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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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Featured

Hit the road with high-tech night light for bikes

Cyclists need effective lighting by night and day, writes JOEL DORFAN, in his test ride of the latest in high-tech from Fenix

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Since 2004, Fenix Light has been manufacturing quality lights ranging from flashlights and headlamps to lanterns and bike lights.

There are many folks who ride their bicycles at night for various reasons. Whether on-road or off-road, there is always the need to see the path ahead of you. During the day, it’s wise to have a really bright strobe light so others around you can see you coming. 

Enter the BC21R V2.0.

The original 880 lumen BC21R was released some years ago. Besides the main light, it also had two red lights at the side. However, there were several complaints about this older version. The main ones were:

  • Plastic construction – does not dissipate heat causing the light output to step down;
  • Rubber mount – stretches and perishes over time;
  • No helmet mount.

With the launch of the new light, now called the BC21R V2.0, the folks at Fenix have kept all of the good features and added a bunch more, as well as remedying all of the complaints from the original. In a nutshell, it offers:

  • 1000 lumen output
  • Removable 18650 LiIion battery
  • Built in USB Type-C charging port
  • Dual Distance Beam System
  • Battery level indication and low-voltage warning
  • All-metal heat fin; IP66 rated protection
  • Quick-release bike mount compatible with Fenix bicycle light helmet mount

The increase from 880 to 1000 lumens means that there is now better coverage of the road ahead. The dual distance beam system means that the areas both near and far are illuminated. They do this by graduating the top half of the front lens that refracts some of the light down towards the front wheel, allowing the rest of the light to illuminate the roadway.

When you do not need all 1000 lumens, sequential taps of the on/off switch will cycle through the different output settings of low, medium, high and turbo. In any of these modes, a double tap of the switch will put the light into strobe (alternating high and low output) mode. On a fully charged battery, runtime on Turbo is published as being 2 hours, and on low at 50 hours. 

Many lights today are sealed units. Once the battery stops taking a charge, the light would have to be discarded. The removable battery means that, once it reaches end of life ,it’s a simple matter of inserting a new 18650 battery. Also, should you be on a really long ride and find that the battery starts going flat, you could stop along the way and swap out the battery for either another fully charged one or two CR123 batteries. 

At any time, you can tap the on/off button, which will light up an indicator to tell you the current state of charge of the battery. This same indicator will flash red when it’s time to recharge the battery.

To prevent damage to the LED light source, temperatures are monitored and, if the light gets too hot, the output is reduced. This is not ideal when you are out on a ride on a hot evening. By changing the head from plastic to metal with cooling fins, however, the light will now remain cooler, allowing for full output for longer periods.

Instead of a stretchy plastic mount like on the older model, Fenix has now gone with a proper clamp type mount. This is secured to the handle bars using a thumb screw; and then there is a quick release that allows the light to be attached or removed from the clamp with ease. Two different-sized rubber inserts for the clamp ensure a good fit on different diameter handle bars.

A bonus of this type of quick release mechanism is that the light is now compatible with the Fenix helmet mount should one wish to mount it there. Also, should you wish to use the BC21R V2.0 as a handheld flashlight or to stop it being stolen, no tools are required to remove it from either the bike or helmet mount.

So how does the BC21R V2.0 perform in real life?

It puts out a very concentrated spot-like type beam optimised for distance. The lens setup ensures that most of the light is below the horizon where it needs to be, which also makes sure that it does not blind oncoming motorists. 

The light will start getting warm to the touch when stationary or when hand held. However, when cycling, the cool air passing over the finned head does keep the light cooler.

Being a single 18650 battery light, a ride of longer than about 90 minutes will see the light starting to reduce output. It’s the tradeoff of size vs run time. Therefore make sure that, if you’re going to need the full 1000 lumen output for an extended period, to carry a spare battery with you.

The older model cost $75, and the good news is that Fenix appears to have maintained this price even with all of the extra features of the V2.0 model. This places the BC21R V2.0 in the mid- to high-range of  single battery lights. Given the features and multi-use applications it’s pretty good value for money.

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Product of the Day

Hisense adds AI-cameras to handsets

Hisense has entered the AI-camera space with the Infinity H30, aimed at the mid-range market. BRYAN TURNER tests the new camera technology.

Click below to read the review.

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While many know Hisense for its TVs and appliances, it has an impressive lineup of smartphones. Its latest Infinity H30 smartphone packs a serious punch in the mid-range market, including features like a low-bezel screen and AI camera.

Out the box, the phone comes with the usual charger, charging cable and earphones. There is a surprise in the box: a screen protector and a clear case. A nice value-add to the already affordable smartphone.  

The polycarbonate plastic body feels premium, especially for a device in this price range. It has a colour changing body, depending on the angle at which it is held. The colour of the device we reviewed is called Ice Blue, and shimmers in darker and lighter blues. Aesthetically, this is a big win for Hisense.

The 6.5″ screen is a narrow-bezelled FHD+ display with good colour replication. Hisense is known for creating colour-accurate displays and it’s good to see it continue this legacy in its smartphones. The shape of the display is interesting, taking some design notes from Huawei’s Dewdrop display with what Hisense calls the “U-Infinity Display”. It makes the phone look really good. 

On the rear of the phone, one finds a dual-camera setup with fingerprint sensor. On the bottom of the phone, there is a speaker, a USB Type-C Port and a headphone jack. The speaker’s placement on the bottom isn’t optimal and the sound is muffled if one accidentally covers the single speaker area.

The 4,530mAh non-removable battery is very capable, providing a good 12 hours of medium usage (checking messages every half hour and playing an online game every hour) until it reaches 20%. The battery capacity isn’t the only power feature of the device; it runs on the latest Android Pie operating system, which includes AI power-saving software measures to keep background apps from using battery.

It is a little disappointing to see the device came with some pre-installed games. Fortunately, one can uninstall them. Hisense makes up for this by issuing Android updates and security patches as the come out. This, coupled with the MediaTek Octa Core processor, provides a good user experience for playing games and multi-tasking.

The H30 has a whopping 128GB of on-board storage, and it can be expanded even more with a MicroSD card. The 4G-LTE capabilities are perfect for most high-speed broadband situations, with around 40Mbps download and around 10Mbps upload in an area with good cell service.

The 20+2MP rear camera configuration is good at taking shots on Auto mode, but pictures can be better after figuring out all the camera modes available. There is a professional mode for those who want to be extra creative with their photography. It also includes a baby mode, which plays various noises to make a baby look at the phone for a better picture. The AI mode can be enabled to make full use of the processor in the device, and fif the camera mode to be selected based on scenes photographed. 

The 20MP front camera performs equally as well. This camera is the reason for the U-like shape at the top of the screen. The camera app has beauty-face filters, for those wanting a slimmer face or smoother skin.

Overall, the Infinity H30 is a prime example of a good phone in an affordable price range.  The camera is very capable, and the AI processing helps what would otherwise be a regular camera. The aesthetically pleasing colour saves the day, and makes this mid-range device look like a high-end flagship. The device is retailing for R5,499 from most major carriers.

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