Toshiba experiments with new laptop form factors

Toshiba has announced a trio of new devices that it’s hoping will shake up the somewhat-stagnant notebook PC market. There’s the Libretto W100, the AC100, and the Satellite R630. 

The first in the list is the most interesting. It’s a clamshell device that comes with two screens in place of a screen and a keyboard, similar to the one showed off by Asus at CeBIT more than a year ago. Those screens are identical, measuring 7-inches diagonally and are touch-sensitive. An onboard accelerometer allows you to use it in landscape or portrait configuration, and Toshiba’s pre-loaded a boatload of specialist software that’ll let you get the most from the device.

Like a keyboard. Or, to more precise, many keyboards. You can choose from several, including one designed to be used with your thumbs when you’re holding it. You can also create a virtual trackpad, if you prefer not to use the touchscreen functionality and want more of a traditional mousing arrangement. To augment the touchscreens there’s two buttons on either side of the lower screen — one of them launches your chosen keyboard, and the other takes you to a sort-of homescreen/application launcher, that can also be used for notetaking, or displaying recent documents.

It runs Windows 7, which meant (during my time with the device) that things weren’t as speedy as you might hope. In fact, at times they were downright clunky, taking up to five seconds to switch between portrait and landscape modes. Let’s hope that’s just pre-release software, and not an indication of how the final device will perform. It’s powered by an Intel U5400 processor, and comes with 2GB of DDR3 RAM, a 62GB SSD, and the usual array of connectivity options, including 3G and a single USB port. It’ll land in July, 2010.


The AC100 is a little larger and more traditional. It’s got a keyboard and a trackpad, but weighs just 870g, with a 10.1-inch display. It’s 21mm thick, and will be running Android 2.1, placing it in a strange middle ground between mobile phone, a tablet and a netbook.

Oddly, it doesn’t have a touchscreen — just a traditional TFT. Controlling Android with a mouse and keyboard is an odd experience, but you get used to it relatively quickly, especially once you get used to the custom software that Toshiba has preloaded the device with. That software allows your homescreen to change based on what network you’re connected to — allowing you to have one for home, one for work, etc.

Dataviz’s Documents To Go software gives you the ability to read documents, spreadsheets, presentations and PDFs, but you won’t be able to edit them unless you spring for a paid update to the app.

Inside, there’s an Nvidia Tegra graphics chip, which allows for some very nifty graphics acceleration, along with an 8GB SSD for storage, 512MB of RAM, an eight-hour battery, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. There’s also an HDMI port on the side so that you can plug the device into a television or other display, to play back HD content, which Toshiba promises that it does faultlessly.

I should mention the design, too. Unlike the Libretto W100, which is short and chunky, the AC100 looks great. It has a black textured shell, with orange highlighting and orange keys on the keyboard. It looks and feels sturdy, and you won’t be embarrassed to whip it out in a coffee shop to check your emails. It’ll be out in August, 2010.


Lastly, there’s the altogether more familiar-looking Satellite R630, which falls under the Portege banner for business users. Toshiba promises that it’s “Europe’s thinnest, lightest 13.3-inch laptop”, explaining that the world’s thinnest and lightest is another model that the company sells in Japan. Leaving aside the question of why Toshiba didn’t bring that to Europe instead, there’s still some innovations inside.

Firstly, the cooling system’s been rebuilt from scratch. A smaller motherboard, with a new design that places all the heat-generating components in one place, allows for a fan that sucks cool air in, rather than pushing heat out of the case. That might not sound much different, but it increases efficiency, meaning lower temperatures, fan noise, and better battery life.

That battery should last around nine hours before it needs recharging, or 14 if you plump for a nine-cell version. The device itself is 20mm thick, and weighs 1.3kg with an optical disk drive. It’s powered by a full-performance Intel Core i3, i5 or i7 chip, not the ultra-low voltage versions which you’ll find in many competitors’ machines. Externally, the design is plain and utilitarian, but it’s not ugly. Far from it. It’s just not overstated, and all the better for it.


Pricing for all three devices isn’t yet set. I’m not entirely convinced that we’ll see hordes of copycat dual-screen devices — the Libretto isn’t pretty and doesn’t run too well. Similarly, the R630 is evolutionary, rather than revolutionary. Instead, it’s the AC100 that I’m most interested in. A version with a touchscreen, and the ability to spin the screen 180 degrees to turn it into a tablet, would be a very exciting product indeed.