It’s getting to be a fairly confusing time to be in the market for an 11-inch laptop. Why do we say that? Simply put, this used to be considered a “Netbook” category, mainly populated by Intel Atom processors. With the rise of ULV (ultra low-voltage) processors, however, a number of laptops–anywhere from 11 to 15 inches in size–have emerged, all thin and light, generally lacking optical drives, and running one of a variety of single or dual-core ULV processors. The bottom line you need to know is that the laptop you choose can have a greatly varying performance depending on the type of ULV processor it has.

Take, for instance, the Toshiba Satellite T115-S1105. With an 11.6-inch screen, it’s roughly the same size as the Nvidia Ion-toting HP Mini 311 Netbook we’ve been so bullish on, which only costs $399. The T115-S1105, however, starts at $449 and doesn’t have a discrete GPU.

Here’s the good news, though: the Toshiba Satellite T115-S1105 has much the same performance and specs as its bigger-screened cousin, the T135-S1300. With a single-core Pentium processor, it’s not going to blow you away with its speed, but on the other hand, this is a better-featured and generally faster-performing machine than most Netbooks, while still coming in at Netbook size. At $479 in our configuration, it’s also more expensive than the average Netbook–that could be the drawback for many potential customers, despite a very strong battery life. It’s cheaper than the T135 series, and a single-core Pentium processor seems like a more logical fit here than in a 13-inch, but with faster Atom processors on the horizon, it might simply be worth waiting for next year’s Netbooks instead.

The look and feel of the T115-S1105 is nearly identical to the T135 line of Toshiba Satellite thin-and-lights we’ve already reviewed in several iterations: very glossy plastic surrounds the outer and inner surfaces, highlighted with chrome lines on the edges. From a short distance it’s a great look, but up close the faint checkered pattern and fingerprint-showcasing design make it look a little cheap and plasticky. It is, however, a very comfortably sized laptop to pick up and hold in one hand, managing a size and shape very similar to the Lenovo IdeaPad S12.

Outfitted with a Webcam, a nearly full-size keyboard, and an 11.6-inch glossy screen, the Satellite T115-S1105 is almost a full-size laptop. Lacking an optical drive, however, thins its frame down a bit, and the battery bulk in the rear is engineered to slightly taper down, reducing a sudden “bulging lip” look that can happen on some thin-and-lights, and also providing a bit of keyboard elevation. The keyboard is a bit different than the T135′s–it’s flat, but it has a matte surface rather than glossy. At first we were quite excited, but the keyboard’s also just slightly smaller than full size, with cramped enter and backspace keys and a mushy feel when typing. The wide but thin touch pad below alternated between good responsiveness and complete failure on our review unit, and it didn’t improve when we tried updating drivers and software. One user on Toshiba’s Web site seems to have encountered the same problem as we did, but then again, it could be faulty hardware on our particular unit. That still doesn’t account for the single-bar chrome button below that lacked sufficient “clickyness” and was hard to press–it smacked of useless overdesign. We’d take two discrete unsexy buttons any day.

With an 11.6-inch screen, it’s hard to even call the T115 an 11-incher–the experience was far more like a 12-inch, and with a 1,366×768-pixel resolution, we were able to full-screen Web browse, watch videos, and do our work with no feeling of cramping that normally comes with a Netbook. Picture quality was decent but not spectacular. The built-in audio, on the other hand, was some of the lowest-output volume we’ve ever experienced on a laptop. The speakers, built in on the front underside, were impossible to hear. This is a headphone special.

It’s hard to say whether you’d couch your expectations for the Satellite T115-S1105 under Netbook or thin-and-light, but as a Netbook it’s above average, while it’s a little lacking as a thin-and-light. Three USB ports are generous, as is the HDMI out (not that you’ll use it much with a Pentium processor), but the T115 lacks Bluetooth. On the other hand, it does have 802.11n and the very convenient Toshiba sleep-and-charge USB port that turns your laptop into a giant portable battery pack.

With a 250GB hard drive and 2GB of DDR3 RAM, the T115-S1105 has above-average specs than a Netbook, although even Netbooks are increasingly offering similar hard drive and RAM capacities. Now, for a word on the processor: the T115 has a single-core Pentium processor, the Intel SU2700. This is the same processor we reviewed in the Satellite T135-S1300. While it outperforms a current-generation Atom processor in most Netbooks, it’s a far cry from dual-core processors. The T115 gets the job done in any instances of Web browsing, office work, and casual entertainment, but even full-screen 480p Web video streamed over Hulu degenerates into stutter, making this a poor choice for anyone who wants any multimedia features.

The Satellite T115-S1105 is a funny beast: after all, Toshiba has a quality line of Netbooks, including the NB205, and this machine seems to horn right in on that territory. If you’re all right spending a little more money, the T115 is a more capable laptop than its Netbook brother, but for only $100 or so more you’re in budget mainstream laptop range, and can get a lot more for your money .

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