Toshiba Portege M200 Tablet PC Review

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Toshiba claims that the Portege M200 is the best selling Tablet PC (at least in Canada) so I figured this was as good a place as any to start my Tablet experience. I was looking forward to what I felt would surely be a great computer to review (note the clever use of foreshadowing to build suspense). I have to admit to wanting to try one of these units for a while. The concept seems to be a logical next step for computers. This article has a primary purpose, to tell you about the M200 and give you some perspective regarding how it rates and also a secondary purpose to tell you a little bit about the Tablet PC platform.

Toshiba selected good components for the M200. In Canada the standard configuration is the Centrino package, which includes the 1.6 GHz Pentium-M processor, Intel 855GM chipset, and Intel 2100B 802.11b wireless. It would have been nice to have 802.11b/g wireless rather than the older B' standard. In Canada, Toshiba does not offer an online notebook configurator so you are stuck with one standard configuration. At the time I was writing this article Toshiba introduces a refreshed M200 with a 1.8Ghz Dothan and 802.11b/g. A casualty of the standard spec is Bluetooth, which is available as a build to order option in the USA. In Canada you must buy the part and have a tech install it -- or void your warranty if you do it yourself.

The balance of the spec sheet is filled out by a fast 7200 RPM 60 GB hard drive, 512 megabytes of PC2700 RAM (512MB in one slot and a vacant second slot for future expansion -- max 2 GB). The screen is a 12" poly silicon TFT with a Wacom-developed electromagnetic digitizer. Many people feel that a an LCD screen protector is not required for Tablets, but I should warn any new users that mine suffered two scratches within hours of first using it. Screen protectors like those from www.strongengineering.com are significantly less expensive than a new LCD screen.

Ports are sparse. There is a single Cardbus slot, Modem (software-based), Ethernet (10/100), VGA (no DVI) and two USB 2.0 ports. The lack of DVI is unfortunate as more and more people adopt LCD monitors and LCD projectors are increasingly available with DVI ports. Lack of Firewire is also unfortunate. Connectivity is good, with 802.11B, (optional) Bluetooth, and Infrared available for wireless communication with networks, peripherals and other devices. Accessories for the M200 include a dock and port replicator.

The M200 is about the same size as a ThinkPad T-series. It is much larger than the ultra slim Portege R100, but still very portable at about 4.5 pounds. It is well over an inch think and while that may provide lots of room for heat dissipation (the M200 is quiet and cool) there apparently was not enough room for an optical drive.

And this brings me to perhaps my biggest complaint; the M200 does not include an optical drive of any kind. Ultra slim laptops have been sold this way for a few years, and I still don't understand why. These are premium laptops with premium prices -- why make users buy the drive as an accessory? This policy is further exacerbated by the fact that only Toshiba drives can boot the M200 (or R100 for that matter) and the drives that Toshiba sells are outrageously expensive ($499 CDN). This makes disaster recovery very inconvenient. If you need to restore your M200 for any reason, you had better learn how to boot from a network, or SD Card or possibly a combination of Toshiba's floppy drive and a generic optical drive (Toshiba's Floppy drive, also not included, is another expensive accessory).

The test unit came with Windows XP Tablet Edition 2005 -- this includes XP service pack 2. It also came bundled with Toshiba's suite of excellent configuration utilities. The network tool that Toshiba has developed is especially useful when traveling and makes settings for the notebook and tablet function easy to access in one place.

Microsoft's OneNote application is bundled with the M200 and this represents the biggest software inclusion. Basically, OneNote is a must have application for any tablet, and is bundled with most. It showcases a lot of the Tablet's better features and is built to Microsoft's usual high standard for Office applications. I am not sure that it stands on its own though and it is in no way a substitute for Word.

Toshiba has bundled Norton Antivirus 2005 with a 1-year subscription. The standard with most new computers seems to be a 30 or 60-day trial, so this is a nice feature.