Toshiba
The 21st century Libretto along with its snap-on DVD deck is a very portable package.
By Columnist
msnbc.com
updated 8/4/2005 9:53:44 AM ET 2005-08-04T13:53:44

It should be no secret that I’m a fan of small laptop computers. I have been ever since I wrote about the ground-breaking Toshiba Libretto way back in 1997. I took that micro-laptop with me everywhere until its puny 75 MHz Pentium I processor and limited memory capacity could no longer keep up with anything more sophisticated than Windows 98.

Fast forwarding to the present — I now love using my ThinkPad X40 (full-sized keyboard) and whenever I travel I always find room for my OQO super-mini (thumb-operated keyboard). But recently, when I saw that Toshiba was importing an updated version of their Libretto once again I had to get my hands on one to see what they’ve done.

The 21st century Libretto, approximately half the size of the average laptop, is slightly larger than its ancient predecessor and a much more sophisticated computer. Today’s Libretto model U100 measures 8.27 by 6.5 by 1.17 inches and weighs 2.16 pounds.  It comes with a tiny CD/DVD (read/write) docking station which snaps on the bottom and adds one inch and one pound to the package.  It also comes with Windows XP Pro.

The processor is a very speedy Pentium M Ultra Low Voltage 753 device running at 1.2 GHz.  512 MB of memory and a 60 GB hard drive are standard.  So is Bluetooth, 802.11g WiFi, an Ethernet port and a V.92 modem.

The six-cell Lithium Ion battery pack (3,400 mAh) is said to deliver up to 5 hours of use between charges. I was able to get more than four hours — almost enough to cover an entire cross-country flight before needing to plug in. 

The 7.2 inch widescreen LCD display is a thing of beauty. This machine can easily double as a portable DVD player. All you need is a good set of earphones.

There are all sorts of other inputs, outputs, bells and whistles that help make this a serious portable computer including all sorts of interesting software, a fingerprint recognition system and a motion detector to help protect the hard drive from damage during abrupt jolts. All in all, the new Libretto is quite impressive.

The input system
The original Libretto had an ingenious mouse/navigation device. It wasn’t near the keyboard but was just to the right of the screen. The tiny thumb pad was on the screen side and the left/right buttons were right behind on the outside of the computer case. It sounds complicated but was anything but -- it was the easiest laptop pointing device I’ve ever had the pleasure to use.  Then again, I’m a righty and the device was on the right-hand side of the screen.

The modern-day U100 has a much more conventional pointing device. As a matter of fact, it’s downright boring.  Below the keyboard there’s a miniscule blue button to move the mouse around the screen and a button on either side for clicking.  I found it very easy to miss the left button, meaning that very often I had to stop typing to see where I was pressing. The old pointing system was much better.

But it was the keyboard that really slowed me down. The keys are very small – much smaller than I remember on the original Libretto. I found it difficult to touch type and impossible to thumb type. I find that to be a major problem for a device that retails for $1,999.  On a recent trip, I found myself longing for an external keyboard to plug in and use instead of the built-in one. 

For that reason, and only that reason, I’m hoping Toshiba will consider changing the design of the keyboard/mouse system in the future. It's a shame. The new Libretto is an absolutely wonderful computer -– very fast, versatile with loads of battery reserves. But, it needs an improved input system before I could recommend it without reservation.

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