Toshiba Australia joins the tablet wave this week with the release of its AT100 Android tablet at a highly competitive $579 price.
It's an aggressive play by Toshiba, setting the AT100 — also known overseas as the Toshiba Thrive and Regza — against Apple's iPad in price but outgunning the iPad in features, especially the connectivity options which can make so much of a difference to travellers.
The 10.1 inch tablet runs on Android 3.0, which is Google's first version of its software specifically designed for tablet use, with screen layouts that make much better use of the display size.
The LED-backlit panel clocks as a high resolution (although not 'full HD' 1280x800) and runs on a speedy NVIDIA Tegra 2 chip, which is the same powerplant as seen inside the Motorola XOOM that was recently released through Telstra.
Where Toshiba's tablet is different from the rest
One of Toshiba's key points of differentiation — which will be great for travellers — is a full-size HDMI port built into the tablet, so it can be hooked up to a digital TV without needing a special adaptor. A standard HDMI cable will plug straight into the tablet.
Another huge advantage for travellers is that it also has a full-size SD card reader, making it an ideal photo viewing device for pics straight off a camera.
The back cover of the tablet can also be removed, giving access to a replaceable battery — allowing the tablet to be used throughout the longest flights if you buy a second $80 six-cell battery.
There's also a full-size USB port allowing a USB memory key to be plugged in, rather than the annoying micro and mini USB ports found on most Android tablets that require a special adaptor for a memory key .
Toshiba has also made it possible to stream TV from the tablet to a TV that supports DLNA standards (although, in the experience of Australian Business Traveller DLNA is a standard that barely ever seems to work without a lot of fiddling around, unlike Apple's Airplay technology. However, we'll reserve judgement until we can see it in action first-hand.
The cameras in the Toshiba Tablet are considerably better than what's in the iPad 2 (which has disappointingly poor-quality cameras). The front-facing webcam has a 2MP resolution — enough for decent snapshots — and the rear-facing camera is 5MP, the same as what's in the iPhone 4.
The iPad 2, in comparison, has an embarrasingly low resolution rear camera — just 0.92MP, and the front camera is even lower.
The $90 Toshiba Multi Dock with HDMI, which has a full-size HDMI port for connecting to an HD TV or LCD monitor, two USB ports for connecting a key board or external hard drive and a 3.5mm stereo headphone socket, as well as charging the tablet when docked.
A $50 "Portfolio" case provides hard-shell protection while stil providing access to the ports and buttons on the tablet.
Like the Motorola XOOM's case, it can be used in different positions as an adjustable stand to view or use the tablet at different angles.
Toshiba is providing Nokia-style (or Apple SmartCover style) interchangeable rear covers, in Silver Sky, Blue Moon, Green Apple, Rasberry Fusion and Lavender Bliss colours, for $30 each.