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Nov 062010
 

Well it’s here! An android slate that is – something I’ve been after for quite a while. And it turns out to be a Toshiba Folio 100. Perhaps not the best picture, but at least it hasn’t been stolen :-

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Hardware Thoughts

Supposedly some people thinks it feels cheap, well I can say it doesn’t. Admittedly there is a fair amount of plastic involved in the case, which is perhaps where the thoughts come from but it’s pretty good plastic. Perhaps it compares a little unfavourably with the Apple iPad or iPhone4, but for a half plastic device it’s not bad at all. The back is textured plastic which is perhaps a slightly dated design feature, but it does mean the slate feels less likely to slip out of your hands – that iPhone experience of the slick metal and glass (for the iPhone4) and slick plastic (for earlier iPhones) feels good out of the box, but most people end up sticking it inside a case and the need to feel it securely in your hands is at least part of the reason for the case.

The back is slightly smaller than the front, which makes it look a tad slimmer than it really is, but the thinner edge makes it easier to hold onto the device. The 25cm screen sits within a larger area leaving a 2cm border around the device. Again a slightly dated design feature, but it does mean that when you hold it with your thumb on the top surface for a more secure grip, you don’t obscure any part of the screen.

The top of the bezel holds the tiny lens for the built-in webcam and a hole for the microphone. The right edge holds in order, a battery/power light, and a series of four touch sensitive buttons which are quite possibly just sensitive areas of the touchscreen – the LCD panel doesn’t extend to the edge of the device, but the glass of the touchscreen does. The top edge holds the only physical buttons – an on/off switch, and a volume control rocker switch. The on/off switch feels a little loose, which isn’t good, but the volume buttons seem to work fine.

Connectors can be found on the right edge and bottom edge with some covered by rubber covers. After having seen so many devices that recharge through a USB connection, it seems oddly old-fashioned that Toshiba have included a conventional powerbrick to plug into an old-style proprietary power-jack. This is one place where being dated is not good – why not use the USB ports for power like everyone else ?

Without commenting on the software (yet!), in use the device works pretty well. The screen is nice and clear; the touchscreen is pretty responsive and accurate although there’s always room for improvement. The only oddity is those touch sensitive buttons on the right – they sometimes seem reluctant to activate. Of course the screen is both reflective and subject to getting greasy fingerprints on it.

The Software

Before I start making any comments, please be aware of two things that may influence my comments :-

  1. I haven’t used an Android device before so I won’t be aware of how this device compares in use to other devices. Plus of course nobody (according to Google) is supposed to be using the current Android builds for tablets!
  2. My home Wifi network is especially flaky so some problems may have been down to this.

The Toshiba may be running Android 2.2 but it isn’t quite the full Google experience – there are no Google applications, and the real Android Marketplace isn’t there. Of course Toshiba has bundled in some applications to get started with, including it’s own Marketplace application, but it would be nice to have a choice. What is missing from the bundled applications is a map viewer (admittedly this would have to be manually driven given the lack of a GPS unit, but even so), and a game or two. It may also be sensible to have a more obvious “widget” on the home screen(s) to lead into a quick overview of the device. And please explain the different power lights in that quick overview!

The Marketplace. Well it looks fine at first glance, but is a little flaky in operation. It is subject to frequent crashes, and there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot in it – for instance where is the Kindle app? And what there is in there seems to be very haphazardly arranged with some rather startling choices of categories.

Ok, perhaps Toshiba have restricted apps to things that will work well on the Folio which would explain the limited numbers. Well, no. At least two of the apps I downloaded turned out to restrict themselves to a phone-sized display which looks very silly. I could understand that sort of thing on the main Android Marketplace as Android slates are so new, but in Toshiba’s “walled garden” ?

The photo above shows that at least some applications originally written for a phone-sized display work “correctly” on the larger screen of a slate, although perhaps resulting in a somewhat humorous result. Although I can imagine some people would find calculators with such big buttons useful. What Toshiba needs to do is :-

  1. Debug their marketplace app so it doesn’t crash (and doesn’t have so many issues with long lists of apps!).
  2. Restrict apps in their marketplace to those apps that work well on the Folio, and categorise them much more carefully.
  3. Allow the use of the standard Android Marketplace – perhaps with the addition of a quality warning screen. Or indeed with an option in the settings to allow it’s use.

Despite claims that this device supports Flash, the Youtube experience shows that it isn’t quite there yet – you get a screen saying you need to upgrade your version of Flash. There was a slip of paper put into the box telling me to check the Toshiba Multimedia website for a Flash download, which doesn’t seem to be there. But why can’t the Flash update be included into the standard update mechanism ? This all has the feel of a slightly rushed product. In some ways this is fair enough, providing that there are frequent updates online (through the “Toshiba Service Station”).

Over a few days, my initial impression of it being a little rushed have been reinforced – there after frequent crashes of the Toshiba applications, and the system has a habit of slowing down to a crawl from time to time. The only update that has been provided so far has been to the Toshiba Marketplace application – which didn’t come through the “Service Station” app, and that has made things worse. Now there are no applications available at all!

Apparently Dixons have gotten so many returns, that they are effectively refusing to sell any more (see the article from The Register). Toshiba needs to buck up it’s ideas pretty quickly here. Even if it is just an update to :-

  1. Provide the standard Marketplace application.
  2. Provide an option to remove all of the added Toshiba applications.
  3. Provide an explanation that the Toshiba branded applications are being temporarily removed for quality issues.

At the very least they need to send out a message either on the device itself, or via an email to urge customers to apologise, be patient and announce expected dates when updates will be provided.

Final Words

Well, even after the long awaited update the Toshiba software was still sub-standard. The best option for anyone who hasn’t lost patience and returned their Folio is a community-hacked up ROM.

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