Little big book
The Toshiba Libretto U100 is built for road warriors and gadget hounds who feel that even four or five pounds of computer gear is just too much to carry between airport gates or meeting rooms. Though it's been continuously sold in Japan, the U100 is the first Libretto in six years to be sold in the United States--and it's among the smallest and lightest notebooks available anywhere. Looking like a Lilliputian version of a typical laptop, this two-pound wonder is deceptively powerful and can compete with larger and heavier systems, but its tiny screen and keys present a challenge when it comes to getting work done for long stretches. We laud the effort to downsize the notebook, but the Libretto U100 shows that less can be--well, less. At $1,999 (as of July 2005), we think less-expensive designs that weigh a few ounces more and have grown-up keyboards and screens, such as the Dell Latitude X1 or even the U100's sibling , will prove much more useful.
Sturdy yet elegant, the black, white, and silver Libretto U100 features an internal aluminum frame, a magnesium base, and a brushed-aluminum and plastic lid that are designed to take a beating. Petite and light, the U100 is about as small as a notebook gets these days. Larger than the NEC MobilePro 900 handheld PC but smaller and lighter than just about any notebook on the market, the U100's dimensions (1.3 inches thick, 8.3 inches wide, and 6.5 inches deep) mean that it can easily slip into a jacket pocket or a briefcase pouch and go anywhere you go. At 2.2 pounds, it's also a few ounces lighter than the Dell Latitude X1 and nearly a pound less than the Sony VAIO VGN-T250, although both of these systems have larger screens and keyboards. With the tiny AC adapter and power cord, the U100 hits the road at an enviable 2.9 pounds.
Size is both the U100's greatest strength and its biggest shortcoming. The 7.2-inch wide-screen display, with a 1,280x768 native resolution, looks tiny compared to the 10.6-inch and 12.1-inch panels on the VAIO T250 and the Latitude X1, respectively. We found that icons and fonts were difficult to read. The notebook's rectangular 13.9mm keys make typos unavoidable during any kind of extended use. The keyboard is fine for quick memos or e-mail, but don't expect to type long documents on it. On the other hand, we love that the fingerprint reader allows access to the system, consolidates passwords, and doubles as a scroll key to augment the system's pointing stick. Unfortunately, the laptop lacks the Trusted Platform Module that many corporations are starting to require.
With such a small case, the Toshiba Libretto U100 has room for only a headphone jack, two USB 2.0 ports, a FireWire port, and a VGA connection (although the latter requires the included adapter), as well as a Type II PC Card slot. The machine lacks an S-Video port and a microphone jack. The U100 makes the connection with 56Kbps modem and 100Mbps Ethernet ports and the one-two wireless punch of Bluetooth and an Atheros Super G 802.11b/g Wi-Fi card. In our anecdotal tests, the Libretto U100 was able to stay online 175 feet from our Wi-Fi base station, nearly twice as far as the typical notebook. If you want an optical drive, you're out of luck--unless you spend an extra $100 for the one-pound DVD Dock, which houses a multiformat DVD burner. Unfortunately for movie watchers, the quarter-size speakers below the screen can't get loud enough and sound hollow, even with the SRS TruSurround turned on. To truly appreciate the system's stereo sound, you'll have to connect headphones or external speakers through the headphone jack.