Monday, June 21, 2010

Toshiba AC100 : Android 2.1 netbook

The operating system battle for netbooks just got a whole lot interesting. On 21 Jun, Toshiba announced it will ship a new netbook, running Google’s Android operating system. The AC100, a thin, 10-inch notebook will reportedly run for 8 hours when it ships later this August. Toshiba describes the AC100 as falling into a new segment, between the smartphone and the laptop, and co-existing with rather than replacing their current netbook line-up.

According to Toshiba, one key feature is the integration of mobile broadband: the laptop is designed to be "always on" like a smartphone, needing less than a second to wake up from standby mode.

Toshiba AC100 specifications:
Processor: Nvidia Tegra 250 Mobile Processor (1GHz, ARM)
Operating system: Android 2.1
Memory: 512MB DDR2 (333MHz)
Storage: up to 32GB solid-state drive
Battery life: up to "8 hours constant battery life"
Display: 10.1-inch diagonally with LED backlight, 1,024x600 pixels
Communication: Bluetooth 2.1 +EDR, WLAN (802.11 b/g/n), mobile broadband
Connectivity: 1 USB 2.0, 1 Mini USB, Card Reader (SD, MMC), HDMI
Camera: 1.3 megapixel Webcam with integrated microphone
Weight: 870g
Availability: third quarter of 2010 throughout Europe, Middle East, and Africa.
Price: unannounced but similar product in Japan will be priced at, or under, $500

While Android is designed, at least initially, for smartphones (such as those now shipping by HTC, Motorola, and Samsung) it seems only natural that Google would target their next large market opportunity: mobile computing. However, unlike smartphones, the new Toshiba netbook will not feature a touch screen. It will be interesting to see how Android runs with a keyboard and mouse interface.

While this looks like an interesting product, the real story is that Google is pushing into another market dominated by Microsoft.

With Windows 7, specifically the more recent “Starter” edition aimed at netbooks, Microsoft has all but knocked out Linux which was the early, much-heralded operating system of choice for manufacturers building netbooks. With Android picking up speed in the mobile space, Microsoft will face a tough competitor. Will users be satsified running cloud-based apps and computing primarily within a web browser? If so, it could usher in a whole new era of computing: lightweight, portable devices with just enough power to connect to large-scale cloud services. Its it deja vu all over again? If memory serves me correctly, this was once called client-server computing.

Toshiba have picked Android 2.1 for their OS, though they’ve sensibly made some tweaks to the build to make it more suitable for notebook-style use. That includes preloading a number of apps – including Documents To Go for Office file editing, Fring, the Opera Mobile browser and their own Media Player – together with a custom homescreen that adds a dedicated launcher bar at the bottom of the display. As usual on Android there are multiple homescreen panes which you can navigate between, as well as widgets for at-a-glance information like weather or news updates, and Toshiba have created their own Facebook, YouTube and Twitter widgets. The AC100 can automatically switch between different homescreen layouts based on its physical location, toggling between work and home modes using GPS.
Unfortunately for the AC100, I’m not quite sure the market will be receptive of a new class of sub-notebooks. In the days of waning netbook sales and the excitement Apple has created with the iPad, is there really room for smartbooks? The smartbook lives in no-man’s-land in the realm of companion devices. It’s not really a netbook with full laptop functionality nor does it have the wow-factor and novel simplicity of the iPad. It’s running Android, yet does not offer touchscreen input. On top of that, it’s running Android 2.1, which is already destined for obsolescence with the announcement of 2.2. There appears to be a custom UI running on the AC100 that will have to be modified for future iterations of Android. Can we count on continued updates and support for such a niche device? 

Slashgear comments :
“It’s certainly a lightweight machine, though the prototype demonstrated a great deal of flex in both the chassis as a whole and in bowing of the keyboard. We’re guessing Toshiba still have a little work left to do in their software optimisation, too, since sometimes moving through the launcher bar icons using the arrow keys froze or grew sluggish, before catching up and whipping past the option we were aiming for. Connecting over the optional 3G modem – in this case on the Vodafone UK network – rendering was slow despite displaying a decent signal. There’s also no Flash support in the browser, though you can view YouTube videos through the dedicated app and Toshiba tells us that an update to Android 2.2 complete with Flash 10.1 is scheduled for release sometime over the next few months.”

Some videos :


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