Toshiba AT300 £329
31st Jul 2012 | 16:16
Can Toshiba's new 10.1-inch tablet brighten our day?
The Toshiba AT300 is the successor to the world's skinniest 10-inch tablet, the Toshiba AT200. And while there are an extra few millimetres on the waistline, you're getting a much more complete tablet experience and a far healthier processor, courtesy of the quad-core CPU packed inside.
The obvious question when considering any 10-inch tablet that doesn't have a shiny fruit-based logo on the back is why should you buy this instead of buying an iPad?
This was a much easier question to answer in the past. The answer was "you wouldn't". Android was, to put it kindly, a mess on the bigger display of a tablet, and prices were often on a par or even more hefty than what you'd fork out to buy Apple's latest slate.
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However, the Android tablet revolution is now in full swing, with a raft of high-power, well built devices coming out of all corners, boasting two key ingredients: an operating system that has actually been developed with a larger display in mind, and a much more appealing price tag.
The Toshiba AT300, thankfully, ticks both of these boxes - offering Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich straight out of the box. It costs £329 in the UK and $399.99 in the US (where it's called the Toshiba Excite 10) for the 16GB version, or £379/$449.99 for the 32GB one.
Like those tablets, the Toshiba AT300 doesn't just offer a tempting price and a solid software setup - there's also plenty of power to get excited about, courtesy of the quad-core Nvidia Tegra 3 processor onboard.
Of course, Google has also shaken up the market in the last month or so (in partnership with Asus), with the launch of the Tegra 3-powered Nexus 7, which can be yours for £159/$199.
The Toshiba AT300 goes by the more thrilling moniker of the Toshiba Excite 10 in the US. Quite why the Japanese company decided to give the UK version a much less exciting label is anybody's guess.
US customers also get the option of a 64GB version for $549.99, which UK consumers do not get.
Albeit slightly chunkier, the Toshiba AT300 definitely pays tribute to its super-skinny older brother the AT200 on the design front, with a silver trim and back and a curved black face. It's hardly original but, let's face it, it's not as if Toshiba is the only company guilty of offering up a tablet that basically looks like all the others.
It's the little details that set a tablet apart, and in the case of the Toshiba AT300 this equates to a textured aluminium backing (long gone is the awful rubberised backing of Toshiba's original tablet, the AT100/Toshiba Thrive) and an attractive silver trim that gains girth at the top edge of the back panel to house the camera lens and flash.
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On the front, the 10.1-inch Corning Gorilla Glass display curves nicely into the black bezel, although we're not too sure about the noticeable lip where the glass meets the plastic edge.
Measuring 8.95mm thick, the Toshiba AT300 is around 1.2mm thicker than its predecessor, although it is still much more slight than the new iPad 3, and would make the likes of the Acer Iconia Tab A510(10.92mm) sick with anorexic rage. Its dimensions are 261 x 179 x 8.95mm and, with a weight of just 590g, it's an incredibly pleasing tablet to hold in the hand, even for long periods.
Despite its lightweight svelteness, the Toshiba AT300 feels reassuringly solid, with little or no flex, and we're confident that it'd be fine if you chucked it in your bag and took it out and about.
There's no 3G option, so you'll have to make use of Wi-Fi hotspots, or tether the Toshiba AT300 to your smartphone.
That 10.1-inch display that we talked about is of the IPS variety and boasts a 1280 x 800 resolution, offering a decent PPI count of 149. Obviously, the likes of the new iPad and the Asus Transformer Pad Infinity trump the AT300 in this respect. But, for less than £350/$400, you are getting a good display, with acceptable viewing angles.
The colours could be a little more vibrant, and we did find that the Toshiba AT300 struggled in bright sunlight, even with Toshiba's Resolution+ video enhancer tech switched on. There was a touch of backlight bleeding on dark images and movies as well, although you'd have to look pretty closely to notice (we were, obviously).
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Powering the proceedings is a quad-core Nvidia Tegra 3 processor clocked at 1.3GHz, along with 1GB of RAM. Your storage options are 16GB or 32GB, and there's the option of extending that by a further 32GB using an SD card. Not a microSD card - a full sized one, which is a nice option to have, especially if you want to easily load your digital camera images or movies onto your tablet.
You can then view back your media on the big screen using the Micro HDMI port, which sits next to a Micro USB one. These sit on the same edge as the SD card reader (which is filled with a piece of plastic that can be removed completely as per a laptop) and the 3.5mm headphone jack.
On the opposite edge sits a fairly large volume rocker, an orientation lock and the power button. The bottom edge hosts the dual speaker grills and the proprietary Toshiba connector port.
There's no physical buttons on the front - Toshiba has decided to practice what Google preaches by going for soft touchscreen buttons only.
Toshiba is promising that the Lithium-ion polymer battery will provide 10 hours of video playback, 36 hours of audio playback or 168 hours on standby. We'll detail how we got on with battery life later on in the review.
Interface and performance
Android 4.1 Jelly Bean has since succeeded Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich as Google's latest must-have Android flavour, but it would be harsh to criticise Toshiba for the lack of an 0.1 increment, given that Android 4.1 only appears on Google's own Nexus 7 tablet at the moment.
What you get on the Toshiba AT300 is Android 4.0 in an untouched form, save for a few extra app inclusions and some Toshiba-chosen wallpapers. While Samsung has done great work with its TouchWiz UI and HTC has improved its Sense platform recently, we're still delighted when we pick up an Android tablet and everything is just as Google intended.
Ice Cream Sandwich improved upon Honeycomb dramatically, and we say - "if it ain't broke, don't fix it". Although it looks as if Google doesn't care what we say, since it did fix it - Jelly Bean is like ICS on steroids, and it will be great if the Toshiba AT300 gets an upgrade soon.
For now, though, it's plain old Ice Cream Sandwich - which isn't necessarily a bad thing, since it's a slick operating system, designed with the tablet format in mind.
Combined with the quad-core grunt of the Nvidia-powered processor, the Toshiba AT300 has no issues when it comes to playing back some of the more graphically demanding games available in Google Play, such as Temple Run or Dead Trigger, and your HD movie watching will be stutter-free. Load times between apps are also incredibly quick, and you'll have no troubles with multitasking.
Five home screens are on offer, which you can decorate with widgets and shortcuts and, as mentioned, Toshiba has provided a handful of colourful wallpapers to liven up the backdrop. There's no hold and place option on the home screens, though, as per the new Android way, so you'll need to access your widget choices through the app menu.
Android being Android, it's easy for you to customise your tablet in pretty much every respect, even the default keyboard. Toshiba has pre-installed Swype as the default QWERTY keyboard, which is an incredibly intuitive platform that enables you to type by 'Swyping' - ie without taking your finger off the display, and dragging around between letters.
It's incredibly clever at guessing which word you wanted and what punctuation and spacing is needed, and it will even remember non-dictionary words that you use a lot, such as names and naughty words.
On the big screen of the Toshiba AT300, Swype works incredibly well, and we weren't tempted to switch back to the standard Android keyboard at any point.
The boot up sequence originates with a reassuring buzz and takes around 25 seconds, which is pretty nippy for a 10-inch Android tablet.
Browsing the web is a key task of any tab and, thankfully, the Toshiba performs amicably on this front, with quick page load times and nice text rendering on the screen.
The default browser does automatically visit mobile sites out of the box, however - an annoying feature that can be disabled by checking a box in the browser settings.
The standard Android browser is onboard, complete with text reflow, inverted rendering and pinch to zoom with Flash support (you'll need to visit Google Play to grab the latest version). The artist formerly known as the Android Market has a wealth of browser alternatives such as Opera and Dolphin HD, should you not be keen on the standard choice.
The most tempting alternative now surely comes from the search giant itself, with the Android version of Chrome now available. Installed by default on Jelly Bean devices, it won't be long before we see the Android blue-icon browser disappearing as a result of its colourful, high-profile brethren.
Whatever browser you choose, zoomed pages look great on the Toshiba AT300, and navigation was smooth without any noticeable delay or stutter.
The 1GB of RAM along with the quad-core CPU means that seamless multi-tab browsing is also no bother, and you shouldn't see too many annoying page refreshes when switching between tabs.
Media and apps
Movies, music and books
The 10.1-inch 1280 x 800 HD IPS display means that watching movies, TV shows or YouTube clips on the Toshiba AT300 is a pleasant experience, and the sound quality, from the two speakers on the bottom edge, is adequate for short viewings.
However, you'll definitely want to plug your headphones in to the 3.5mm jack if you're planning on a movie-watching session or you want to listen to your tunes in high quality, even with Toshiba's sound enhancer option switched on.
HD footage, even files in Full HD 1080p format, are played back with little or no lag or stutter, although Toshiba's own Media Player that's pre-installed isn't your best bet if you've got a collection of video files with varied file extensions.
Luckily, Google Play has a plethora of brilliant free video players, such as MoboPlayer or MX Video Player, which will handle pretty much any video file format you throw at them.
Music is taken care of by the standard Play Music app that gives you the usual array of playback options such as album artwork, playlists, shuffle and repeat. If you tap a song in your library, you can choose to search for the artist in Google Play.
However, with the UK so far excluded from the music arm of Google's app emporium you are only given results for apps, books and movies (to rent, not to buy in the UK). You can use Toshiba Media Player for music as well.
Adding your digital media to the Toshiba AT300's storage space is straight forward, as the tablet supports drive mounting and drag and drop functionality with your PC or Mac. You can, of course, load up an SD card with media and pop that in as well.
Google would prefer, however, that you part with your hard-earned cash and load up your Toshiba AT300 directly from Google Play, which offers movie rentals from 99p (new releases cost around £3.49, or £4.49 for HD titles) and electronic books.
And Toshiba would like it if you splashed that cash in its digital media outlet - Toshiba Places - that is also pre-loaded on the Toshiba AT300. With music on offer from the 7Digital store, as well as movies from Viewstar, it's not the greatest online media store we've seen, and chances are you'll probably never visit.
As mentioned, there is a Micro HDMI port onboard, so if you get tired of watching blockbusters on a 10-inch display, you can always hook the Toshiba AT300 up to a big screen TV for a more natural movie viewing experience. This is a straightforward affair - we had no issues hooking it up to the 32-inch BenQ monitor in the office.
Apps and games
Fire up the Toshiba AT300 and you'll see that it's pre-loaded with all of the native Google applications such as Gmail, Google Maps, People, Google+ and Talk.
Toshiba has also seen fit to pre-install a number of apps of its choosing for you to 'enjoy'. None of them are outstandingly brilliant by any stretch of the imagination, but the ThinkFree office suite may come in handy if you're looking to get productive with your Toshiba AT300, and there's some art-based fun to be had with Skitch, we suppose.
In order to get the most out of your Toshiba tablet, you'll want to pay numerous visits to Google Play, or the Tegra Zone (which incidentally directs through Google Play) in order to keep up with all the latest must-have apps and games.
You can download and install APK files if you wish, but we'd recommend keeping within Google's app portfolio, or at least using reputable third-party app stores.
Gaming on the Toshiba AT300 is great, not just because of the quick performance of the Nvidia CPU, but because the tablet is light and easy to hold. This makes both onscreen-controlled games and accelerometer-based titles suitable for the slate.
The camera UI on the Toshiba AT300 is native Android Ice Cream Sandwich, and there are very few features afforded to you.
On the back is a 5 megapixel snapper, complete with flash, that takes reasonable pictures - if somewhat pixelated and noisy. If you've not got a smartphone or a compact camera on your person and something happens that simply must be captured, it'll do the job, but we wouldn't recommend relying on it.
The same goes for video. Although it records in 720p HD, the video quality is pretty lousy, with the sensor struggling to cope with even the slightest movement.
There is a 2 megapixel camera up front, which does the job when it comes to video conferencing or face-unlocking.
The change in contrast between bright sunlight and shadow proved tricky for the Toshiba AT300.
Even with the sunset option selected, the pictures were pretty much unusable.
Blurring was a problem, with the tablet unable to cope with multiple action points.
With no flash and little natural light, inside images were grainy.
Rather than lighting an area, the flash was very reflective on surfaces.
Battery life and benchmarks
Battery life on the Toshiba AT300 is decent, although we didn't quite get the hours of action promised by the manufacturer.
Toshiba says that the battery will provide 10 hours of video playback, 36 hours of audio playback or 168 hours on standby. In our intensive battery test, which involves streaming and playback of HD video on a loop (of TechRadar's own Nyan creation, in case you're interested) with the brightness turned up to the max, it recorded around six hours of life.
With the brightness turned down a notch, though, and the action not so intensive, Toshiba's time estimates are much more likely.
One annoyance we did have regarding the battery is that the Toshiba AT300 doesn't charge through its Micro USB port but rather through Toshiba's proprietary port.
We know Apple, Asus and Samsung are guilty of the same crime with their devices, but it doesn't make it any less irksome. Toshiba's charger is also by far the chunkiest of the bunch, with a huge cable, so it's a hassle if you want to carry it around.
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The Toshiba AT300 is the latest entry into an ever-expanding middle-ground tablet market, sitting below the heavy-hitters such as the Asus Transformer Pad Infinity and the new iPad but above the ubiquitous array of budget slates.
It's a great tablet if you're looking for native Android (albeit slightly dated now) on the bigger screen at an attractive price.
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Honeycomb paved the way for Ice Cream Sandwich, with a slick, tablet-focused UI that doesn't necessarily need to be tweaked by device manufacturers. We love the way Toshiba has left Android 4.0 untouched, leaving you free to explore the platform the way that Google intended.
And Android 4.0 runs incredibly smoothly, thanks to the quad-core Tegra 3 chip powering the proceedings. It had little issue playing back HD media, the latest graphic-hungry games in Google Play provided little problem and switching between tasks is a breeze.
The build quality is also nice. While not as super-skinny as the Toshiba AT200, the Toshiba AT300 is a much more solid-feeling tablet, and the use of textured aluminium on the rear makes it comfortable to hold, even for long periods at a time.
The display, albeit acceptable for the cost, isn't the greatest. Sure, the 1280 x 800 display ticks the HD box, and IPS LCD technology is great, but we just felt that the colours were a little washed out and that viewing the display in bright light was troublesome. There was also a slight issue with backlight bleeding, although we are super-picky on this subject.
Camera quality, when it comes to both still images and videos, isn't of a high quality, although it's down to personal habit as to how much of an issue this is. And poor tablet camera action isn't a problem that's unique to Toshiba, with none of its main rivals offering anything staggeringly superior in this respect.
It's impossible not to start with the price, because it's most likely the thing that will have the greatest draw on your tablet-focused attention.
If you're adamant that you want an Android tablet and you can't stretch to the hefty RRP of the Asus Transformer Pad Infinity, then realistically your options are the Toshiba AT300, the Acer Iconia Tab A510 or the Asus Transformer Pad 300.
Asus' contender trumps Toshiba's by offering the hybrid keyboard option and, although much bulkier, the Acer Iconia Tab A510 is a slightly slicker (and marginally quicker) tablet with a few nice software tweaks and a much better battery life.
That's not to say that the Toshiba AT300 is a long way off these two rivals - it's an incredibly tight affair, and it's ultimately down to personal preference as to which one Android fans will prefer.
The bottom line is, if you're looking for a solid Android tablet with a strongly build, nice-looking design and speedy processor, along with plenty of storage and connectivity features - and you don't want to go over £400/$450 - then the Toshiba AT300 may be just the tablet for you.