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Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Toshiba Libretto, Now with Dual Screens

The Toshiba Libretto could easily pass for the first netbook, which debuted back in 1996 for around $2,000 - a bargain back then. This year marks Toshiba's 25th anniversary in the laptop business, and to celebrate, it's bringing back the Libretto for one more dance.
The Libretto W100 is basically an oversized Nintendo DS that runs on Windows 7 Home Premium. It's neither a netbook nor a tablet, but can be misconstrued as one or the other as it houses two 7-inch screens that fold into a clamshell. Frankly, I'm not sure where to place this device.

The concept of a dual-screen device has been attempted several times, but the W100 is easily one of the smallest. There's the top half, which serves as your primary screen, and then there's the bottom half, which is multipurpose: You could use it as a second screen, extend the primary screen, or type on it with Toshiba's home-brewed virtual keyboards.

The last part had to be the toughest, as Toshiba created a custom user interface from scratch. Bear in mind, the W100 doesn't have a physical keyboard or dedicated mouse buttons. The device is basically made up of two touch screens and three physical buttons—one for Power, a Home key, and a button that cycles through six different virtual keyboards. The screens use Haptic technology, which means there's force feedback with each virtual key pressed.

Toshiba included a basic QWERTY keyboard, which is laid out like the one on the Apple iPhone. The full version made it so that the keys are smaller than the basic one, but you have every key at your disposal. The split keyboard seemed the most user-friendly, since I'm accustomed to thumb-typing on my iPhone. And there are versions that emulate a phone and numeric keypad. Overall, I found the keyboard experience very difficult to grasp although, similar to my first iPhone experience, I'm sure it gets better with time.
For those who spend a lot of time Web surfing, the user interface also has a virtual touchpad and mouse buttons, which worked quite well during my time with the W100. When the virtual navigation tools are not in play, the split screens can be treated as one for very long pages, or used for two separate application windows. Though I didn't try it as one, the W100 seems like a slam dunk for e-book readers, since the device can be held like a book.
The W100 is ridiculously light, tipping the scales at 1.9 pounds. It's draped in brushed aluminum, which is colored in gun-metal gray. Each screen has a 1,024-by-600 resolution, as anything higher would have made them impossible to read. Toshiba did boast about the W100's lone USB port, which is clearly a knock against the Apple iPad. There's also a head phone jack for music listeners.
The Libretto W100 doesn't run on an Intel Atom processor or else pundits would have called it an overpriced netbook. Instead, a 1.2GHz Intel Pentium U5400 CPU or a next-generation ultra low voltage processor is what makes it tick. Memory is maxed out at 2GB, and the W100 can use either a spinning hard drive (320GB) or a solid state drive (62GB). It ships with an 8-cell battery, which Toshiba claims will last over five hours. The fan noises and extra heat coming from the top half indicate that all the processing parts are situated there.
At launch, Toshiba said that the Libretto W100 will be available in limited quantity, with a starting price of $1,099.

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