Image Gallery: Toshiba's Portégé R400 supports Vista's SideShow, but could do it better

In terms of notebook brands, Toshiba's Satellite and Portégé are two brands that data back to as far back as I can remember. Sort of like when Toyota rolled out Lexus, I remember when the first Portégés hit the market and they represented the best Toshiba had to offer in the smallest possible package.
Written by David Berlind, Inactive

In terms of notebook brands, Toshiba's Satellite and Portégé are two brands that data back to as far back as I can remember. Sort of like when Toyota rolled out Lexus, I remember when the first Portégés hit the market and they represented the best Toshiba had to offer in the smallest possible package. Toshiba clearly still sees the Portégé as not just the Lexus of its notebook lineup, but also the brand that pioneers any new direction that Toshiba's notebooks might take. That heritage is reflected in the language used by the company when it introduced the 3.79-pound Portégé R400 at CES in early January: "The goal of this collaboration [between Microsoft and Toshiba] was to produce a mobile computing solution, which would showcase the expertise of both Toshiba and Microsoft and create the signature Windows Vista PC."

 Photo Gallery: See the many angles and features of Toshiba's Portégé R400 (and Toshiba's three other Vista-preloaded notebooks) in our extensive image gallery.  

There's no question that the Portégé R400 breaks some new ground on the notebook front. But whether it does it in a way that left us drooling to have one is a completely different story. As a reminder, the R400 supports the TabletPC version of Windows Vista. As you can see from one of the pictures in our image gallery, the R400 is a convertible model that works in both modes (notebook/tablet) and the display swivels between the two. 

So, what's unique about the R400? Well, the feature that earned it a spot it Bill Gates' keynote at the Consumer Electronics Show in January 2007 was its support for a new Microsoft technology called "SideShow."  As a technology, SideShow will show up in all sorts of devices. But, when it shows up in a notebook, the basic idea is that the notebook can be closed and even off (or sleeping), and you should still be able to get information from it such as your email and appointment information. On notebooks, this is accomplished through an auxiliary display that continues to function, even if the notebook is in stand-by mode. On the R400, that display (pictured above left, courtesy of NotebookReview.com) is a one grey-scale LCD display that can display a single line of text at time and that's embedded into the front edge of the notebook. In the photo, it's showing the time, amount of battery life, wireless signal strength, and the fact that there are zero new mails.  Over on GeekZone appears a description of the three different modes in which this display works.

So, what's wrong with this picture? Toshiba may be hailing it as a signature Vista PC that comes on the heels of some great collaboration with Microsoft. But, with a larger and much more colorful auxiliary display mounted into the lid of its notebook, the lesser known manufacturer Asus made a splash at CES with a SideShow-compliant display (pictured left) and navigation buttons that made Toshiba's implementation look obsolete. So impressive was the Asus implementation that it won an award from our reviews organization (see the video).

In terms of SideShow support, if there was any saving grace for Toshiba, it was the fact that the R400's implementation included an EVDO broadband wireless radio (requires provisioning by Verizon Wireless) that also allows your email and calendar to stay in synch with an Exchange Server while the notebook is sleeping. That functionality relies on another Microsoft technology called Active Notifications.

The Portégé does something else that had CES showgoers and fellow ZDNet blogger all agog: it can attach to a Toshiba-built port replicator via ultra-wideband wireless technology. That's right. Now, instead of having to attach your notebook to a port replicator or docking station (sometimes an awkward process that results in breakage and wear on the electrical contacts), now, you just have to be within a certain proximity of the replicator and the R400 should automatically connect to it. Wrote Bott of the functionality he witnessed at CES:

But the best feature is the $250 wireless docking station, which uses UWB technology to automatically connect the machine when it's within range (three feet or so) of the docking station. The high-bandwidth connection was able to stream video clips to an external monitor with no latency.

Unfortunately, in packages of this size (and, between the radios and tablet display adding up to so much battery-draining radio technology), some concessions have to be made in the name of battery life and in this case, the R400 is configured with some fairly lackluster hardware; a 1.20Ghz processor and an 80GB hard drive. Then again, for the sorts of users that the R400 targets and their demand for processing power, battery power, and/or storage space, maybe this isn't an issue. Citing the black and white chassis, Toshiba's press release says:

This distinctive approach delivers a level of elegance and sophistication to satisfy the needs of successful mobile professionals, discriminating technology enthusiasts, C-level executives and small business entrepreneurs.

Perhaps it should target unsuccessful mobile professionals as well. Maybe the reasons they're not succeeding is that they have the wrong notebook!  Below are some of the Portégé's specifications. But you should check out the screen gallery where I offer specific assessments of some of its other features.

  • Processor: Intel Core Duo Processor U2500, 1.20GHz, 2MB Level 2 cache, 533MHz front side bus
  • Memory: 2048 MB PC4200 DDR2 SDRAM (expandable to 4096 MB)
  • Graphics: Intel Graphics Media Accelerator 950
  • Hard Drive: 80 GB (4200 RPM) Enhanced IDE (ATA-6) hard disk drive
  • Optical: DVD SuperMulti [Read: CD-ROM/-R/-RW (Max. 12x), DVD-ROM (Max. 4x), DVD-RAM (2x)], [Write: CD-R (4x), CD-RW (4x), DVD-R (4x), DVD-RW (2x), DVD+R/+R DL (2.4X), DVD+RW (2.4x), DVD-RAM (2x)]
  • Display: 12.1 diagonal TFT active-matrix LCD isplay, 1280x800 native resolution (WXGA)
  • Connectivity: Intel PRO/Wireless WiFi (802.11a/b/g), Bluetooth 2.0 plus Enhanced Data Rate (EDR), Integrated EVDO (requires contract with Verizon Wireless), Intel PRO/1000 10/100/1000 Base-TX Ethernet (RJ-45), RJ-11 (POTS),
  • Ports: 2 USB 2.0
  • Operating System: Windows Vista Ultimate 32-bit Version.
  • Expansion: 1 PC Card slot
  • Weight: Starts at 3.79 pounds
  • Price: Starts at $2600 (depends on memory configuration)

Also, if you here is Engadget's coverage of the $250 port replicator.

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