Inexpensive laptops have, historically speaking, come in black. Sure, the vast majority of notebooks have been dark-hued critters, but if you want fancy things, you normally pay extra, and design notes have usually not been a high point for lower-priced notebook options.
To ever so slightly buck this trend, Toshiba's Satellite L730 is decked out in white plastic. Toshiba technically calls it "Luxe White", if you're the sort of person who obsesses over paint chips. It's a fairly bright white with a subtly inlaid dot pattern that's not too tough on the eyes. The only real issue from a design standpoint with the Satellite L730 is that the plastic feels quite hollow when in actual use, which rather accentuates its lower build quality. In other words, it looks nice and shiny from a distance, but, once you're up close, the savings made in construction become apparent. Which isn't to say that it's badly built; it's just not a premium machine.
At 2.1kg and 329x221x36.9mm, the Satellite L730 has a fair amount of heft to it. If you're after a totally portable 13-inch notebook option, this probably isn't it.
Underneath all of that white plastic sits an Intel Core i5 2410M 2.3Ghz processor, 4GB of RAM and a 640GB 5400RPM hard drive. Toshiba supplies a DVD SuperMulti Dual Layer optical drive, as well as three USB 2.0 ports and an SD card slot for media expansion. VGA and HDMI outputs supply video options. The marketing copy refers to a high-definition screen, but the unit itself only ships with a 1366x768-pixel display; perhaps this is a version of "high definition" that we've not previously been aware of. Then again, this isn't a premium-priced notebook, so a slightly lower definition isn't too much of a shock. On the networking side, gigabit Ethernet, Bluetooth and 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi is supported.
On the software side, Toshiba ships the Satellite L730 with Windows 7 Home Premium. One nice set-up touch that we noted when unpacking the Satellite L730 is that it offers the option to utilise either 32-bit or 64-bit versions of the operating system, although if you do opt for the 64-bit version — and you should — you'll have a slow wait, as it rebuilds the entire operating system before you. Aside from the operating system, Toshiba also pre-installs ConfigFree, Eco Utility, Microsoft Office 2010 Starter (60-day trial), Norton Internet Security 2011 (Trial Version), Norton Online Backup Utility, Toshiba Media Controller, Toshiba PC Health Monitor, Toshiba Recovery Media Creator and Toshiba Resolution+ utilities. On the crapware scale, that's not too heavy a burden to bear. In terms of what Toshiba hypes the Satellite L730 around, Resolution+ allows for up-scaling of video played back through Windows Media Player, while Media Controller allows for media streaming to compatible devices.
The Core i5 that runs the Satellite L730 is a reasonable but not stellar performer, and that's played out in its benchmark results. It scored a healthy 6556 in PCMark05, and a respectable 3639 in 3DMark06, which isn't bad for a unit running on Intel's HD graphics solution.
Battery life was a bit more of a concern. Using our standard battery life testing metric — by disabling all battery-saving features, turning the brightness up to full and running full-screen video to the point of battery exhaustion — gave a figure of three hours and 46 minutes. That's a solid but not spectacular figure for a notebook of this size; like many 13-inch notebooks, it's reasonable to expect that it might see some portable work, but it won't last all that long if it does. Our concern came more from ad hoc testing with Wi-Fi enabled, where, on a couple of occasions, we struggled to get over the two-hour mark before frantically searching out a charger. Wi-Fi is always going to be a battery hog, but we expected a little better than this.
In real-world testing, the Satellite L730 performed about as well as we expected. The screen isn't terribly bright, which is a bit of a worry for outside work, and the plastic construction does make it a slightly noisy notebook if you're a fast typist. The media streaming functionality worked well enough with an Xbox 360 on the same network, but we were largely unimpressed with the up-scaling efforts of Resolution+, which introduced a few visual quirks to files while trying to make them appear smoother. We also had minor problems with the unit's hard drive parking mechanism. It's designed to prevent data loss when the unit is knocked or bumped, but it's very sensitive, and we often found annoying pauses — especially in music or video playback — if we moved the L730 at all.
Toshiba refers to the L730 as a "compact all-rounder", and we reckon that's a fair assessment, given that "all-rounder" is usually applied to anything that's not really a standout in any real way. This isn't a hero product, or even anything that does a single truly revolutionary thing. It's reasonably priced for a notebook with these specifications, but it's nothing all that exciting; certainly worth consideration amongst all of the other Sandy Bridge offerings on the market at the moment.