Toshiba shows off big Brazos laptops and 3D screens

CES 2011 leftovers: Nichey and three dimensional

Toshiba LogoTOSHIBA IS DOING something unusual with their laptops, branching out into far more niche-y product lines. They also showed off a bunch of glasses-free 3D TVs at CES as well, although these were far from impressive.

The laptops are the most interesting part, and Toshiba has a ton of consumer oriented and a few business parts, but nothing like the glory days. The consumer focus was so great that I can’t remember seeing any business laptops at CES, but they might have been there. Given how painful Toshiba makes finding out the barest technical specs on laptops, it is clear they are actively turning away the tech-savy and business customer. Oh how the mighty have fallen.

Getting back to the good things, we have the Toshiba L635-S3030 ‘kids’ laptop. The idea is simple, take a low end laptop, put a slightly ruggedized finish on it, and add a wipeable keyboard. Inside, use a Celeron P4600 CPU, 2GB of RAM, and a 250GB HD, resulting in a pretty decent starting point for the target market. While most will cringe at a 1366*768 13.3″ screen, it is more than plenty for the wee ones. (Note to Toshiba: Your site does not contain simple things like CPU speed or specs anywhere. Fix this absurdity.)

Toshiba L635

Bright and hopefully kid-proof

From there, add a preinstalled children’s game, Lego Batman, and some ‘safety’ software. In this case, safety means Net Nanny and the child friendly KidZui browser. Parents can now safely abdicate their responsibility without feeling that twinge of guilt for not keeping an eye on the little ones.

If Toshiba had stopped there, it would have been a good thing, but the bloatware list is pretty painful. It has enough things loading at startup that most owners will age enough to qualify for a grown-up laptop long before they get to the desktop. Add in that Toshiba puts in 30 day trials of Norton and the ad-infested version of Office Starter, and you have something decidedly non-kid friendly.

If it wasn’t for the anti-user software, the $581.99 MSRP would be a decent enough deal, especially in light of the fairly unique keyboard. In the end though, you would be better off blowing the entire install away and loading Edubuntu or Kiddix. Then again, that would defeat the point of this still fairly innovative laptop. SIGH.

The next one up is the AMD Brazos based Satellite C655D. What made this stand out from the entire herd at CES was the form factor. No, it isn’t anything new, the chassis is a pretty standard 15.6″ laptop with new guts. The uniqueness comes from the fact that it was the only Brazos laptop at CES that I could find with a non-tiny screen. It may be 1366*768, but it is not minuscule like every other Brazos lappy out there.

Toshiba C655D

Brazos in XL format

You can get it with an E350 dual or E240 single core running at 1.6 and 1.5GHz respectively. The SKUs start out under $400, $398.99 to be exact, and go up to $489.99. Curiously, the RAM configurations go from 2 to 4GB, but you can’t get a dual core CPU with 4GB, the larger 320GB HD, or a webcam/mic combo.

While the SKUs are extremely curiously chosen, the end result is a very solid value for the money. The Atom based Mini Notebook costs between $299 and $469, and only comes with a 1GB of RAM, a practically unusable 10.1″ 1024*600 screen and the totally unusable Win7 Starter edition, it isn’t much of a deal. The Satellite C655D shows Atom the door in the netbook and low end notebook space.

The other thing of interest at Toshiba was 3D TVs and monitors. Toshiba had several models on display that claimed to be glasses free 3D, and indeed they were. Unfortunately, like every other company out there with similar technologies, they had some issues.

Any glasses free technology uses a similar mechanism to work, they put a filter or a prism in front of the screen so an eye can only see one side of the filter or one facet of the prism. Every other line on the TV is set to display a different image from the 3D picture, and the end result is a 3D image that works pretty well without glasses.

The down side is that you lose every other line of the horizontal, so a 1920*1080 picture becomes two simultaneous 960*1080 frames that only one eye can see. For this to work, you have to be at very specified angles with respect to the screen otherwise the wrong eye gets the wrong frame, or worse yet, both eyes get a broken image.

If you are standing correctly, then things work out pretty well. Toshiba had a demo in their private suite that used the webcam for face tracking to likely determine which eye was looking at which slice of the image, and adjust accordingly. This actually worked pretty well in a semi-private setting.

In a more public area like the Toshiba booth at CES, things didn’t work out so well. Most of the large screen monitors had a rug in front of them with three sets of footprints marked out. Standing directly on the footprints, bolt upright, it worked fine. Lean a little, get tired and bend one knee, or fidget, and the illusion quickly went away, usually in a headache inducing way.

We looked at it late in the show, and there was no one at the booth that could explain what technologies were used in that demo, or who to ask even the most basic technical questions of, much less any giggly booth babes.  We can’t say if the demo in the Toshiba suite was the same tech as the ones on the floor, but we hope it isn’t.

In any case, the whole concept of glasses free 3D is about what you would expect, not quite all there yet. In some circumstances, it works very well, but they are limited and temperamental. Expect the whole concept to crop up more and more in demos and kiosks/controlled environments, but the mass market is still a long way off.S|A

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Charlie Demerjian

Roving engine of chaos and snide remarks at SemiAccurate
Charlie Demerjian is the founder of Stone Arch Networking Services and is a technology news site; addressing hardware design, software selection, customization, securing and maintenance, with over one million views per month. He is a technologist and analyst specializing in semiconductors, system and network architecture. As head writer of, he regularly advises writers, analysts, and industry executives on technical matters and long lead industry trends. Charlie is also a council member with Gerson Lehman Group. FullyAccurate