What's not: 7" displays are too small for Windows 7 and touch interaction. Fan blasts.
Reviewed September 13, 2010 by Lisa Gade, Editor
The Toshiba Libretto W105 is like no other, to borrow Sony’s old tag line. It’s the first mini-notebook to feature dual touch screen displays and a reasonably powerful nonnetbook CPU. The bad news? It’s a limited run, pricey piece of showcase tech released to commemorate Toshiba’s 25th anniversary. Still, the newest Libretto is a glimpse of our computing future, and we expect that after the W105 is relegated to eBay collector status, we’ll see an even better follow-up. Heck, other manufacturers have already shown off prototypes of dual screen ultra-portables and full-sized notebooks.
The Libretto W105 or Libretto W100 depending on where you buy it, sells for $1,099 and it sold out in the first day of pre-orders, though you may still find it at smaller online retailers. That tells us the world is crazy for touch screens, innovative designs and converged tech, even in a deep recession. The Libretto has two 7” capacitive touch screens in a clamshell configuration, and it runs Windows 7 Home Edition on a dual core Intel Pentium U5400 1.2GHz CPU. Those of you who lament the lowly Intel Atom CPU used in netbooks and the second generation Sony Vaio P should be thrilled. It has Intel HD graphics and 2 gigs of RAM so it can play Youtube and Hulu video with ease unlike netbooks and UMPCs. Sweet. Locally stored content up to 720p plays fine as well (1080 video works but what is the point given the much less than 1080 resolution displays and lack of VGA or HDMI out?).
The Libretto W105 has a brushed metal lid.
The 1.8 pound Libretto comes with a 62 gig SATA SSD drive that performs well (software installations are quick and the drive benchmarks well). An SSD drive is a particularly good idea for a highly mobile PC since it’s immune to head crashing damage during movement. It has WiFi 802.11b/g/n and Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR but no wired Ethernet and no 3G (the Japanese version has WiMAX 4G). An 8 cell, 36Wh Lithium Ion battery is standard on the US version (the Japanese version comes with a lower capacity battery and the 8 cell battery), and the Libretto averages 3.5 hours on a charge when doing MS Office, email and web. It makes it through a feature length movie when playing video, but no more.
With the 8 cell battery, the Libretto is not much larger than the tiny Fujitsu U820 and U900, and it weighs 6 ounces more than the Sony Vaio P 2010 model. The 8" x 4.8" Libretto is smaller and lighter than even the smallest netbooks, yet it packs more processing and graphics power. It's not particularly thin at 1.2" since it houses two displays along with the usual computer motherboard and fan in its two halves.
Deals and Shopping:
Two of the Libretto W105’s strongest points, Windows 7 and a non-Atom CPU turn out to be its weaknesses as well. This extremely small (smaller than a netbook) computer has a fan that runs non-stop to keep the dual core CPU cool, and Windows 7, though fairly well optimized for touch and capacitive displays, was never meant to run on a 7” display. I suggest you change the DPI size to 125% in the Display control panel not because text is too small to read, but because that will enlarge desktop icons and menu items to make them easier to select with a finger. The close and minimize window icons at the upper right of windows will still be too small to easily use with a finger. Fortunately Toshiba was aware of this and they added a software overlay that takes over whenever you tap the top bar of any window, and you can use this to maximize, minimize, relocate windows to the upper/lower display, span both displays with a single window and more. Toshiba's Bulletin Board also has handy clipping tools and a file manager overlay for Windows Explorer that's finger-friendly. And if those aren't enough (they might not be), there's a very good virtual mouse pad and that lone USB 2.0 port and Bluetooth for external keyboards and mice.
Since the Libretto uses dual capacitive touch screens, a stylus or fingernail won’t work, and our iPhone capacitive stylus didn’t work either. There goes handwriting recognition along with easy control of too-small UI elements.
The Libretto W105’s dual 7” capacitive displays support 2 finger multi-touch, and that means you can pinch zoom windows and make use of Toshiba’s nifty virtual mouse pad (you can hold down a mouse button while moving the cursor) and their 6 virtual keyboards. Simply press the keyboard hardware button and the virtual keyboard appears on the lower display. Tap on the taskbar to bring up the mouse pad (2 sizes are available) and overcome the limitations of small UI elements. Our video review shows the virtual keyboards in action. The keyboards, particularly the first two that have larger keys, are surprisingly easy to use thanks to the multi-touch display and excellent haptic feedback. I wrote the first half of this review on the Libretto, and it wasn’t painful, though I have long, slim fingers and am accustomed to small keyboards. If you’re a man with large hands, you probably won’t warm up to the experience. In fact, if you hate small keyboards, you won't like the 7" Libretto keyboard.
The dual displays are sharp and both text and graphics look clear. Viewing angles are good, but given the chances of using a small device at odd angles, we wish they were even greater. The gloss displays are identical and they introduce glare that make them less than ideal for outdoor use. The lower display is particularly hard to see in bright, direct light. That said, the displays are high quality and viewing angles are sufficient for two people to watch a video when sitting side-by-side. Brightness is good but not nearly as bright as the non-touch, LED backlit Sony Vaio P.
Build quality is good, and the Libretto W100 is a solid machine, though not nearly as stylish as the Vaio P. It’s more sturdy and solid than the Fujitsu U900, and seems less plasticky. We get the feeling the Libretto can take a lot of travel-induced pounding. It has no flex to speak of, and our only complaint is that the top LCD bezel rises less than 1mm away from the frame at the center. Toshiba says this is by design and two screws at the top left and right corners prevent it from separating further. The computer’s guts are located in the upper display section (when used in standard laptop mode), and there are air intake vents on the back panel and an air exhaust vent on the upper edge. The fan is vigorous and is always on. It’s quite noisy and overzealous at the factory default settings (CPU temps average 57 Celsius which isn't terribly high). We changed the power plan settings to battery-friendly and the fan speed changed to a more tolerable level rather than a dull roar. Even with a fan setting adjustment, this is not a silent machine. The good news is that since the computer’s motherboard and internals are located in the upper display, you can use it on your lap or on a bed without overheating or burning yourself.
You can also use the Libretto in portrait mode (it only supports clockwise rotation), which is most useful when running Toshiba Books Place (a rebranding of the pre-release Blio interactive ebook reader application). Unfortunately this app is slow (unlike most programs on the Libretto) and portrait facing-pages mode makes for text that’s too small for easy reading. Part of the problem is that the app only supports PDF right now, and PDFs don’t allow for text size changes without zooming all page elements off the page. The app is supposed to support ePUB (which would support text size changes) but it didn’t work with a variety of non-DRM ePUB books.
The wireless and charging indicators and AC jack are on the right.
The 3.5mm stereo headphone jack and single USB 2.0 port are on the left.
Performance and Horsepower
With an Intel Pentium U5400 CPU running at 1.2GHz, the Libretto is significantly faster than netbooks running Intel Atom and even AMD dual core Neo CPUs. Of course, at 1.2GHz, it's not as fast a the average current full-sized laptop either. The dual core CPU has 3 megs of level 2 cache, supports 64 bit instructions (though it ships with Windows 7 Home 32 bit) and works with DDR3 RAM. The machine ships with 2 gigs of DDR3-800 RAM and it's not upgradeable, though the CPU supports up to 8 gigs of RAM-- chalk that up to a highly customized motherboard to suit the small design.
While Atom notebooks are annoyingly slow when doing more than web browsing with one or two windows and working with MS Office documents, the Libretto is liberating. It's responsive, can handle multiple applications running and plays video like no netbook can. In fact, it did a better job with Hulu than some standard notebooks we've reviewed in the past year. Given the limitations of display size and lack of a VGA or HDMI port, the Libretto can handle anything you'd throw at a device this small. There are those who complain about the fan noise and heat (91 degrees when doing light work, 103 degrees when streaming Hulu), but you can't have it both ways: you either get a silent and cool Atom netbook that runs slow or a fast machine that requires more power and cooling. We weren't able to run our usual PC Mark benchmarks because they require a higher resolution or external monitor running at 1024 x 768 or greater.
The Toshiba Libretto W100 is a unique ultra-portable PC. It's hard not to love it for its geek factor and uber-daring design; and it targets you well-heeled gadget freaks rather than everyday users. A few years from now, we suspect Toshiba and other manufacturers will offer versions for the average consumer, and the anniversary edition Libretto is testing the waters. The dual touch screens are sharp and responsive, and Toshiba's done a good job of tweaking the UI to make the device more usable. From the virtual keyboards and trackpad to enlarged windows control elements and zooming, Toshiba has worked hard to make the Libretto pleasant to use rather than a chore. Still, it's hard to overcome the fact that Windows 7 wasn't meant to be used with a touch screen this small and we found ourselves reverting to the virtual trackpad more than we liked.
Performance is very good for a sub- 2 pound notebook/UMPC; in fact it's at the top of its class. The drawback is constant fan noise which isn't desirable for a piece of personal electronics that you might want to use in bed and other quiet, intimate places. The lack of a VGA or HDMI port really hurts, since the machine has the power to do real work when hooked up to a large display. Alas, we assume that the complexities of running two internal displays were enough for Toshiba, and introducing support for additional external monitors was too much.
The Libretto is a cutting edge, limited edition device for gadget aficionados and those who need extreme portability in a Windows machine. It's certainly peppy, usable and a pro at video playback, but we suspect the world at large would rather have a physical keyboard and larger displays.
Pro: Head-turning design, dual capacitive touch screens, fast CPU for a computer this size, great video playback, full Windows 7 on board. Good virtual keyboards and touch pad. Toshiba's software improves the user experience.
Con: Noisy, non-stop fan. Expensive. Windows wasn't meant for a 7" touch screen (hard to use UI elements, must increase DPI size in display settings). Though the virtual keyboard is excellent, at 7" diagonal, it's cramped for touch typing. Screen glare can be annoying, especially on the lower display.
The Toshiba has 3 hardware buttons: the home button that switches between
Toshiba Bulletin Board and Windows on the lower display,
the power button and the keyboard button that brings up the virtual keyboard.
Display:Dual 7" Toshiba Multi-Touch TruBrite LED backlit displays. 1024 x 600 resolution for each display. Supports rotation (clockwise to portrait) via accelerometer. Intel HD Graphics with 64-728 megs shared memory. No VGA or HDMI port.
Ion rechargeable 8 cell, 36Wh battery (removable, clips on the bottom). Compact 45W world charger included.
x 4.84 x 1.2 inches. Weight: 1.8 pounds.
Camera:1 MP webcam, can be used for face detection login.
in speaker, mic and 3.5mm standard stereo headphone
WiFi 802.11b/g/n and Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR.
7 Home Premium 32 bit OS. Toshiba utilities including ReelTime, Toshiba Bulletin Board, Toshiba PC Health Monitor and Toshiba Books Place (Blio). MS Office 201 Starter Edition and Norton Internet Security Netbook Edition 30 day trial.
SDHC microSD card slot.
In the Box: Libretto, 8 cell battery, velvet carry pouch, charger and printed material.