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Chew the fat with Toshiba tablet

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The AT100-100 is Toshiba’s latest attempt at breaking into the tablet market. SEAN BACHER puts it through the Gadget Ten Question User Test and comes up with an uncomfortable word – in tablets and elsewhere: fat.
The tablet market has finally matured to the extent where it is easy to identify winners as well as those that are likely to slip under the radar. However, it is impossible to predict, in advance, which will fit into which category.

Take Toshiba. Its range of Satellite notebooks caters for users looking for portability all the way from entry-level units up to the top-of-the-range notebooks, ideal for hard-core gamers. Many people know this, as their notebooks have been widely advertised, are reliable and well-built machines. Far fewer people know that Toshiba also makes a tablet. At times it almost seems as if the company wants its AT100-100 to disappear under the radar.

Is there something Toshiba is not telling us about the AT100-100? Gadget’s Ten Question Tablet Test delves deeper:

1. General look and feel (aesthetic judgement, differentiation in look and feel)

Straight out the box, the first impression the Toshiba AT100-100 gives is that of bulk. It is heavy, weighing 765 grams, and fat, measuring 15.8mm. This makes it the fattest tablet yet to go through the Gadget Ten Question Tablet Test (that distinction was previously held by the Lenovo ThinkPad tablet – Click here to read the review).

Toshiba claims the reason it is so fat is its rugged design. It does look rugged, with robust buttons located on the left of the unit, but it doesn’t seem like the type of device you could drop on the floor, pick up, dust off and continue using.

Worse, the wide bezels at the edge of the 10.1” WSVGA TFT screen add five centimetres to the edges of the tablet. Although they make a great place to grip the AT100-100 in one hand, they are overkill.

Looks aside, the tablet offers a few clever features. For instance, a full-size USB 2.0 and HDMI port are located at the bottom of the unit, so no fusing around with converters when connecting to an HD TV or projector or when transferring data to and from the tablet. The AT100-100 also offers a mini HDMI port.

The addition of the full sized USB and HDMI port is a definite plus, but the sheer bulk of the AT100-100 makes it fall short here.

Score: 5/10

2. Keep control (How effective are the control buttons – hardware, software, on-off)

The hardware buttons are responsive and fairly easy to find in the daytime. Unfortunately, because the whole tablet shell is black, including the buttons, there is little chance of easily switching it on and off at night. The AT100-100 features the standard Power and Volume control buttons and also offers a lock to prevent the screen from changing from landscape to portrait modes automatically.

The AT100-100 runs Android 3.1, so don’t expect anything special in terms of the software buttons. The standard Back, Home and Menu buttons are located at the bottom right of the screen and are available regardless of what program is running. Like many manufacturers, Toshiba decided to leave the Android operating system as is and so all five home screens are “skin-free”.

Overall, the AT100-100 doesn’t offer anything out of the ordinary in terms of how it is controlled.

Score:  6/10

3. The sound of one-hand tapping (Can you comfortably hold it in one hand and operate it in the other? i.e. a weight test)

It is comfortable to hold in one hand and type with the other, but the tablet’s weight will make this task a very brief one. Resting it on a table or on your lap will make operating it a lot easier, but using it on the move is not going to happen – unless you took your morning dose of steroids.

It is also not the kind of tablet that will fit comfortably in a pocket. As matter of fact, it wont fit in any pocket, so keep your briefcase or backpack nearby for transporting it.

Score: 6/10

4. The Angry Birds test (How responsive is the device in interactive tasks?)

The AT100-100 is powered by Nvidia Tegra 250 processor with a clock speed of 1GHz, and is backed up by 1GB of RAM. A very standard setup, and enough power to run Angry Birds without any lag. Our more processor-intensive benchmark application, Lane Splitter, started off with some lag but seemed to sort itself out once the bike was weaving in and out of traffic.

A bit of a let down, as other tablets with the same specs handled these applications with greater ease.

Score: 6/10

5. The tablet gender test (How well does it multi-task?)

Despite the lagging in Lane Splitter, the AT100-100 handled multitasking fine. Applications were opened one after the other without any sign of slowing down. The virtual Menu button lists mini windows of all the running applications, but closing them means first selecting them and then manually exiting them.

Although multitasking was handled without problems, the lack of any additional features to make the experience more intuitive makes the tablet average.

Score: 7/10

6. One to rule them all (Can it replace a PC or laptop? Does it make your life easier?)

The biggest problem with the Toshiba AT100-100 is its lack of 3G. No SIM slot translates into a fairly useless tablet when on the road. Yes, there are other tablets that don’t support 3G, such as the entry-level iPad, but at least you have the option of getting a 3G version – albeit at a higher price.

Aside from the standard suite of apps found on an Android tablet, the AT100-100 is preinstalled with Evernote, McAfee Wave Secure antivirus, Adobe Reader, Toshiba File Manager for transferring files from a flash disk or SD card to and from the device, and Toshiba Places. Acetrax, an application that allows you to buy or rent movies, is also installed.

It’s a good selection of applications to get you started and acquainted with the tablet before you hit the Android Market to find other, more needed applications.

Score: 7/10

7. Live long and prosper (How’s the battery life?)

The standard Lithium Ion battery installed in the tablet is said to offer 120 hours of standby time. Although I didn’t measure this time, I was able to use the tablet for nine hours, performing a range of tasks including checking e-mail, Twitter, browsing the Internet and watching a full-length movie.

Although it’s not the best battery life a tablet has to offer, I found it good enough, and Toshiba has a trick up its sleeve here. The AT100-100 back cover is removable, much like a cellphone’s, to reveal a replaceable battery. Although a second battery is not included, it is nice to know that one can be bought and installed in a few seconds.

Score: 8/10.

8. Sound and vision (Video and audio quality?)

At the bottom of the tablet is a single speaker, which Toshiba says is capable of producing stereo sound. At the top are two cameras, one offering a 5 MegaPixel resolution and a forward or user web camera with a 2MP resolution.

The sound and camera quality are good enough for conference calls, but don’t expect much more in the audio visual department.

Score: 7/10

9. The new new (innovations and unique features)

Apart from the removable battery and the full-sized ports, the Toshiba AT100-100 offers no other features that will blow your mind.

Score: 5/10

10. The Price Test (Is it competitively priced?)

Starting at R4 999, the Toshiba AT100-100 costs the same as the WiFi iPad. If you put the tablets next to each other, the iPad is superior in too many ways to count, starting most notably with its looks. There really isn’t a reason why you should not choose it over the AT100-100.

Score: 5/10

In conclusion

Total score: 62%

The Toshiba AT100-100 is an average tablet, and offers little that separates it from the rest. Add to this its weight and size, and you have a three compelling reasons why not to choose this one.

* Follow Sean on Twitter on @seanbacher

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