Toshiba's AC100, like its Libretto, indicates two things have changed within Toshiba recently. One, it's now willing to take risks. This is a good thing. Two, there's no quality assurance to ensure these risks never leave the boardroom. This is a bad thing.
The AC100 looks great, with its slim profile, incredibly light feel, 10.1-inch, 1024x600 screen, textured black exterior and orange trimmings. It's almost race-car-esque in its aesthetic.
Then you notice the "Nvidia Tegra" badge. This isn't bad in itself, but it means since Windows doesn't run on Tegra, we'll be seeing a mobile OS crowbarred into a laptop form. Crossing our fingers for some strange but beautiful custom OS built specifically for the device at hand, we instead got Android. Android 2.1, at that.
Android is a smartphone platform built for touch. It's quite good in that arena and is only getting better. What makes it good for phones, however, makes it abominable for laptops, especially those without touchscreens like the AC100. Things we've come to expect as standard on laptops simply aren't accounted for and Toshiba hasn't put in anywhere near the amount of effort required to make it work.
Switching between desktops using the mouse is a pain. The laptop will not mount USB drives formatted with NTFS, and other USB devices are limited to mice and keyboards. The right click button doesn't work as expected, instead acting as Android's menu button. Even keyboard shortcuts don't go that far to easing the pain — those that aren't limited to Froyo only, at any rate.
Using the device purely for web browsing is out of the question too. The inclusion of Opera Mobile helps things a little, but the lack of right click ability is criminal. You can't tab between fields, and you can't select text by holding down the shift button and using the arrow keys. At least swiping your finger down the right hand side of the touchpad scrolls in most applications, but this isn't marked on the pad in any way.
Toshiba has gone some way to ease the pain by including its own media player, file manager, Evernote (the basic version of Documents To Go) and an eBook reader, as well as a bunch of widgets, but you can't access the Android Market to try and address any other shortcomings — the only option is to stick in a FAT formatted USB key and manually install APKs. You may not even have luck here — while we were able to install Angry Birds on the AC100, it would only play the sound, not display any of the visuals.
It gets better, though. Toshiba has kept Android's messaging app, but don't expect to be sending SMS any time soon — the SIM slot doesn't accept cards, on account of there being no WWAN module in the Australian version.
Leaving aside the myriad shortcomings of a mobile OS on a laptop, it has 802.11n, Bluetooth 2.1, an SD card reader, 32GB worth of flash storage and 512MB RAM. There's the aforementioned USB port and a mini USB port, presumably because there was no extra room to put in another full sized one. To actually make this useful you'll need a USB mini to female USB A adapter, something that's not easy to come by in stores and Toshiba doesn't include it as part of the package either.
There's also a dual purpose headphone/microphone port, because clearly no one would ever want to use both at once. Oh, and an HDMI port, whose output is grainier than a wheat silo, with the laptop offering no control over resolution output or overscan.
But wait, there's a Tegra 2 processor in here, right? Shouldn't that make the AC100 capable of playing HD video? Yes, but in limited form. Firstly, you'll need to copy any files to the internal memory, as when played from SD or USB our 720p test files stuttered. Secondly, the video will need to be in a codec Tegra recognises, meaning H.264/VC-1/MPEG-4.
In our tests, 720p clips encoded in H.264 and XViD worked fine at 1900kbps and 1200kbps bitrates respectively. x264 though stuttered to the point of unwatchability and 1080p H.264 playback didn't happen at all (something borne out by Boxee's experiences, although others seem to have had success). Adobe Flash is also a supported accelerated format, but of course isn't enabled in the AC100 due to it running Android 2.1. Considering an Atom N550 equipped netbook with Intel graphics can handle 720p video, we're a little nonplussed by all this.
The AC100 is an impractical curio that no one should spend their money on. We respect Toshiba's tenacity for hacking out a new path to regions unknown, but it was so busy hacking it walked straight over a cliff and Wile E. Coyote-style looked down when it was already far too late.