The Toshiba AC100 Android smart-book is a rare and welcome attempt by the Tosh to go against the tide of popular technology trends. While we sweep towards a world of tablets, tablets and yet more bleeding tablets, Toshiba’s standing by all the citizens who still like an honest to goodness QWERTY keyboard, and giving them all the other benefits of smartphone and tablet gear, like tiny form and power sipping, super quiet innards.
For all the buzz – and even litigation – around the phrase smart-book, this is actually the first mainstream model of its type to go on sale in the UK. Is it too late or has it come just in time to shake us to our senses? Read on and find out in our full Toshiba AC100 review.
Cast your mind back to this time a year ago: smart-books were still a buzz-word, and an iPad sounded more like a sanitary towel than a must have gadget. We got a good look at beautiful prototypes from the likes of Quanta that promised razor thin shells and netbook-beating productivity with a mobile processor that would run and run – instead of Intel’s power hungry x86 architecture.
The future looked bright, but then something went awry. Apple launched a tablet. Lenovo decided its Skylight smart-book didn’t have an audience. Acer shoved Android onto a fat Windows 7 netbook and nobody liked it. But we’ve said all along that it’d be a shame it tablets and smart-books couldn’t live side by side, and with the Toshiba AC100, at least one player in the PC game has shown it feels the same. For this reason alone, Toshiba should be lauded.
But good intentions alone don’t make good gadgets, and luckily, the Toshiba AC100 proves to be a corker, even if it’s for a niche audience. This is very much a companion machine to your computer, rather than a standalone machine like a netbook – so much so in fact that it can be plugged into your PC and mounted like a USB drive. And as such, it’s only for people who need this functionality on the fly.
We were quite taken with the Toshiba AC100’s build back at launch, and it’s certainly the little critter’s biggest selling point. It’s waif like when shut, and the bottom half is only just thick enough to house an HDMI port – it’s that thin. Despite this, it still houses enough slots to keep most people content, and a sturdy keyboard with wide keys that’s a match for anything Asus, HP or Dell can slap on a netbook. The screen’s not fantastic, but it gets the job done for one person, and you can read more about it in the build section of our Toshiba AC100 review now.
Something so slim that runs Windows comfortably just isn’t possible right now: the Toshiba AC100 makes even the slimmest Eee PC Seashell look chunky, and if you can fit an iPad in a sleeve or bag, this will go in too. To achieve this R&D feat, Toshiba’s deployed Android 2.1, more often seen on smartphones, and Nvidia’s Tegra 2 1GHz system on a chip to handle the grunt work. What this means for you is shockingly speedy web browsing compared to a netbook, but also some major limitations you might not be used to with this form factor.
The good news is that Toshiba’s really smoothed out the software on board the Toshiba AC100 from when we last played with it. For the most part, it’s really zippy, especially when it comes to opening multiple tabs where your Firefox or your Chrome on a netbook would struggle. And for some, that, combined with email that can be pushed to the device even when it’s closed, will be enough. More than enough in fact: worth buying over an equivalent priced Wintel netbook.
The bad news is that the software’s still not completely ready for primetime. Part of this is to do with Google’s unwillingness to allow its apps (Gmail, Maps, the all important Market for downloading many other apps) on to non-smartphone Android devices. There’s not much Toshiba can do here, but it still will leave plenty baffled, as they forage for the .apk files for apps online, and wonder why they can’t find a way to install Spotify despite having read that it’s available for Android.
But Toshiba has shipped the Toshiba AC100 with some flaws as well: it’s tried to replace the stock Android browser with Opera, but forgotten to notice that you can still launch it through the search widget. The social networking widget just didn’t load, and we even found a preloaded partner app that was impossible to log in to – this will be fixed shortly however.
You can read more about these issues in the Android 2.1 section of our Toshiba AC100 review, but in summary, it’s possible they’ll prove dealbreakers for you. Combine this with a standby time that’s much less in practice than claimed (Less than two days, and certainly not seven), and the potential audience narrows somewhat.
The Toshiba AC100 is on the cusp of something brilliant, make no mistake. Office bods who can get WiFi on the way to work may fall in love with its no fuss email and instant on tech. But the lack of Android Market access, and the loose ends Toshiba’s left in the software, mean there’s only a select few who for the price the Toshiba AC100 will truly benefit over a netbook – and even then, the 3G version might be the one to hold out for (And that has no release date yet). But we can’t fault the gorgeous hardware. Care to stick Chrome OS on it Tosh? If you do, you’ve got a guaranteed home run.