Toshiba is celebrating the 25th anniversary of laptops this year–it counts its own 1985 T1100 as the first one. A pedant might quibble with its definition of “first laptop personal computer,” but it’s announced two celebratory portables–and they’re both noteworthy. I got an in-person look at them during a recent briefing with the company.
The Portégé R700 is the latest incarnation of Toshiba’s long-running Portege line, which has always been aimed at business types who want a thin, light, stylish notebook that packs cool technology. The R700 has a 13.3-inch screen and is available in versions with Intel’s Core potent i3, i5, and i7 processors and it has a DVD burner. Yet it weighs three pounds and is only an inch thick, like an ultralight that’s based on a less powerful CPU and which skips the optical drive. The nicely refined refined case is made from a magnesium allow with a honeycomb design which makes it both rigid and light–Toshiba’s answer to Apple’s much-trumpeted “unibody” aluminum cases.
One of the Portégé’s most appealing features is its starting price–$899, a remarkably low one for a Portégé. That’s for the consumery R705 model, which has 4GB of RAM, a 500GB hard drive, and Intel wireless display capability; the business version of the R700 starts at $999, and skips the wireless display feature but has an ExpressCard slot and a docking station option.
Like every laptop, the new Portégé represents a balance of power, portability, and price that can’t satisfy every prospective buyer: Its Intel integrated graphics are relatively wimpy, and you can find machines based on less speedy ultra-low voltage processors that can outdo the 8.5 hours of battery life that Toshiba says the Portégé gets. But if you’re in the market for a 13″ Windows system and aren’t on an ultratight budget, this one looks pretty darn compelling. The R700 business model is available now; the R705 goes on sale on June 27th at Best Buy.
Toshiba’s other 25th-anniversary system is both a nod to the company’s past and a possible peek at where portable computers are going. The past part is in its name: It’s the Libretto W100, marking the revival of the Libretto name that was first applied to a famous teeny-tiny Windows 95 subnotebook in 1995. The future part is the fact that it’s utterly unlike any other Windows 7 computer on the market: Its clamshell case looks surprisingly like its 1996 ancestor on the outside, but it contains two 7-inch multitouch displays, making it look a little like a giant Nintendo DS or Microsoft’s dead-before-arrival Courier dual-screen tablet. You can splay the Windows interface over both screens, or use the bottom one for one of several different keyboards, including a standard QWERTY one and one which splits the keys into two chunks on opposite sides of the display.
In the U.S., at least, previous Librettos (including a previous revival in 2005) have garnered plenty of attention but weren’t big sellers. With the W100, Toshiba is making it official: It’s saying that this is an experimental “concept PC” aimed at gadget nerds, not mainstream consumers. (Among other things, that inoculates it against unfavorable comparisons with the iPad; Toshiba isn’t claiming this is its answer to Apple’s tablet. Of course, you could argue that Apple deserves kudos for making and selling a blockbuster new device while its PC competitors are still experimenting…)
The W100 has a Pentium processor, 2GB of RAM, and 62GB of flash storage, and will go on sale starting later this summer in limited quantities for the steepish price of $1099. Judging from my limited hands-on time with one, I think Toshiba is right to downplay expectations: It caters to the same hardcore geeks as past Ultra Mobile PCs which were supposed to be the next big thing but never stood a chance. I still think that new types of computing devices need OSes with largely new operating systems, not old ones with a few tweaks–for one thing, Windows only feels a little less cramped on two 7-inch screens than it would on one 7-inch screen. And I wouldn’t be surprised if dual-screen devices in general turn out to be a brief detour rather than a new paradigm, at least until it become possible to build them with little or no seam between the two displays.
Still, it’ll be interesting to hear what people who plunk down more than a thousand bucks for this Libretto have to say. Would you consider buying one?