Toshiba M400 Review

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I have a policy when buying ready-made computers; don’t buy them from companies whose computers aren’t their main market. With that in mind I recently purchased a Toshiba M400 TabletPC…

Now before I go off on a review I thought I would go on a bit about why I went for a TabletPC and my previous experience of them, so if you aren’t interested in my inane ramblings you may want to skip on a few paragraphs.

Background

Back in the day I used to carry around a HP iPaq 4700 PDA, it had my personal and work email on it; I had lots of synchronised documents and dozens of third party apps it was great to carry around but it was a complete pain to use. I had a laptop sized keyboard I could use for taking notes which was all very nice but setting it up in a meeting was like unpacking a sniper rifle – unfold the keyboard and lock the keys together, fit the connector adapter, remove iPaq from carry case, fit to keyboard connector. Then there was the reliability, more than once at the end of the meeting I would click Save As, navigate to the work folder give it a name press save – and the device would perform a soft reset and lose all my notes… excellent!

It all came to a head when I was away from my desk in the office and needed to reset somebody’s password, I thought I would use the terminal services client to dial in to the server and change it, I load up the client, click the server enter the details and up comes the screen, so it’s a little slow but quicker than wandering back to my desk I click a button on the remote computer, the PDA resets but not just a soft reset and complete reset losing everything! Luckily I had a backup but I’d had enough.

I started looking out for a new laptop, I wanted something that was light, easy to carry around, and be reliable! A lot of the PDA websites I used to frequent had reports from people who were moving to a relatively new device called a TabletPC. I had heard of them in the past and some of them looked fantastic but the prices had been astronomical for a comparatively weak spec when compared to a laptop. It had been about 18 months since then and I decided to have another look, the first model I came across was the HP TC1100 TabletPC, it looked absolutely amazing, it was tiny and was reasonably fast for its size. It had a Pentium M 1Ghz, 512mb Ram, 40Gb HDD and 11b wireless. On the down side it had no optical drive so that had to be purchased separately.

I found one on eBay that was 6 months old but in excellent condition. It was delivered a few days later and I was amazed out just how good it was. I bought an extra 512mb of Ram to push it up to 1Gb and upgraded Windows XP Tablet PC edition to SP2 which essentially upgraded it to TabletPC edition 2005, the new version made improvements to the input panel as well as making it easier to use the device using only the pen. Work had licenses for OneNote and Office 2003 so I had them installed and making notes in meetings was brilliant, jotting away in OneNote everything was saved instantly and I had all my documents and emails available instantly, the only downside was my atrocious handwriting!

Late last year I decided to try the release candidate of Vista on it, I wasn’t hopeful. I was surprised however and speed wise it was quite usable and the improved handwriting recognition was great. On the downside the little GeForce 4 Go 420 wasn’t quite up to Aero so that was out, also HP had stopped making the device over a year ago so there was no Vista drivers for it, and as anyone who has used Vista they will know drivers make or (literally) break the Vista experience. The built in SD card reader had no drivers and didn’t work, the video drivers were old and led to high CPU spikes for no reason (I did try the laptop2go drivers but Vista would not initialise them) and the supplied Bluetooth drivers and my Logitech Bluetooth mouse kept freezing up the whole machine leaving me with the pen or the useless ‘nipple’ on the keyboard. It was no good, no matter how much I loved the TC1100 it wasn’t going to play ball with Vista. It was time for a new machine!

Decisions

So I was on the lookout for a new TabletPC, I did have a thought about going back to a Laptop but the idea of having to use pen and paper in a meeting didn’t sound good. I also looked at UMPCs but while they were ultra portable they didn’t have the speed or the screen space for any heavy work, so it was back to TabletPCs.

So that was the easy bit the next was which kind of TabletPC to get, there are three options:

  1. Hybrid – The same as the TC1100, it has a built in keyboard which can be folded away or removed leaving you with a pen only slate device.
  2. Convertible – A laptop with a rotating screen which folds down over the keyboard.
  3. Slate – Only the slate device, if you need a keyboard then you usually have to purchase it separately or it’s included but as a loose item.

I immediately ruled out a slate only device as while I do a lot of hand writing I also use the computer while on site in other offices and I would need a keyboard and mouse for things like Terminal Services. I liked the idea of a hybrid device but in the UK there is a limited selection and none of them offered the ease of use I had with the TC1100. This left me with a convertible laptop, after spending a few days looking at different models which were either bare bones laptops with a rotating screen bolted on or were too expensive, I came across the Toshiba Portégé M400 it offered some key features I really wanted:

  • Core 2 Duo CPU – The model I was looking at was 2Ghz and that seemed very fast for its size
  • 12.1″ TFT screen – I wanted to keep the size down and this was only a little larger than my TC1100’s 10″ screen and it wasn’t widescreen which to me seems ridiculous for a TabletPC
  • 1400×1050 screen – One thing I didn’t like about the TC1100 was the low screen resolution, especially in Tablet mode, I would find the 768×1024 wasn’t so good for taking notes and side scrolling fun ensued for websites.
  • Fingerprint scanner – I have quite a complex password in windows and trying to tap it all in using the onscreen keyboard is a pain. With a fingerprint scanner one swipe and you are in
  • Vista capable – It makes it sound worse than it is, all the main functionality like Aero is available on the M400 and Toshiba seem to be working hard on drivers.

I was a little concerned as the laptops we use at work are Toshiba and in the past they have been hopeless but just recently their newer models seem much more robust and the onsite tech support is very good, they are happy to send out an engineer without you first tearing the machine apart to prove to the person on the phone it really does need to be repaired!

So after reading a few reviews and browsing around the TabletPC Toshiba forums I was happy to put in my order. I found it cheapest on eBuyer so placed my order along with a slip case for next day delivery and as expected it arrived the very next day.

The ramblings of PR