Toshiba Libretto W100 dual-screen laptop: first-look review

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Toshiba Libretto W100 dual-screen laptop: first-look review

Microsoft’s Courier tablet might be languishing somewhere in a Redmond wheelie-bin, but Toshiba’s Libretto W100 has turned the keyboard-free concept into reality. With dual 7in touchscreens, a miniature netbook form factor and no sign of Intel’s weakling Atom, the Libretto takes a daring stride into the future.

Stepping out

Libretto-closed-462x318First impressions are excellent, too. It manages the tricky balancing act of appearing light in the hand without feeling desperately insubstantial, and we were impressed to find the early pre-production units feeling so physically well finished. Brushed aluminium constrasts nicely with the gloss black trim, and the whole effect is one of understated class.

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What’s probably not immediately apparent from the photographs is how small it is. Measuring just 202mm wide and 123mm deep, it’s easy to mistake the Libretto for a plump, miniaturised netbook. It is admittedly fairly thick around its waist – a chunky 31mm – but given how much Toshiba has crammed into its lightweight 840g frame, it’s still impressively petite.

While we would have been entirely unsurprised to find the Libretto sporting a decidedly modest specification, any fears that Toshiba might have crippled the Libretto with a sluggish Atom processor were soon dispelled. Instead, we were relieved to find a 1.2GHz Intel Pentium U5400 processor taking pride of place alongisde 2GB of DDR3 memory and a 62GB SSD.

It’s a seriously powerful combination for such a dainty device –  not least as the U5400 is more Libretto-side-1-124x175commonly found in significantly larger CULV laptops – but it’s just as well conisdering that the Libretto is running Windows 7 Home Premium.

Physical connections are unsurprisingly frugal – Toshiba’s furnished the Libretto with nothing more than a USB port, a 3.5mm audio output and a MicroSD card reader – but wireless connectivity covers every base with 802.11n, Bluetooth and an optional integrated 3G adapter.

Touching down

Fire up the Libretto and it’s immediately impressive: the twin touchscreens – yes, they’re multi-touch capable – are bright and clear with not a hint of grain, and each of the 7in panels has a modest resolution of 1,024 x 600 pixels.

Libretto-portrait-461x358Initially, the Windows desktop stretches across both screens just like any multi-monitor setup. It’s undeniably novel: whether you want to run different applications side by side or stretch webpages or Word documents across both displays, you can. Flip the Libretto round to hold it like a book, and the accelerometer shifts the Windows desktop around to match.

There is, of course, one crucial laptop ingredient missing from the Libretto: a keyboard. Instead, dabbing the keyboard button toggles Toshiba’s software keyboard on and off. Use the Libretto in the usual laptop orientation, and, initially at least, it’s a fairly unsettling experience: haptic feedback gives a clear indication as to whether you’ve successfully hit a key or not, but, conversely, the limited width of the display means that touch-typing is all but out of the question.

Libretto-on-screen-keyboard-landscape-2--462x412It’s far from unusable, though. Mistakes are inevitable, but entering text into dialog boxes, emails or documents is made easier thanks to the T9 dictionary which throws up suggestions and corrections. Meanwhile, dabbing the on-screen keyboard icon swaps between various different keyboard layouts, such as the split keyboard which makes it possible to hold the Libretto and type with your thumbs. And should you ever need one, there’s also an on-screen touchpad.

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Getting the most out of such an unusual device is clearly beyond the abilities of Windows 7 Home Premium, however, and Toshiba has tried to plug the gap with its LifeSpace suite of software.

ReelTime uses a touch-friendly interface to list recently accessed documents, previewing their contents on the adjacent display, and the Bulletin Board area allows users to pin notes, documents and links to a virtual pin-board. But by far our favourite part of Toshiba’s LifeSpace? There’s a virtual piano.

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Sounding off

The hardware was most definitely pre-production, suffering from sluggish fits of pique, and regularly unresponsive touchscreens, but, warts and all, it’s difficult not to come away a little bit impressed.

Indeed, you’ve got to admire the sheer chutzpah of Toshiba in releasing such a bold product. Is it practical? From our brief outing with it, we’d have to say not. Will it be affordable? Well, if by affordable you mean cheaper than, say, the iPad, then probably not.

Look at it as a technological showpiece which physically embodies Toshiba’s mantra of Leading Innovation, though, and it almost begins to make sense. It’s innovative, thoughtfully designed and, to its credit, more than a little bit bonkers. We can’t wait to get one in for a full PC Pro review.

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