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Toshiba AC100 smartbook: with Android but why?

June 27, 2010 24 comments

The AC100 smartbook, recently announced by Toshiba, has some intriguing features, worth to blog about. First of all, it is built around Nvidia’s Tegra2 system-on-chip (SOC). The Tegra2 is a powerful, ARM SOC with two generic application processing cores and integrated media cores (AV decoding/encoding…etc). The AC100 is the most promising netbook form-factor machine with Tegra2 to date. (Of course there are a lot of Tegra2 based systems announced, but those are mostly tablets). Smartbooks already on the market (HP Airlife, Sharp Netwalker), suffer from lack of performance (due to a combination of underpowered, single-core, Cortex A8-level SOCs and/or slow RAM) and are not considered as breakthrough products (at least not in the blogosphere).

The AC100 has a chance to be a successful product in the netbook/smartbook category. Although the hardware has some weaknesses (only 512Mb of RAM instead of at least 1Gb, only one USB port, very small resolution LCD), it has a solid brand name written on it, and the Nvidia foundations are appealing.

I expect the factory installed Android 2.1 perform acceptably but I don’t think it is the ideal OS for this device. Android’s touch oriented GUI won’t shine on the AC100 simply because the machine lacks a touch-screen and Android’s software selection is simply no match for this hardware.

Laptop-like smartbooks with keyboards (like the AC100) are much better served with a full-desktop Linux due to the fact, that on these devices, buyers will expect full-fledged applications like OpenOffice, Thunderbird, Firefox…etc. Android would be very limiting for the use cases expected from a netbook/smartbook (editing complex text documents, spreadsheets, using a full-fledged browser, email client…etc). Tegra2 with 1Gb of fast RAM could run OpenOffice and other desktop software with good performance. Instead, it will be reduced to run mini, Android versions of the real stuff (what is available for Android instead of OO and such). I believe, at this point, Android is much more suitable for content consumption, than content creation. In contrast, the AC100 hardware is definitely suitable for the latter and many potential buyers will find Android as insufficient for their purposes.

I just hope that Nvidia & Toshiba get their act together and quickly release an Ubuntu variant for Tegra2 based systems because I am afraid the OS part of their AC100 offering is much weaker than the hardware. The Android 2.1 can remain the factory default but the easy install option of a solid, full-desktop OS should be provided (Ubuntu/ARM is just that). I would also suggest increasing the amount of RAM and the USB ports in order to make the product directly comparable to Atom netbooks (and not be ashamed after the comparison). With these improvements, Toshiba could create a very strong contender for the business of those who are waiting for a powerful smartbook or tablet and not willing to compromise with Apple’s offering.

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