Toshiba M200 Review -- Part 1, by Perry Longinotti, Alberta Canada
Part 1 (M200 Overview, Build Quality, Ergonomics), Part 2 (Performance, Gaming, Tablet PC Explanation, Conclusion)
What is a Toshiba Portege M200?
Introducing the Toshiba Portege M200 Tablet PC / Notebook Convertible Computer (view larger image)
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.
Left side profile of the Toshiba Portege M200 (view larger image)
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.
Right side profile of the Toshiba Portege M200 (view larger image)
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.
What is the quality like?
Build quality is a mix of good and bad. On the one hand, the unit is constructed of magnesium alloy (most of the shell is anyway). A Tablet is something designed to be carried with you. Portability means you will be holding it in places where someone would not usually pick up and carry a laptop. This can expose build quality issues. Unfortunately, when carrying the M200 around you will discover that some of the panels on the bottom of the machine, in particular the RAM door, are quite flimsy to the touch. These panels feel thin and I suspect that they would be easily crushed if squeezed to hard. You might not know what too hard' is until it is too late. In general there is a lot of creaking from the M200 chassis. The palm rests flex noticeably. The LCD screen hinge tension is good while somehow allowing an annoying amount of play. Despite looking well designed, it does not feel as solid as the hinge on the Averatec 3500, a unit that costs much less.
Size comparison of the Toshiba M200 (view larger image)
A laptop at this price should be built like a bank vault; the M200 is not quite there yet. It seems like there are good and bad factories in every country. The M200 is made in China. Handle a Toshiba Portege R100 (if I remember correctly the I previously reviewed was made in Japan) or Panasonic and you will know how a laptop should feel in your hands. An old Portege 4000 I recently came across is much more solid feeling than the M200, despite being three years older (made in the Philippines).
Toshiba backs up the M200 with a 3-year limited warranty. This is something that only comes standard with the higher end-units form Toshiba. Additional warranty coverage is available direct from Toshiba when you purchase or register your notebook -- including an accident replacement warranty. You could say that this shows Toshiba's confidence in the M200, but I suspect the warranty has been worked into the price.
What are the ergonomics of the M200 like?
A common characteristic of tablets that I have observed, and this suggests that their designers may not be users, is all of them are made of various shiny plastics and metals. In other words they are slick and not grippy. I don't understand this -- tablets are something that you are meant to carry around. Toshiba, while using a matt finish on the lower half of the M200, is also guilty of this design flaw. The rubberized tacky plastic that Compaq used on the Presario 2800 and Evo 800 laptops would be almost perfect as a covering for all or part of this case. Given the slippery nature of the M200, you may want to consider the optional three-year accident warranty Toshiba offers.
The pen for the Portege M200 is housed in the right-side (view larger image)
It is inconvenient to carry around any laptop if the battery life is too short. Toshiba's tablet is sold in this area too. It will run for three to four per charge. It would be great if users could add another battery for a seven to nine hour run time away from outlets, but unlike Toshiba's R100 and Tecra M2 this does not appear to be an option on the M200. Bummer.
The keyboard is solid. With a metal chassis underneath it, the M200 is stiff. It is stiffer than the Tecra M2 units I have tried, but not close to the stiffness of the Portege R100 keyboard. It does have the R100 beat in terms of key travel though; the M200's keys have a nice amount of travel to them that makes fast typing easy. The keyboard has been chopped in all the right places and that leaves the user with a very usable layout. Keyboards are often overlooked when selecting a laptop, and with a machine like the M200 it is fair to say you may not need the keyboard all that much, but in this case you won't be sacrificing anything. Toshiba has been making small notebooks long enough to have figured out an almost perfect key placement.
Keyboard and touchpad for the Toshiba Portege M200 (view larger image)
Touch pads are another area where I have had mixed results. The M200 displays none of the erratic behavior that I have witnessed with other laptops. It is nice to start using a laptop out of the box rather than having to tweak something as basis as the touch pad. The M200 touch pad pushes the envelope when it comes to size. I can't imagine that it could get much smaller. People with big fingertips may have problems with this touch pad, but then again those folks may not be the target audience for small products like these.
The touch pad on the Toshiba Portege M200 is on the small side (view larger image)
The screen offers an outstanding amount of desktop real estate for a 12" screen with its 1400*1050 resolution. This resolution may be pushing things a little bit for many people. I have read complaints from people on message boards that the screen resolution makes reading text difficult. Toshiba includes a handy Zoom' utility that can be accessed by pressing FN+SPACE.' This toggles screen resolution from native to 1024*768 and 800*600 respectfully. I found that the interpolated 1024*768 resolution was quite usable.
There is also a trick whereby you change the DPI setting in your display properties to Large' and this made text more legible. To do this, simply right click anywhere on the desktop, select Properties' from the menu. On the panel that appears, choose the settings tab and click the Advanced' button. You should see a screen like the image below.
View angle on the M200 screen is not very good. With a screen that has 360 degree rotation on one plane and 180 degree on another, this should not be too much of a problem -- but some people need to know this type of information. Response time seems OK too. Playing some games on the M200 did not uncover any nasty ghosting, but too be honest ghosting is getting increasingly rare on LCDs -- even the bargain priced ones.
Backside profile of Toshiba Portege M200 (view larger image)
The M200 screen brightness is adequate. As I write this I have a workhorse Satellite Pro 6100 sitting next to me and its screen is noticeably brighter and more vivid. Having said this, I find the M200 screen a lot easier on the eyes because of the high resolution and the resulting quality of the font rendering.
Part 1 (M200 Overview, Build Quality, Ergonomics), Part 2 (Performance, Gaming, Tablet PC Explanation, Conclusion)
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