Toshiba Libretto U100 review

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Back in 1985, Toshiba launched its first notebook, the 4kg T1100, packed with a 4.77MHz Intel 80C88 processor and 512KB of memory. Contrasting that with the Libretto U100 reveals just how far we’ve come in 20 years. It’s built around Intel’s ULV (Ultra Low Voltage) 1.2GHz Pentium M 753 processor with 512MB of DDR memory, and it runs Windows XP Professional. The tiny package measures just 209 x 164 x 34mm (WDH) and weighs less than 1kg, incorporating a 60GB hard disk and a 1,280 x 768-pixel 7.2in screen. There’s even a fingerprint reader for security.

Toshiba Libretto U100 review

Getting a fully functioning PC into a box this small is an impressive technical achievement, and that’s no doubt what Toshiba wanted to demonstrate in its 20th anniversary release. But although it’s generally true that smaller is better for all things portable, there comes a point at which this crosses over into sheer impracticality – and the U100 precariously straddles the line.

Frankly, the keyboard is a pain to type on, even for people with delicate fingers, let alone the more ham-fisted of us. It’s far better to type using the time-honoured two-finger technique than it is to fumble around with more. Multiple fingers won’t fit over the corresponding number of keys, and the tiny inter-key gap and flat surfaces mean it’s difficult to feel your location. Any smidgeon of inaccuracy means you strike two keys at once, with typing becoming a matter of two words forward and one word back to correct the mistake.

The trackpoint is in an awkward spot as well. It’s in the middle of the mouse keys where it’s impossible to left-click with your thumb, although you get used to clicking away with a finger instead. It’s accurate enough to poke round among the tiny onscreen text, although it has only two speeds: very fast and very slow, with barely any transition in between.

Many people will have issues with the size of the display as well, although this is by far the easiest miniaturisation to live with. Text is tiny, yet extremely sharp, helped by Toshiba’s glossy TruBrite coating, and you tend to sit closer to a machine this small anyway. There’s also the bonus of protecting your privacy, since the small text would be hard to read from an adjacent plane or train seat. The backlight system uses LEDs for illumination rather than a cold cathode fluorescent lamp (CCFL), since it needs much less power, although next to a standard screen it looks faintly tinged with yellow. But even though the screen is a technical marvel, it still becomes tiring after a while, and you’ll want to limit work to short reports and emails rather than any major editing or day-long viewing.

Having said all this, the U100 is designed for the ultimate in mobility at the expense of any interfering ergonomic considerations. It may be awkward to use, but it’s easy to lug through 27 airports on that pan-European business trip, and it will fit in the glove box of a car or in a hotel safe – all irreplaceable advantages if you need them.

And since it’s a respectable machine inside (a benchmark result of 1.22 isn’t to be sneezed at), you can connect it to peripherals at the office and use it as a full PC. You could take advantage of the integrated Bluetooth to add a wire-free keyboard and mouse, thus leaving free the two USB 2 ports. The chassis’ VGA output uses a space-saving connector, so you’ll need to use the supplied adaptor to connect an external display. The remaining connections are 10/100 Ethernet, 802.11b/g, mini-FireWire, a Type I/II PC Card slot, an SD card reader and a 56K modem. The bundled dock doesn’t have any ports – it’s actually just a 442g detachable DVD SuperMulti Drive with media-player buttons, although it’s more convenient than having an external USB drive and still only takes the total weight to 1.4kg.

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