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Toshiba Portégé M400 3G143

  • Editors' rating
    7.0 Very good

Pros

  • Built-in fingerprint recognition
  • Integrated 3G
  • Second stylus provided

Cons

  • Short on USB ports
  • Rather large and heavy

Toshiba’s Portégé notebooks are designed primarily for mobile professionals and, according to Toshiba, 'demonstrate a perfect balance between function, style, weight, and ultra-portability'. With aspirations like these, we were surprised, when we took the Portégé M400 out of its packaging, to find that it is, in fact, a little bulky. So it needs to deliver the goods to live up to Toshiba’s claim.

Design
We’ve already noted that this is a relatively large notebook. It plants a footprint 29.5cm wide and 24.9cm deep on the desktop, and is 3.89cm thick. Not only that, it eludes our 'ultraportable' definition by weighing in at around 2.2kg.

Some of this bulk is down to commendably robust build quality. The lid section, for example, is 1.2cm thick and is more solid than most, offering plenty of protection for the display.

The Portégé is a convertible Tablet PC whose lid section swivels around and lays flat, facing outwards, ready for pen-based use. A solid clasp locks the screen down in position, and replicates this job when you close the notebook for transportation. Rubber stoppers prevent the screen from making contact with the keyboard in this orientation.

The 12.1in. active touch-screen display has a native resolution of 1,400 by 1,050 pixels. Although this is not a widescreen format, the screen offers enough space for two working windows to be opened at once. Those with poor eyesight may find themselves squinting to see the on-screen detail, however.

There are key combinations that allow you to zoom in and out of the screen, but regular zooming in this way is no substitute for a fully usable screen at its maximum available resolution.

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The keyboard is responsive and the keys large and tactile. However, the space bar is rather small, as is the touchpad. Stereo speakers sit at the left and right back edges; when the Portégé M400 is in Tablet mode, these are almost covered by the screen section.

The Portégé M400 has a fingerprint sensor in the lid section, allowing access when in both Tablet and notebook modes.

There are other controls on the screen section, most notably a miniature joypad that acts as an Enter key when tapped and, if held down, offers a range of functions including switching between opened applications, launching applications plus a range of other customisation and shortcut features. We’d have liked to see full joypad functionality, parhaps making it unnecessary to use the stylus for some operations.

Another button gives an Esc function when tapped and rotates the screen when held down. A third calls up the Windows Task Manager, while a fourth puts the Portégé M400 into 'presentation' mode, calling up a second screen if one is connected.

Finally the Toshiba Assist button calls up another set of utilities or can be used to start an application of your choice. All buttons except the screen rotation function work in notebook mode as well as Tablet mode.

The stylus lives in a spring-loaded housing on the right side of the system. Usefully, there's a supplementary stylus in a robust and secure housing on the underside of the notebook.

Features
The Portégé M400 we were sent is one of four in the range, each with slightly differing specifications. Our review sample runs Windows XP Tablet PC Edition 2005. The processor is an Intel Core 2 Duo T5500 processor running at 1.66GHz with 2MB of Level 2 cache. Our review sample had just 512MB of RAM, but this can be augmented to a maximum of 4GB.

The graphics are managed by Intel’s 945GM Express chipset. Our review sample had a 60GB hard drive, although others in the range rise to 100GB. The hard drive benefits from motion protection, and the sensor is so sensitive that it detected movement every time we lifted, shifted or shunted the Portégé M400 around our desk, telling us that vibration had been detected and the hard drive's read/write head had been moved to a safe position. The notification window closes after a short time and can be disabled it if irritates (and it will), but at least at first it's reassuring to know that the sensor is pretty sensitive.

Intel’s PRO/Wireless 3945ABG adapter caters for Wi-Fi, and Toshiba provides its own Bluetooth adapter. Wired Ethernet connectivity comes via an Intel module.

Our review unit also includes integrated 3G connectivity with HSDPA support. Toshiba has worked with T-Mobile on this, and our Portégé M400 had T-Mobile’s Communication Centre software, launchable from the desktop, as well as a T-Mobile SIM in a housing on the bottom of the notebook. We used this successfully during our trial period — although again, those with eyesight concerns should note that T-Mobile’s Communication Centre sits a very tiny window.

The Portégé M400 has a good range of ports and connectors dotted around its four edges. On the back is a single USB port, VGA out, RJ-11 (modem) and RJ-45 (Ethernet) connectors. An indicator light on the Ethernet connector shows when the link is active, which we suppose is designed to stop you accidentally pulling the plug during data exchange.

On the right edge is a DVD/CD-RW drive, a flash card slot catering for SD, Memory Stick and xD cards, and the stylus housing. The left-hand side provides a single PC Card slot, a FireWire (IEEE 1394) slot and two further USB ports. The latter ports sit side by side, and if your peripherals have larger connectors, it may not be possible to use both at the same time.

On the front is a pair of microphones, mic and headphone jacks, a volume control wheel and an on/off switch for the Wi-Fi and Bluetooth radios. This button controls both at once, but the Fn-F8 key combination allows you to control Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and the 3G module individually.

Conclusion
We prefer Tablet PCs that have passive rather than active touch-screens, since you can use a fingertip as well as the provided stylus to move the pointer and make selections. At least Toshiba provides a securely housed secondary stylus in case the first should go missing. The integrated 3G module is commendably easy to use.

This is not a lightweight notebook, nor is it especially small. Although its screen delivers a high resolution, some may find it rather difficult to use effectively, and we would have preferred a wide-screen format. We aren’t convinced that the Portégé M400 is the ideal combination of size, weight and functionality, and would have liked to see the same features in a rather lighter notebook.

 

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