The Toshiba AT-100 feels chunky compared with the svelte, lightweight market leading tablets, namely the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 and Apple iPad 2. But tucked neatly along the AT-100's edges are its secret weapons: an SD Card slot, plus Mini-USB, USB, and HDMI ports. This is the first tablet that makes it easy to do anything other than consume entertainment and apps.
Those ports keep the Toshiba AT100 from being just another Google Android tablet in a crowded field.
We tested the 16GB AT100-100. In the US this tablet is known as the Toshiba Thrive, and is available in 8GB and 32GB models.Tosh, what's wrong with the Thrive name? AT-100 sounds a little retro, sure, but isn't exactly very sexy is it?
The Toshiba AT-100 has its failings: It's heavy, its built-in speakers sound tinny, and the display, though sharp, had colours that were slightly off in our tests.
But even with those stumbles, the Toshiba AT-100 makes its mark in a big way.
Toshiba AT-100: The Basics
The AT-100's specs are in line with what has become standard fare for Android Honeycomb tablets. The tablet has a 1GHz Nvidia Tegra 2 processor, 1GB of RAM, 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 3.0 connectivity, and 16GB of on-board storage. It comes loaded with Android 3.1; at this time, Toshiba cannot say when Android 3.2 will be coming.
In addition to the included storage, you get a SD Card slot that accepts up to 128GB SDXC cards. The AT-100 is the first major contender in the tablet field to have such a slot, and the first with SDXC support. That slot alone shoots the AT-100 to the top of the heap: Not only does it mean that you have on-the-fly expandability up to four times the maximum built-in capacity (and twice the maximum capacity available on the Apple iPad 2), but you also can pop your SD Card out of your digital camera or camcorder and enjoy the content stored there immediately, no pesky dongles or adaptors required.
Toshiba hasn't yet announced whether it will release the 8GB or 32GB models. Even with the expansion possibilities, I wouldn't recommend an 8GB tablet to anyone: That space will fill up fast if you use the tablet to its full potential for enjoying music, video, pictures, and apps. Even five years ago, the 8GB iPhone didn't last for long as an entry-level model, and users' digital-media consumption is exponentially greater today than it was five years ago.
The AT-100 is big: It measures 273 by 177 by 15mm, and weighs 725g, which it at the top end of the tablets we've tested. Regrettably, it feels hefty in comparison with some of the other tablets we've encountered of a similar weight. The balance of its internal components made it feel heavier than models such as the HP TouchPad and Motorola Xoom, which also weigh around 700g to 750g. While I used the AT-100, I routinely found it harder to hold than either of those tablets, and practically impossible to hold in one hand for any length of time. One of Toshiba's primary challenges for its second-generation AT-100 will be to get the bulk and weight down - without sacrificing what makes the AT-100 stand out.
I can forgive a lot in physical design - including a little extra bulk and weight - if the trade-off on form versus function translates in a meaningful way. And in this case it does: The AT-100 packs in the most inputs of any tablet available today, which gives it instant appeal for anyone who prizes flexibility in a self-contained package.
Looking at the edges of the Toshiba AT-100, you might not even notice the plethora of ports. Only one is visible: the SD Card slot at the top-right edge of the tablet (all mentioned locations assume a landscape orientation). Along the right side, covered by a surprisingly sturdy flap best removed with the assistance of a fingernail, are the Mini-USB, HDMI, and USB ports. To be clear, those are full-size HDMI and USB ports - meaning that you can use the same kind of HDMI cable you have at home for your TV, and the same USB flash drive, hard drive, or even memory card reader you use on your PC. All of that is in addition to the docking port, which is situated beneath a sturdy flap of its own at the bottom edge.
Those inputs translate to some extraordinary possibilities in the ways you could use this tablet - especially given how Android 3.1 now supports USB host functionality, and USB devices such as a mouse, keyboard, or game controller. By including the SD Card slot and USB port on the AT-100, Toshiba recognizes the need for interoperability among devices. Suddenly, a non-Windows tablet inches closer to replacing a laptop for both consumption and productivity.
Rounding out the perimeter of the AT-100 are a 3.5mm headphone jack and a power port at the bottom-right edge, and well-defined power/wake, volume rocker, and rotation-lock controls along the top left. Toshiba's power brick is similar to what you'd find accompanying one of the company's laptops, with a stiff, bulky plug coming straight out the side of the tablet; unfortunately, the connector doesn't match those used with Toshiba's laptops. A shared power source would have been a huge boon to Toshiba laptop owners (who might then get away with traveling with just one charger to handle both devices), and it would have been a strong bonus consideration in the AT-100's favour.
The pitch-black AT-100 has a flashy style in part due to the shiny silver trim around the 2-megapixel front-facing camera and microphone, which are centred at the left side of the tablet; the silver wraps around to the back, surrounding the 5-megapixel, 720p video camera. (Stay tuned for our full camera testing results for the AT-100.) The bling effect also comes from the three status lights (for power, battery, and Wi-Fi) that are visible at the top edge. The status lights can't be turned off, a disappointment considering that they detract from the clean bezel of AT-100 and are annoying and bothersome while you're reading or watching a movie.
Overall, the AT-100 has a distinctive design, with a grooved, rubberized black backing that's easy to hold. You can replace the removable black back cover and customize the look to match your mood with any of five additional colours - blue, lilac, silver, green, or pink - for a price.
Another unique feature: The AT-100 has a removable battery. Toshiba says the lithium-ion battery will last for up to 7 hours of video playback.
I found the down-firing stereo speakers mediocre on the whole. Although they sounded better than the iPad 2's speakers, they produced thin, tinny audio. By contrast, the HP TouchPad produces richer, more full-bodied audio that's enjoyable to listen to. Music on the AT-100 sounded tolerable - and more viable than on the iPad - but I would use the built-in speakers only for video chat or a YouTube fix, or if I'm in a pinch and I have nothing else to listen to music with.
Toshiba AT-100 software: apps
In the US the Thrive is jam-packed with app icons - over 20 in all, including seven games, and a Toshiba-branded file manager and media player. But the Thrive is also the first tablet I've seen to cross the line between providing value through preinstalled software and simply cluttering up a new device with useless programs or shortcuts. The UK AT-100 comes with much less software pre-installed, but among the clutterware offerings, you get an icon for the user guide, which links not to a local PDF but to the online version, displayed within the Web browser (an unfortunate choice should you ever wish to consult the guide without having to bounce around a website).
Toshiba's powerful File Manager app is the one piece of software that makes the tablet so useful. This file manager exceeds what I've seen on other tablets (only the Asus Eee Pad Transformer comes close), and makes the AT-100 the first tablet to fully integrate true file handling and interoperability, with no additional software or dongles required.
The Toshiba File Manager app makes it easy to take full advantage of the various ports on the AT-100. You can tap on any of three icons at the top to view the folders on the internal storage (as indecipherable as their order is, no thanks to Google), view files and folders on an SD Card, or view files and folders on a USB drive. Along the bottom are options for selecting files (to specify individual files or batches for cutting, copying, or deleting), creating folders, or going up a level. You can even preview JPEGs within File Manager, or open other files such as PDFs and Word documents in PrinterShare or Quickoffice.
As for the rest of the tablet's software design, it's fairly straight-up Android 3.1. Unlike other tablet makers, Toshiba has opted for an understated look with its preconfigured startup display, a layout that lacks flashy widgets or overlays to spruce up the native Android 3.0 Honeycomb interface.
See also: Group test: what's the best tablet PC?
Where the Toshiba AT-100 fits In
In an increasingly crowded marketplace, the Toshiba AT-100 stands out in many ways - most of them good. It has some hardware weaknesses, including tinny speakers, a good but not outstanding display, and a bulky, heavy design. But the AT-100's array of ports puts it in a class all its own. And the AT-100 feels like the first tablet that could truly complement a laptop in my workflow - all by itself, with no extra dongles, cables, or docking stations.