(Pocket-lint) - Pocket-lint regulars might remember that we reviewed the Toshiba AT100 and utterly despised its cheap and nasty design and uninspired features. Happily, then, the firm has just started to sell its new and much-updated version of the tablet. The AT200, which offers new styling greatly reduced weight and dimensions and some other tweaks to boot.
From the moment we took it out of the box, we found it to be a much more desirable device than its predecessor and first impressions really do count here. After all, this is a market dominated by an Apple product, so challengers need to have at least competent industrial design to get noticed.
Design is much improved
The first thing we noticed is that the AT200 isn't made from the same unpleasant creaky plastic of the original model. There's no etching on the back cover here to give the tablet the look of a device that's been heated up and run over by a truck. What you do get is an ultra-slim tablet with a metal rear surface finished in a sort of brushed style.
There are a couple of sockets located around the device. The first is a rather large docking port on the bottom of the tablet. This is used for the proprietary charger, which has a USB power connector and plug on the other end, and connects to a standard wall plug with USB connection on it. We aren't fans of this arrangement. Quite why the dock connector needs to be so damn large is beyond us. There are unlikely to be huge numbers of docks and accessories for the Toshiba tablet range, and the size of the connector just makes it a pain to carry around.
You get USB, HDMI and microSD capabilities too, though, and these are located on the right-hand side of the tablet. The USB and HDMI sockets are both micro-sized, which is fine for USB, although it does mean you'll need to buy a micro to standard HDMI cable. There is, of course, a headphone socket here too.
On the front of the tablet there's a video conferencing webcam, and on the rear a 5-megapixel camera.
It's not all good news though, because the first thing we noticed is that the rear case is really easy to scratch. We've had this tablet just a couple of weeks, and already it's got some battle scars on the back, and we haven't taken it anywhere dangerous. The second thing we noted was that the front glass seems even more of a fingerprint magnet than most tablets. Of course, it's not Toshiba's fault that we're such a greasy bunch of miscreants, but we do think other tablets seem slightly better at resisting our hand oils.
The AT200 ships with Android 3.2.1, but it will soon get an upgrade to Ice Cream Sandwich, we're told. Mind you, that doesn't really make a huge difference as Honeycomb is absolutely fine for tablet use, and the differences between it and Android 4.0 are fairly minor, at least as far as most users are concerned.
You can get the AT200 in either 16 or 32GB variants, but the microSD card slot means you can upgrade either by as much as 32GB. This is great, and truly useful for people who love watching video or taking their music collections everywhere they go.
Like a lot of devices, the AT200 has Swype installed, and it is the default keyboard. Annoyingly, it was set to a French layout to start with, we have no idea why but it's simple enough to fix. But we also found that it was quite laggy, with our keystrokes taking a perceivable amount of time to do anything onscreen. Switching to the standard Android keyboard made things better, and faster.
The rear-mounted 5-megapixel camera is, as you might expect, pretty average. In fact, average might be a bit charitable. We found that, while the image looked pretty good on screen, when the full image was emailed to a desktop computer, things started to look considerably less rosy.
Images seem to have a smudging on fine detail, those viewed at 100 per cent size really didn't look that impressive, even in decent light. Ultimately, we suppose this doesn't matter as no one uses their tablet for photos anyway, but we would almost prefer that Toshiba hadn't bothered with the rear-mounted camera, and had dropped the price of the tablet instead.
Sound and video quality
The built-in speakers aren't bad. Their location helps them produce sound that can't easily be blocked by hands and they're certainly loud enough for viewing video at home in a quiet room. The quality via the speakers is only average though, but then they're small so no one expects a full range sound. Headphones obviously improve the situation a great deal, so we used them, and so should you!
Thanks to the new screen - this isn't an IPS panel, unlike the A100 - the image quality seems better to us. On the previous model, while the viewing angle was good, the fine detail areas of the screen - say on thin lines - would have a subtle but noticeable noise to them. Here that is entirely gone, and we prefer this display. It is, however, the same resolution so there's not oodles more detail to be enjoyed. It's certainly no rival for the new iPad.
Video looks good though. We streamed some content from Netflix, and it was sharp and had more than enough colour and detail. Switch to HD content from a local network source and the detail jumps up substantially. In fact, looking at 720p video, we were stunned by how much clarity and fine detail there was in the image. So in screen terms, at least, the Tosh has nothing to be ashamed of.
When watching video, we suggest you switch off the auto backlight. We found it was a little over-sensitive to quite minor light changes, and that meant that when we were watching video the brightness would often jump up or down in response to a small increase or decrease in the ambient light. This makes watching video quite distracting, but it is at least easy to disable.
DLNA and Toshiba Media Player
One of the things we hated about the AT100 was its terrible DLNA media player. Sadly, Toshiba has done nothing to address this problem whatsoever.
Its own app, the Media Player, is the most dreadful thing we've ever seen or used. It will play music and photos out of the box, but don't expect video to work. We couldn't understand why this was for quite a while, but the solution came with a third-party app called Skifta. It turns out that the tablet doesn't have a video player that can handle common video file types. Install one, and you'll be able to use both the Toshiba app, and third-party solutions like Skifta with no problem.
You will not, however, be able to use the brilliant Plex app to watch video. No matter what we tried, we couldn't get the Tosh to play ball with our media server. This is a network we've used on dozens of other devices, all of which happily connect to either Plex, via its dedicated app, or via the DLNA service offered on the latest version.
We obviously can't tell you why this is, but given other devices don't have the problem, we have to assume it's something specific to the Toshiba. And when our Samsung and Sony tablets and phones all play ball, along with laptops and our WD TV Live Hub, we have to conclude that the issue is not of our making.
Toshiba says you'll see eight hours battery life from the AT200. We have no reason to dispute that, and it adds an hour to the AT100. We did notice that the tablet has a pretty aggressive Wi-Fi power-saving mode, which shuts the wireless off as soon as the screen goes off. This might be consistent with other tablets running Honeycomb, but we would prefer the option to have the wireless stay on for a short period once the screen is locked.
The other change from the AT100 is that the battery is now no longer removable. This might be a problem for some people, who perhaps opted to use their tablets with a couple of interchangeable batteries for maximum life. We can't, however, see this being an issue for most people.
The AT-200 is a much better tablet than its predecessor the 100. We actually felt impressed when we lifted it out of the box and held it for the first time.
Its slim design, unusual flat back - most tablets have curves, the AT-200 does not - make it nice to look at and pleasant to hold. Connectivity-wise, there's plenty here too with USB and HDMI. The screen is improved too, and the battery life is quoted at an hour more, although we have no real way to test one battery against another as each day's use is different to the next.
Overall, this is a much better tablet than any Toshiba has released previously. It's still not perfect though, and we question the logic of paying so much money for a tablet that's just "okay" when you could have one that's brilliant for the same price.