5 things you should know before buying Toshiba Libretto W100

Toshiba-libretto-w100 The Toshiba Libretto W100 and I are about 3 weeks into our relationship, and I'm quite sure we'll spend the rest of its life together. I'm so pleased with it that if I didn't already have two other sites (GoodAndEVO and StreakSmart) still in their infancy (not to mention an actual infant—my baby girl will be year old soon!), I would've started a dedicated W100 site the minute I took the device out of the box.

Although that makes my feelings about the dual-screened UMPC quite clear, it doesn't mean that I'm blinded by infatuation and unable to see its shortcomings. On the contrary, despite my personal feelings about the unit, it isn't something I would recommend to everyone. The W100 is an expensive device ($1100 for the US version, ~$1450 for the Japanese version that comes with WiMAX and two batteries), which means consumers are generally less willing to tolerate flaws they might tolerate on a cheaper gadget. And of course! When you pay over a grand for something, you want to feel like you got your money's worth.

So before you buy the Libretto W100, here are some important things you should know that could affect your purchasing decision.

Screen separation. On what appears to be all variants of the Libretto W100, including those from the US, the LCD screen is separating from the bezel near the microSD card slot at the top. The screen can be pressed down and will sometimes stay in place for a few days, but it will always lift up again.

Screws on either side of the screen will prevent it from separating more than ~1mm but Toshiba, who told Conics that the gap is part of the computer's design (!), has said it will assess wider gaps and fix them on a case-by-case basis if necessary. The company has also said that dust cannot get trapped between the layers because the LCD panels are sealed, which a few users believe is not true. On a "positive" note, the gap does not affect usability; the W100 is still fully functional.

The issue is worse on some units than others. I didn't notice it on mine until another buyer told me about it on his, so your mileage may vary.

Wobbly when open to certain angles. When set on a flat surface and used as a traditional laptop, the W100 can become wobbly/unstable, especially when the extended battery (included as standard on US units; Japanese units come with two batteries) is attached. Opening the device to a 135-degree angle will cause it to become wobbly; the W100 will tip over by itself when opened to an angle greater than that.

The main components of the computer are in its top half, so even when the unit is open to a stable degree on a desk, it can still tip over if you tap the top screen with too much force. You can keep this from happening by holding the top screen as you're tapping it or holding the bottom screen to give it more weight.

If your primary use of the W100 is a handheld device, you don't interact with the top screen very much when using it in laptop mode, and/or you don't open the device to an angle equal to or greater than 135 degrees, then this will likely be a non-issue for you.

Battery life. Compared to Atom-powered UMPCs, MIDs, and netbooks, the W100's battery life is terrible. But for a compact computer with two screens and a dual-core processor—the first device of its kind—it's okay.

I haven't tested battery life on WiMAX yet (all Japanese units come with built-in WiMAX), but with WiFi always on, I'm getting about 1.5 to 2 hours with the standard battery (not included with US units) and about 3.5 to 4 hours with the extended battery on a single charge. So if you want to treat it like an all-day device, then you'll need to plug into an oulet or external battery pack at least once or twice during the day (depending on actual use).

Volume and screen brightness. Both are quite low, in my opinion. In quiet, dimly lit environments, you'll find the W100's speaker volume and screen brightness to be fine. Use the device elsewhere, however, and you may be less impressed.

I'm rarely in a quiet place, so I usually plug in a pair of headphones (still using my trusty Ultimate Ears triple.fi 10 Pros) or a portable speaker (I like the X-mini II for its size:quality ratio) if I don't want to lean in or hold the W100 to my ear to hear anything well. My screen brightness is always maxed out during the day, but at night my eyes are happy with a mid-level setting.

Volume and brightness are largely a matter of personal preference, though, so your mileage may vary.

Single-screen use. Although the dual screens are the main highlight of the W100, there may be times when you only want to use the top one. The bottom screen turns off automatically when Toshiba's bulletin board software is running (accessible at any time by pressing the Home button), but you can also turn it off manually in the settings.

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There's more to the Libretto W100 than this, of course, but I wanted to highlight these 5 points now because I think they could have an impact on your decision to buy one. If you're on the fence, for example, then one of these points could push you over to one side. Most of them are negative, I know, but when there's $1,000+ at stake, you need to hear more than just unapologetic gushing to make an informed decision.

Bottomline: The good outweighs the bad for me, but we can still be friends if you disagree.

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Jenn K. Lee

Jenn K. Lee is the founder of Pocketables. She loves gadgets the way most women love shoes and purses. The pieces in her tech wardrobe that go with everything are currently the Samsung Galaxy Note II, Sony Tablet P, and Nexus 7, but there are still a couple of vintage UMPCs/MIDs in the back of her closet.

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