Toshiba AC100 review

Can Tosh's Android-powered netbook do enough to convince us?

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While nearly all netbooks feature Windows XP or 7, with the AC100 Toshiba has implemented Google's Android operating system (OS), hoping to harness the usability and web-friendliness of the platform.

For the uninitiated Android is usually found on smartphones, such as the HTC Desire. It's designed specifically to be used with touchscreen devices, which is why many manufacturers, such as Samsung with the Galaxy Tab, are implementing them on tablet devices, and is widely considered to be one of the most intuitive operating systems around.

Unfortunately Toshiba hasn't been that successful in porting Android over to the AC100, and the end result is dodgy usability with a very half-baked feel about it.

As mentioned above, Android is one of the most intuitive operating systems around thanks to its touchscreen capabilities. Take that away and navigating around the AC100 is like trying to steer a car with a series of ill-placed buttons on the dashboard rather than a steering wheel.

To take one example, instead of using the Backspace key for travelling back through web pages when browsing the internet, you have to use the escape key – which is used in another capacity to close applications down.

It's not like it's impossible to use, and we were eventually competent at making our way around the AC100, but there is a lack of cohesion that makes this a disappointingly unintuitive device to use.

Toshiba ac100

Toshiba has tweaked Android's UI for the AC100, and there are problems here too. The clean and customisable interface we're used to with Android-powered smartphones remains more or less intact, but scrolling sideways between the five available desktops just seems wrong without a touchscreen.

We assumed you'd be able to use the arrow keys to quickly flip between Home screens, but you can't. Instead the arrow keys flick from link to link of the various widgets on each particular page, be it from a Facebook logout link to the play button of the media player. Only once you've been through all the links on each page will you progress to the next.

Click a tab at the bottom of the Home screen page and up pops a kind of secondary homepage. Here, under four titles, sit your Applications, Widgets, Bookmarks and Settings.

It's a functional, rather than attractive, approach but ultimately gets the job done – albeit in a slightly confusing way because, among other quirks, some of the bundled programs appear under both Applications and Widgets tabs.

Another gripe we have with the AC100 is that it doesn't support Google's own Market app store, instead plumping for one called Camangi Market – a store especially designed for Android tablets.

Frankly it's lacking both the quantity and app quality of Google's own Market, and aside from a few useful applications, such as augmented reality app Layar, there was nothing to keep our attention for too long.

It's also worth mentioning that Android 2.1 – which the AC100 runs – doesn't support Flash, making watching most video content on the web (including the likes of the BBC website) pretty much impossible.

Toshiba ac100

Unlike most netbooks, which are powered by Intel's Atom processors, the AC100 is run by Nvidia's 1GHz Tegra 250 chipset. Performance was smooth throughout, even when we had multiple applications open, and we were also impressed with the way the AC100 handled video – thanks to the integrated Nvidia graphics processor employed.

The Tegra platform is resource-light enough to not require any fan system for cooling, and we were impressed by the way the AC100 remained utterly silent and maintained a low temperature even after hours of work – making it a comfortable proposition.

As mentioned above the 8GB SSD provides limited storage for work documents and files, let alone multimedia libraries, and you'll want to upgrade the memory with an SDHC card soon.

802.11n Wi-Fi is included for the fastest wireless networking currently available when you're near a hot spot, or alternatively a 3G module is fitted. This enables you to browse the web when out of range of Wi-Fi, but obviously requires a tariff and SIM card from a network provider, which can prove costly.

Toshiba ac100

Portability is further enhanced by the AC100's tiny form factor. Because there's no space-hungry cooling system Toshiba has managed to cram all the devices components into a chassis that's only 21mm at its thickest point – a great achievement.

On top of that the AC100 recorded a battery life of just under six and a half hours. This may not be as exceptional as the Asus UL30's 13-hour effort, but will keep you productive on the road for quite some time.