Toshiba showcases first Android tablet

Tablet shows pleasing design, but is slightly thicker and heavier than competitors.

Toshiba isn't the only notebook maker jumping headfirst into the tablet melee. But it is the company with the most history in portable products taking the plunge.

Observes Toshiba's Philip Osako, director of product marketing, "We were first with the clamshell laptop in 1985, and we feel the tablet is the next evolution of computing." The Toshiba Tablet, formally introduced at CES, is the first of a stream of tablets from the company. "We feel it will be the start of a family of products."

The intention is for the tablet to run Google's Android Honeycomb operating system, which is loosely expected in summer (though rumors suggest it might ship sooner than that) -- the same time that Toshiba Tablet is expected to ship. The demos shown at CES reflect Android 2.2 (Froyo), so realistically, it's an inaccurate reflection of just how the Tablet will perform as an integrated platform when it ships. But it was good to see the hardware up and running, and the actual ports instead of a wood mockup. But it will run Adobe Flash, a bonus over Apple's popular iPad.

The unit has 10.1-inch, 1280 by 800 display for 720p high-def playback support on-board, and 1080p output via the full HDMI port connector. Inside is the NVidia Tegra 2 processor; the amount of memory on-board has yet to be determined. It has 802.11n wireless, Bluetooth, GPS, stereo speakers, and an accelerometer. The front-facing camera is 2 megapixels, for video chat; the rear-facing camera 5-megapixels, for video and still capture. The dock connector runs along the left side (in portrait mode); you'll need this to charge the unit. And adaptive technology adjusts the screen brightness and contrast depending upon your environment.

A major boon is the inclusion of a full-size SD card slot, along the bottom left side of the tablet. That increases the Tablet's interoperability with other devices -- such that you can pop an SD card out of your camera or camcorder, and into the Tablet and use it immediately.

In addition, the Tablet packs a USB 2.0 port, mini-USB port, and full-size HDMI connector under a pop-off cover on the bottom. So what does it lack? No SIM card slot, which means you can't add 3G wireless data.

The back-plate cover is rubberized and texturized to minimize slippage in-hand, and indeed the grippiness felt comfortable. Toshiba plans to offer different color backings so users can customize the Tablet to taste.

Under the removable backplate sits a user-replaceable battery. Toshiba says it's targeting up to seven hours of video playback, but those are just estimates for now.

The dimensions of the Tablet are not finalized as yet, but the targets are for it to measure 10.7 by 6.9 by 0.6 inches, and to weigh less than 1.7 pounds.

That makes it slightly larger and heavier than the first-generation iPad, and it felt it when held in one-hand. And clearly, the physical difference in size is notable vis-à-vis, say, a 7-inch tablet like the Samsung Galaxy Tab.

Still, the Tablet's grippy back felt good, as did the maneuverability around the physical buttons. Still, the tablet had four capacitive touch buttons along the bottom of the screen (portrait mode), right side (horizontal mode). Not only are these buttons yet one more variation on the design of other Android devices, but when holding the tablet in two-handed landscape mode, they might get in the way.

My biggest gripe with this still super-early unit was with the display: In spite of the high-res display, letters on a Web page didn't look sharp and distinct; nor did colors punch. Toshiba's answer to my comments was that the software and drivers are not final, and certainly, some of these concerns may be addressed in software. But still, the screen reminded me of the first-generation iPad display, or even mildy worse.

Osako notes that Toshiba's Tablet "will be competitive with today's iPad."

The question remains, is that enough to compete with Apple's second-generation product, which will hit stores, presumably, long before this model hits the market later this year.

See our slideshow for more photos of Toshiba's tablet, and check out our full CES 2011 coverage.

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Melissa J. Perenson

PC World (US online)
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