 24-hour, toll-free phone tech support; $35 per-incident fee afterward.