At last year's IFA trade fair, I got the opportunity to play with the prototype of a radical new 7in touchscreen tablet from Toshiba, the JournE Touch.
"We believe these kinds of products will be the fastest selling kind in consumer electronics," said Toshiba Europe's general manager Thomas Teckentrup at the time. Well, he was right, but Toshiba has subsequently been trumped by Apple's 3m-selling iPad tablet.
While friends and colleagues such as Mike Truman, Charles Verrier and Richard Messik have offered their impressions of the iPad, I went back to the much less expensive (c£150-£250) JournE Touch to see how it compared.
To put the device in context, the JournE Touch is smaller than an iPad at 187 x 135mm (7.4 x 5.3in) and is specifically designed for consumer applications such as Facebook, Twitter, watching video streams and listening to music. I tried to use it for data input tasks such as updating my election night Google spreadsheet, but gave up as the device's Wi-Fi speed and on-screen keyboard couldn't keep up.
Toshiba based its tablet on the Windows CE operating system and for the moment it can only cope with one application at a time – just like the iPad. Within a few minutes of taking the device out of its box and plugging it in, I had calibrated the resistive touch screen and rigged up a Wi-Fi connection. Among the apps that were ready-installed was Radeo, a little streaming program that jumped out of the screen and launched straight into some churning, heavy blues from PBS 106.7 FM in Collingwood, Australia. The sound quality was great through a set of headphones, but because the JournE Touch couldn't multi-task, it isn't possible to listen as you surf elsewhere.
Other apps installed in the JournE Touch when I received it included music and movie players, plus client programs for YouTube, Picassa and The Weather Channel. While the sound and video functions were quite satisfying, the device couldn't cope with some common file formats (.mp4, .mov and Adobe Flash .swf files). Initially I couldn't download and see PDF files within the browsers, but later found I could open them in the Adobe-compatible eBook reader.
Clicking the Toshiba Virtual Store icon takes you to a site with more goodies on offer including the Opera browser (IE6 was already installed) and a Twitter client. But the available apps could be counted in scores rather than the thousands that you can find on Apple's iTunes site and this will remain a competitive disadvantage for rival tablets such as the JournE Touch. But the Windows platform isn't a complete write-off and if the latest Windows 7 Mobile implementation brings Office and Exchange integration closer to hand, the non-Apple tablet market could get a lot more interesting (not to mention the potential for Google's Android project).
I have to confess to experiencing a sequence of ups and downs as I got to know the JournE Touch and my expectations bumped up against its technical limitations. The resistive screen seemed to respond best to a firm finger, but would sometimes sit inertly after registering my touch command. On some web pages (including AccountingWEB.co.uk) that included a lot of text hyperlinks, I sometimes had to jab a strategic fingernail at the screen to pinpoint the desired link.
The keyboard worked well and would be familiar to any iPhone or iPad user, but as has been noted, it's better suited to typing short search terms into Google and tweets than extensive note-taking or work applications.
Bearing in mind that it's a consumer device rather than work tool, the JournE Touch didn't quite change my online life, but once I got used to its limitations it did have its uses. The device fitted into a jacket pocket (or handbag) and was very convenient as a quick-booting web browser and supplementary viewing/research tool – for example downstairs in the kitchen when I wanted to check trains or cinema times quickly, or when I wanted to tweet about a concert and see what other audience members thought of it.
The JournE Touch still has the hint of a prototype device about it and I experienced some of the anguish of the early adopter. I could see what Toshiba is working towards but the current model isn't quite there yet. Put it this way; with a faster processor, more responsive screen and user interface, better Wi-Fi speed and most of all multitasking, the JournE Touch would be the perfect Christmas present for the budget-conscious gadget lover.
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AccountingWEB’s Editor at large has been with the site since 1999, rising from news editor to editor in chief, global editor and head of insight. As a roving editor, he continues to investigate the profession's use of technology around the world. He devotes his spare time to technology history and an oddball collection of stringed instruments...