The tablet world may be utterly dominated by the iPad, but that doesn't mean there aren't alternatives out there for Apple-dodging Android fans.
The Toshiba AT200 is one such slate, offering a clean design and a superbly slim chassis. It's not running the latest version of Android, nor does it pack the same quad-core power of, so will its skinny frame be enough to charm the money from your wallet?
Design and build quality
The 10.1-inch Android tablet world is awash with slates that are nigh on impossible to tell apart. Toshiba has made the AT200 supremely slim to try and distinguish it from the masses. At its preview in November last year, it was thinner than any tablet then available, and I've not seen anything slimmer since.
It's a mere 7.7mm thick, which knocks a sizeable slice off the 9.4mm of Apple's new iPad. Even theis 9mm thick, so the AT200's slimness really does feel quite a surprise in your hand. If you hold it in one palm and the new iPad in the other, you really can reallty tell the difference. At 535g, it's much lighter than the iPad's 652g, making it more comfortable to hold for long periods.
Thin and light products often run the risk of feeling cheap and plasticky, but thankfully the AT200 manages to mostly avoid this. The back panel is made of some form of plastic that's been given a brushed metal effect that looks rather attractive. It offers very little flex when pressed and it provides none of the tell-tale creaks when you try to bend it, indicating that it's sturdy enough to put up with everyday use.
It's not all smooth sailing though with the chassis. Both the glass front and plastic back fail to sit flush with the metal surround, resulting in a rather sharp exposed edge. This is true the whole way around the edge on both sides and is sharp enough for me to be consciously cautious about the way I'm holding it. That's something I haven't had to experience on any of its rivals. It's a huge shame to see this as it smacks of poor quality control in production and spoils what would otherwise be a well designed piece of kit.
On the sides you'll find a micro-USB port, which serves for data transfer only and not for charging, a mini-HDMI port, a microSD card slot, a headphone jack, a volume rocker, power button and a customisable switch. the latter is touted as being 'multi-function', which is a little generous -- it has two functions, mute or orientation lock. After some poking around, I discovered that to switch between them, you have to delve into the screen options in the settings menu.
Annoyingly, you can't charge the tablet over the micro-USB port as you can on many of its Android rivals. Instead, you're forced to use the rather chunky proprietary cable. This means that you're forced to carry the cable with you if you plan on using it for any length of time away from home. You'll be rightly living in fear of forgetting it in a hotel room on holiday.
Of course, the iPad doesn't charge over micro-USB either, but at least Apple's cables are considerably easier to come across. If I was forced into an emergency battery situation with a tablet, I'd much rather it be with an iPad.
The new iPad's 'retina display' has pushed the boundaries of what can be expected of a tablet screen, so if a slate is going to seriously compete with it, it needs to offer a similarly pleasing display.
With a resolution of 1,280x800 pixels, it's coming up rather short of the iPad's 2,048x1,536 pixels, so expect much less fine detail on images, videos and web pages. Viewing high-resolution pics on the AT200 certainly doesn't provide the same 'wow' factor that I felt when looking at the same picture on the iPad.
It's bright and reasonably vivid though -- although it doesn't quite offer the same rich colours of the iPad. In terms of its Android slate competitors, it's certainly in the top half of the league, with punchier colours than lower-end tablets like the Acer Iconia Tab A100, although it doesn't quite challenge the .
Toshiba reckons that the screen has been given an 'anti-fingerprint coating', which is frankly laughable, as the glass shows up more fingerprints than an average episode of CSI. If you've got even the slightest amount of grease on your fingers, expect it to soon be smeared all over the screen. Of course, no tablet has ever been particularly good at avoiding finger grease, so the AT200 isn't on its own here.
It offers good viewing angles, which is handy if you've got your mates crowding round to see a YouTube clip, but it's very reflective so it isn't ideal for use under bright sunlight or harsh office lighting.
One of the most annoying aspects of the screen though is the odd dark grid pattern placed just below the glass. While this is probably the means by which the touchscreen can track your finger movements, it's considerably more noticeable than any tracking system I've seen on other tablets. Under certain lighting it's visible, even when watching videos.
It might not be a huge issue for most of the time, but I'm amazed that no one looked at the screen in the final checks and said, "No guys, look at it, it's like it's been tattooed, we can't put it on sale like that."
Android 3.2 Honeycomb
The AT200 comes loaded with-- the version of Google's operating system originally designed to run exclusively on tablets, as opposed to smaller-screened smart phones. Sadly though, it's not the most recent version of Android, known as , which is rolling out on tablets and phones.