Toshiba JournE Touch tablet £249.99
18th Dec 2009 | 16:43
It's thin and tablet-like – but what's it for?
Toshiba JournE: Overview
Five or six years ago when the web started to become popular, hardware manufacturers promised lightweight slates for browsing the web far more cheaply than laptops.
In those days 'far more cheaply' meant £6-700, lightweight meant chunky and browsing the web wasn't that exciting.
Now the web is indispensible - and a lot more powerful; cheap means netbook or smartphone prices and hardware is more powerful and much smaller. The 7-inch JournE Tablet is thin and light, it costs €249 (£220) – but is it more than a web pad?
Although Toshiba believes it will appeal to a very different market from the abortive Crunchpad (and the Joo Joo replacement), the interest in the Crunchpad and the endless speculation about an Apple tablet is a mixed blessing for the JournE.
The Crunchpad was supposed to be a cheap and simple web tablet, but many users want iPhone-style apps on a larger screen as well as web browsing. Slim down the OS and lose the keyboard and you get a smaller, lighter machine like this – but will it do enough for you to want it?
We take a look at the first version – on sale any day now.
Toshiba JournE: Features
Toshiba's JournE Touch is a 7-inch touchscreen with an ARM 11 processor driving the latest version of Windows CE (CE 6.0 R3) and it starts up in ten seconds.
It has b and g Wi-Fi, but not n (to keep the price down – a comment that we found ourselves making more than once) and we found both speed and reception inferior to a notebook on the same network.
There's a speaker on the back, concealed in the textured grip and a headphone socket on the side.
There are two USB ports; one standard and one mini USB, so you can connect it to your PC to copy files across, plug in a memory stick full of music, photos or videos to supplement the 1GB of on-board flash or connect a wireless broadband dongle to get online.
There's no accelerometer and the screen doesn't rotate (automatically or manually - although some apps will be able to rotate the screen).
The interface is very simple; there are icons for every app, with help and settings tucked away at the end of the list.
Tap in the corner to choose a wireless network to connect to; the other corner shows the current time and battery level, with an icon for opening the keyboard (although it usually opens automatically when you can type something into a field).
Currently there's a limited list of apps, most of them online tools. Some are familiar: YouTube, Facebook, Flickr and Picasa. Others are less well known; Radeo, a streaming radio service and FrameChannel, a content aggregation service.
There's an RSS reader, and MSN Messenger for instant messaging and voice calls to other Messenger users – easy to use, with the limitations of the on-screen keyboard. You can play MP3 and WMA tracks (with or without DRM); the interface for music, video and photos is the same icon-based folder navigation with simple forward/back and play/pause controls.
The Weather Channel app is basically a weather widget. There's a simple calendar app where you can create reminders, but this doesn't link to any internet calendars, and a 'fridge door' for leaving messages on – this lets you type notes or record rather muffled voice messages, but it would be much better if you could draw or write in the notes.
Toshiba JournE: Performance
Screen resolution of the Toshiba JournE is 800x480; so even though it supports MPEG 4 as well as H.264, you can't watch HD.
However, it is good for YouTube and similar services. There's an optional cradle with an HDMI port for plugging it into your PC, which will be one of the simplest ways we've seen of getting YouTube and internet content on your big screen.
There's an icon for Toshiba's own content service, which will offer apps and content; this will be free for the first month while Toshiba gets feedback from the first users but this isn't up and running yet, and Toshiba hasn't finalised the payment system.
We don't know how many apps there will be, because although there are thousands of developers with experience on the Win CE platform, Toshiba hasn't decided whether it will be an open marketplace that anyone can offer apps for or whether it will only allow apps it certifies.
The JournE team is working on adding key applications including an e-reader which will rotate the screen into portrait for page layout; it will handle PDF and EPUB but Toshiba can't say if it will work with Adobe Digital Editions.
These will be free updates that Toshiba says will be available over the air, and will be easy to install. When we first turned the JournE on it insisted on an update; this downloaded and installed easily, so that shouldn't be off putting.
Does the web work?
For a web tablet, the JournE has some way to go. Initially it comes with a mobile version of internet Explorer 6 similar to the one in Windows Mobile 6.5, with pan and zoom, and Flash Lite support.
Most web pages will load correctly, but more advanced web apps won't always work (certainly not Google Wave and we couldn't get the Office 2010 web apps to run). Toshiba will offer another browser, which it hasn't named yet (which will also be able to rotate the screen) and it's working with Adobe and Microsoft to put Flash and Silverlight on the JournE which will make it far more capable; CE 6.0 R3 supports Silverlight but Toshiba is still testing the integration.
BBC iPlayer isn't supported; presumably Toshiba is in negotiations because again, there won't be an answer "for a few weeks".
Toshiba JournE: Verdict
To keep the cost down, the JournE has a resistive screen, so you can use a finger, fingernail or stylus.
It doesn't come with a stylus, though, and there's no handwriting input of any kind. It's fairly sensitive and well tuned for finger touch, so you can select tick boxes by pressing with your fingertip, for example.
It's a little harder to grab scrollbars – for your Webmail inbox for example, although you can swipe up and down to scroll through a web page. There's no multi-touch and no other gestures.
The on-screen keyboard is also very basic; you can swap between upper and lower case or between letters and numbers plus symbols (or accented letters for European languages), but you can't press and hold to get capitals the way you can on BlackBerry or Windows Mobile 6.5, there are no browsing abbreviations (like www or .com) and no autocorrection of typing errors.
Zune HD is also based on this version of Windows CE and it has a superbly responsive touch keyboard that lets you slide your finger left or right if you don't get the letter you were expecting: this isn't nearly as smooth or intuitive.
It's also rather confusing that when you tap a field where you can type – including the address bar in the browser – you're switched to a screen showing just the input box and keyboard (it's going to make typing capchas something of a memory test).
It's hard to decide how good the JournE is because there are so many decisions Toshiba still needs to take.
We may be looking at too early a version of the JournE Touch; by the time you can buy it, many of our complaints may well have already been answered.
If they are, there's still the question of who the JournE is for. The battery life is too short and the keyboard too irritating to make it a device you'd routinely carry with you, although it would be great for a long train journey or to keep the kids amused.
At home, the fast startup does make it easier to grab than a PC and the optional TV connectivity should be a great way to bring internet content to your TV.
Toshiba suggests the JournE will be a good shared multimedia device for the home; it might be a little expensive for that, but it's certainly simple to use.
Remember that the JournE comes from Toshiba's digital photo frame family and it makes much more sense; this is a photo frame that can show photos from Flickr, updates from Facebook, videos from YouTube, messages from friends and other updates alongside your photos in the simplest way we've ever seen.