byJoanna Stern||September 8th 2010 at 12:32pmSeptember 8th 2010 12:32 pm
At this point Toshiba's dualscreen Libretto W105 shouldn't need much of an introduction -- or at least after glancing at the picture above we figure it won't. It looks like a laptop straight out of the future. And it kind of is. It's the sort of clamshell gadget we've seen rendered and rendered for years, but that's never made it to market... until now that is. In celebration of Toshiba's 25 years in the laptop business, the company's gotten bolder than ever, and it hasn't just created a gadget with two seven-inch capacitive touchscreens, but it's actually brought it to market. Sure, it's only available for a very limited run, and at a lofty $1,100, only die-hard gadget geeks are bound to fork over the cash. That said, it's still one of the most intriguing devices we've seen all year, and that's saying something. And it's even more compelling when you consider that packs the parts of a 12- or 13-inch ultraportable, including an Intel Pentium processor, 2GB of RAM and a 64GB SSD and also runs Windows 7. But that's exactly what's wrong with the Libretto -- it looks like the future, but it's held back by modern day laptop parts and software. We've spent quite some time with the W105 -- we typed half of this review on the bottom screen! -- so you'll want to hit the break to find out just what we're talking about. %Gallery-101684%
Dualscreen form factor feels like the future
Solid manufacturing quality
Runs Windows 7 with very limited touch software
Fan noise is loud and insanely distracting
Lasts only two hours on a charge
As we said in our preview, it's almost like Toshiba wanted to disguise the incredible coolness of the Libretto by hiding the two screens in an extremely understated black chassis. The book-shaped device is symmetrical, but the top and bottom lid differ slightly in design. The former is covered in a grayish brushed metal and distinguished by a chrome Libretto logo. There's also a speaker strip along the bottom -- but don't be misled by it, we're not even sure dogs could hear Eminem's "Like the Way You Lie" when we cranked the volume all the way up. The top cover is also adorned with two vent areas -- remember those as we'll be coming back to them later. On the flip side, the bottom cover is made of a tough plastic and stores the battery as well as has two little rubber feet for propping it up when in laptop mode. What the Libretto lacks in aesthetic it makes up for in quality -- you'd think it would feel like a delicate device, but it's markedly sturdy and the hinge connecting the screens doesn't feel even the slightest bit loose. The left edge of the device houses a USB port and headphone jack, while a microSD card reader dwells on the edge of the top screen.
In terms of size and weight, the W105 is a throw back to older seven-inch netbooks and UMPC devices, like the UMID M2. The smaller displays makes it only 7.95 inches wide, but since they're stacked up on top of each other when closed it measures 1.2 inches thick. When fully opened, the device is closer in size to a tablet, and it's actually a bit shorter than the iPad. Folded up, it's exceedingly small, and at 1.8 pounds it's no struggle to slide into a large jacket pocket or a purse. Oh, and Toshiba was nice enough to include a velvet carrying case so it doesn't get scratched up. Thanks!
Obviously, the Libretto W105's heart and soul is its dual seven-inch, 1,024 x 600-resolution LCDs. The glossy screens are shockingly glossy, which makes the device nearly impossible to use in the sunlight. Not that the iPad is any better, but looking at the bottom screen on a sunny day was like looking into a black hole. The viewing angles of both displays are actually decent for a regular laptop, but not good enough for a tablet device like this. What do we mean by that? Well, sharing the screen with a friend on an airplane was adequate, but when we sat back from the device while it was in laptop mode we couldn't make out the letters on the keyboard. The W105 has an accelerometer for transforming the device into an e-reader of sorts, but oddly you can only rotate the screen in one direction -- you have to rotate it clockwise so that the bottom of he system sits in your left hand. The accelerometer is quick to start adjusting when turned, but it takes about seven seconds to adjust the software.
We have fewer complaints about the touch experience. Both capacitive screens are extremely responsive to both light finger taps and gestures, including swipes and pinch-to-zoom. Toshiba's also configured haptic feedback for certain functions -- for instance, when you strike a key on one of the many keyboards, you're hit back with some slight vibration. Just to repeat ourselves, we never found the screen failing to recognize a tap or swipe, and all the complaints you hear about the touch experience in the next couple of paragraphs have to do strictly with the software. Last but not least, there's a 1 megapixel webcam located to the left of the upper display -- it actually captured pretty nice still shots as well as video.
Windows 7 doubled
You didn't have to look any further than the lead picture of this review to realize that Toshiba chose to put Windows 7 Home Premium on the Libretto W100, and a fairly untouched version of the OS at that. While the company did create a shortcut pane, you're pretty much looking at Windows 7 straight up -- and as they say, therein lies the rub! Everything from selecting the address bar in Internet Explorer to navigating through small menus to change the battery settings proved to be a a real chore. Sure, there are some shortcuts like swiping to go backwards or forwards in the browser, but for the most part we found ourselves struggling to make it through narrow menus with a finger, and thus we were mistakenly selecting items right and left. At the end of the day, Windows 7, while optimized for touch, is not a touch centric OS and still requires a mouse for navigating. To its credit, Toshiba does include some software to make things better, like a zoom tool and a virtual touchpad that pops up on the bottom screen, but neither can make up for the fact that it's just the wrong operating system for the device. The zoom tool actually worked decently after we figured out how to use it correctly, but we also adjusted the size of the icons on the desktop which helped with things.
At this point you're probably wondering how do the two screens work in tandem. Toshiba's built a small software tool that integrates with all the windows. The small boxes next to the open and close buttons allow you to straddle a window across two screens or simply move a single window from the top to the bottom. You can also double tap the top of a Window to bring up another menu that allows for moving the windows around and shifting them from the top to the bottom screens and visa versa. It's possible to drag one window from one screen to another, but the tool makes it a lot easier.
Toshiba's biggest software issue is exactly what we just described in the paragraphs above -- it didn't do enough on top of Windows 7. We could spend hours detailing what sort of software should have skinned the operating system, but instead we'll tell you what's actually there. The software, which can be brought up on the bottom screen by pressing the home button, is divided into different panes. The first is Toshiba's Bulletin Board that allows you to leave messages or create to-do lists. In our five days with this device we created a single note, and other than that we completely forgot about this "tool." And believe us, that isn't for a lack of having things to write down on our to-do list. The second pane is dubbed "Toshiba Board" and provides information about Toshiba and shortcuts to PC health tools, etc. It's pretty much shortcuts to all the software we usually ignore on a new laptop. The only application we thought was remotely useful was ReelTime, which brings up a timeline of what you've recently done so you can just tap to return to a webpage or document. There's also a File Browser area, but it's not the easiest thing to customize with shortcuts -- we've spent way too much time trying to drag items to it.
Toshiba's grandest software effort seems to have been made in the keyboard arena as there are six (yes, six!) preloaded virtual keyboards. The keyboards can be brought up at anytime by hitting the physical button on the bottom screen -- you're asked if you want to disable the stock Windows keyboard the first time you boot up the system. We urge you to take a look at all the keyboard options in the gallery below, but all of them take getting used to. We tried our hand at most of them while writing the first half of the review -- we ended up using the fairly standard one, but even then we just couldn't get used to it since it's fairly cramped and we kept mistyping. For typing a URL or a simple e-mail here and there it'll be fine, but this thing isn't meant for writing your memoir. %Gallery-101685%
Which brings us to the question: what exactly are you supposed to use this thing for? Given the form factor, reading would make sense, and Toshiba has partnered with Blio on its BookPlace software. There are some preloaded books that were formatted for the two screens, but at this point there's no store for buying anything on your own. So, unless you're up for reading preloaded titles like "Organize Now!" and "The Everything Kid's Science Experiment Book" there's not much you can do with the software at this point. We tried out Amazon's Kindle for PC and Barnes & Noble's Nook programs, but they were both designed for single page layout so it's hard to get it to fit across the screen correctly. Still we guess you could read a book on the left screen while keeping your e-mail or Engadget open on the right.
Performance and battery life
We wish the software was the end of our complaints, but we're not done yet. On the performance front, the system's 1.2GHz Pentium U500 processor, 64GB SSD and 2GB of RAM had no issues keeping up with our incessant software testing and even streaming 720p video on YouTube. However, there are times where it's a bit sluggish to bring up menus. Toshiba chose to go with fairly powerful and warm parts, and the chassis is just too small to properly house them. Enter the fan noise. Remember those vents we mentioned earlier? Well, warm air is constantly cycled through them and not only does the back of device get extremely warm (yep, that sticker pictured above comes on the machine), but the fans never really shut off. No, like ever. So, even when we did sit down to read a book on the device we were distracted by the little motorized sound coming from within it. We also don't need to tell you that when playing any Flash content the fans rev up as if they are about to shoot the thing into the sky.
Those strong internals also impact the battery life, and though Toshiba strapped a 36Wh six-cell to the bottom of the W105 it only lasted for 2 hours and 10 minutes on our video rundown test, which loops the same video at 65 percent brightness and WiFi switched on. We don't care what kind of power is inside this guy -- two hours is just terrible for any highly mobile device.
Here's the thing about our experience with the Libretto W105: it was certainly chock-full of many (many!) frustrating hardware and software issues, but it was also a really fun device to play with. No matter how much we wanted to send it back after we'd mistakenly select something or had to put on headphones to drown out the fan noise, there's just something about having two conjoined touchscreens that made the entire product worthy of keeping around. Would we suggest you buy one for $1,100? Probably not -- unless you're bored and want to design some useful software for it. (We'd be eternally grateful!) So, sure, we assume there are a limited few out there that will want to own the Libretto just for the novelty of it, but in the end, the W105 is still a byproduct of terrible software and hardware choices. But, just like all the renders that came before it, it still makes us excited about the future of the laptops and dualscreen devices.