What's hot: Affordable tablet with a matte display, tablet-centric hardware design.
What's not: Base model is very stripped down, no webcam, touchscreen, Bluetooth or optical drive.
Reviewed July 19, 2010 by Tong Zhang, Senior Editor
The Toshiba Portege M780 laptop is Toshiba’s ultra portable 12.1” tablet PC model that offers touch display and digital pen options. This series of notebooks comes with both Windows 7 Professional and Windows XP Tablet PC Edition recovery media. Toshiba currently sells the Portege M780 in four pre-built models and offers a build-to-order option. The starting price for build-to-order is $1,329 which gets you the Intel Core i3-330M, 2GB DDR3 memory and a 160GB HDD. The pre-built models start at $1,279 and the starting model (S7210) has similar specs as the build your own model minus the SlimBay DVD drive. If money isn’t as much of a concern as the specs, the $1,799 top model Portege M780 comes with an Intel Core i7-620M, Intel HD graphics, 4GB memory, a 320GB HDD and a Ultra SlimBay DVD SuperMulti double layer DVD. The higher end models also come with a built-in webcam and Bluetooth. There's also a build to order option for a 128GB SSD SATA drive that costs $350 extra. So this is a notebook model with highly versatile configuration options, and we look at the lowest end model, which is the Portege M780-S7210. The low end model may be a good fit for students who want to get into a tablet with a digital pen (but not touch) and matte screen at an entry level price.
The Portege M780-S7210 runs on the Intel i3-330M CPU at 2.13 GHz with 3MB L3 cache and 1066MHz FSB. It has 2 GB of DDR3 1066MHz RAM with a max capacity of 8GB in two slots, a 160GB 5400rpm SATA drive (ours was made by Hitachi) and a 12.1” backlit LED display with pen digitizer that’s 1280 x 800 resolution. There isn’t an option to get dedicated graphics in the Portege M780 series, and the S7210 has Intel HD graphics with 64MB-728MB dynamically allocated shared graphics memory and the Mobile Intel HM55 Express chipset. The Portege M780-S7210 has an active Wacom digitizer for pen input but no touch screen. It has built in Wi-Fi, a modem, two USB ports and an Ethernet jack, but it doesn’t have a built-in webcam and mic nor Bluetooth. Higher end models do offer both pen and touch, but it’s single point touch.
Though the Toshiba Portege M780 is an ultra portable, it’s not particularly thin measuring 12.0 x 9.41 x 1.47/1.55 inches and weighing 4.63 pounds. Its uninspiring silver and black plastics are more suited to business and professional users. The notebook design centers on tablet and pen input: two small but strong screen locks hold the display in place so that when you write on the screen it won’t flop around. A row of hardware buttons live under the screen on the LCD bezel that give you access to essential controls when you are using the notebook in slate mode, and the notebook has a strong and easy to use swivel that goes 90 degrees (it is not bi-directional).
The pillar on the right locks onto the display panel to keep it firmly in place.
There's another on the left side.
The fingerprint scanner also lives on the display bezel. When you put the tablet PC in slate mode and write or draw with your pen, you can accomplish most tasks without opening up the laptop to access the keyboard. If you do use the keyboard, you will enjoy the typing experience. The standard 85-key US keyboard feels spacious for a 12.1-incher notebook, and it has good travel. The touchPad and mouse buttons sit just off the center to the left; the mouse buttons feel a bit flat. Two speaker grilles sit above the keyboard almost to the edge so that when you use the laptop in slate mode, the display panel doesn’t block the audio output. The speakers sound loud and reasonably full by small laptop standards.
A full set of controls on the bezel for tablet use.
The thick body of the Portege M780 might not look sleek, but it affords lots of space for ports and a nice large vent grille on the left. Two USB ports also live on the left side, one of which is a Sleep and Charge USB and eSATA combo port. Other ports facing the left and the front include VGA out, Ethernet, Modem, Security Cable Lock, FireWire and audio in and out ports. The media card slot lives on the right side of the Portege and it works with Secure Digital, Secure Digital High Capacity, Mini SD Card, Micro SD Card, Memory Stick, Memory Stick PRO, Multi Media Card and XD Cards. The pen silo also lives on the right side, and if you get the model that has an optical drive it will also open on the right side. Oddly, there’s no HDMI port.
Tablet Features and Display
Our unit ships with an active Wacom digitizer that works with the included EMR pen. Pen input works well even near the corners, but there’s no pressure sensitivity because Wacom’s pressure sensitive driver isn’t installed at the factory (a common problem with Windows tablets). We visited Wacom’s website and downloaded the tablet PC (Pen Tablet) driver, rebooted and had pressure sensitivity in applications like ArtRage and Photoshop. As tablets go, pressure sensitivity with the included EMR pen requires a heavy hand, and we got more natural results using an old Wacom pen from the pre-Intuos days. The included pen does have an eraser.
The display is quite colorful, and we’re thankful for the matte design that’s more conducive to graphic arts work vs. competing glossy tablet PCs like the HP TouchSmart TM2. There’s no glare and viewing angles are decent. The display could be sharper, and fine details in images as well as text weren’t sharp though the display isn’t grainy. Brightness levels are acceptable but if you work in a very brightly lit workspace, the M780 might seem a little dim.
Alas, our unit didn’t ship with a touch screen, so we can’t attest to how well it works. These days multi-touch displays are the norm, and we’re surprised to see that Toshiba’s touch option is single-point.
Horsepower and Performance
The Toshiba Portege M780-S7210 runs MS Office, IE, Windows Media Player and casual games well. The notebook takes a bit of time when running Photoshop with raw format images, but performance is acceptable with images that are under 50 megs. Hulu plays at 24 fps via Wi-Fi which is very watchable, and Netflix plays at solid 30 fps over WiFi. The notebook doesn’t handle the most graphics demanding FPS games like Battlefield 2 or Modern Warfare 2, but casual games run just fine. CPU temperatures are moderate, running mostly at 32 degrees Celsius and below 50 degrees after some gaming. Streaming movies over Wi-Fi will raise the Corei3 temperature to 37-40 degrees Celsius. The bottom doesn’t get unbearably hot to hold when using it as a slate (assuming you're not streaming Hulu for an hour).
We put the Toshiba Portege through PCMark Vantage X64 benchmark tests and provide score comparisons with a larger Gateway NV59C 15.6” notebook that runs on the same CPU and integrated Intel graphics and the HP TM2 as another affordable 12" tablet.
Memories suite: 2470
TV and Movies suite: 2450
Gaming suite: 2981
Music suite: 4081
Communications suite: 2843
Productivity suite: 3186
HDD test suite: 3973
Toshiba Portege M780
PCMark Suite: 4595
Memory Suite: 2687
TV and Movie Suite: 3262
Gaming Suite: 2768
Music Suite: 4662
Communication Suite: 3709
Productivity Suite: 4181
HDD Test Suite: 2885
Gateway NV59C (same CPU and GPU as the M780)
PCMark Suite: 4931
Memory Suite: 3007
TV and Movie Suite: 3403
Gaming Suite: 3166
Music Suite: 5183
Communication Suite: 4444
Productivity Suite: 4408
HDD Test Suite: 3374
The Toshiba Portege M780 comes with a 6-cell battery that has mediocre battery life for an ultraportable with a power-frugal Core i3 CPU. It can last up to 5 hours when performing productivity tasks like document editing, imagine editing and music playback. Streaming Hulu movies over WiFi, the Portege lasted 2:30 hours and streaming Netflix over WiFi lasted 2:15 hours. The notebook charges quite fast.
The Toshiba Portege runs Windows 7 Professional with Windows XP Tablet PC edition recovery media in case you want to run that OS (we advise you stick with Windows 7 since it has much stronger tablet features). The Portege M780 has a good software bundle that includes Toshiba’s ReelTime, Bulletin Board, Toshiba DVD Player and Toshiba Tablet PC extension utilities. They also bundle Microsoft Office OneNote 2007 that allows you to take handwritten notes and more. Trial software includes Norton Internet Security 2010 and an MS Office Professional 2007 60-day trial. Toshiba also includes its recovery and restore software that can create recovery media discs and restore the notebook. The laptop comes with a recovery partition, and you can restore it to the factory state by holding “0” when pressing the power button. When the system starts to beep, release the “0” button and the notebook will boot into restore mode.
It’s hard to summarize the Toshiba M780, given the wide variety of configurations available. The low end model we received for review wouldn’t be our top pick given the lack of an optical drive, touch screen, Bluetooth and the relatively lowly Intel Core i3 CPU. The higher end (but not top of the line) M780-S7230 that sells for $1,699 has more meat with an Intel Core i5, DVD drive, Bluetooth and a touch screen in addition to the active digitizer. That machine is appealing to those looking for a tablet that’s good for graphics thanks to the matte display, and we’re thrilled to see an internal optical drive in a 12” tablet.
Regardless of the model you choose, the Toshiba is no looker, even if you’re not into flashy etched designs like that of the HP TM2. The HP’s metal casing does inspire confidence and give the machine a touch of high end chic, while Lenovo’s tablets like the ThinkPad X201 exude ruggedness and quality. And the M780’s display, though very colorful and offering good viewing angles, lacks the sharpness of Lenovo’s tablet.
Price: $1,279 for the S7210 model reviewed here, build to order model starts at $1,329.
Display: 12.1” widescreen backlit LED display, 1280 x 800 native resolution, supports digital pen. VGA port onboard. Intel Graphics Media Accelerator HD with 64MB-728MB dynamically allocated shared graphics memory and Mobile Intel HM55 Express chipset.
Battery: 6-cell 4400 mAh Lithium Ion battery. Power supply: 100-240V, 50-60Hz, 75W (15V DC, 5A). Claimed usage time: up to 5 hours.
Performance: Intel Core i3-330M at 2.13 GHz, 3MB L3 cache, 1066 MHz FSB. 2GB DDR3 1066MHz memory, 8 gigs max. Two main memory slots, both may be occupied. 160GB Serial-ATA drive, 5400rpm.
Size: 12.0 x 9.41 x 1.47/1.55 inches. Weight: 4.63 pounds.
Drives: None on the S7210 model, Ultra SlimBay DVD SuperMulti double layer DVD drive on higher end models or sold separately on build-to-order.
Networking: 10/100 Ethernet, WiFi 802.11b/g/n and a modem.
Ports and Slots: 2 USB (one of them is an eSATA and Sleep and Charge combo port), VGA, Ethernet RJ45, RJ11 modem, mic input port, audio out port and multimedia reader. Multi-media card reader works with Secure Digital, Secure Digital High Capacity, Mini SD Card, Micro SD Card, Memory Stick, Memory Stick PRO, Multi Media Card and XD Cards.
Audio: Stereo speakers.
Software: Windows 7 Professional 32/64 bit with recovery media for Windows XP Tablet PC edition. Microsoft Office One Note 2007 and Adobe Reader are included. Toshiba software includes DVD Player, PC health Monitor, Disc Creator, ReelTime, Bulletin Board and Recovery Media Creator. MS Office 2007 60-day trial software and Norton Internet Security 2010 30-day trial included.