First generation Windows XP tablets didn't exactly
take the market by storm. Their screens weren't as good as regular
notebooks, they were underpowered yet cost more than traditional
notebooks. Fast forward two years and take a look at second generation
tablets like the Toshiba M200, Electrovaya
Scribbler SC2010 and the ViewSonic
V1250. Wow! These babies offer zippy Centrino processors, better
graphics subsystems and screens that are much more pleasing. The
Toshiba M200 series and the Compaq TC1100 are likely the best sellers
on the market, building on excellent performance, innovative design
and strong brand recognition.
The M205 is my personal favorite, though it lacks
the Compaq's innovative design. It's the only tablet offering SXGA
resolution, high clock speeds, a large battery, plenty of RAM and
a lovely display at a low 4.5 pound weight. It makes no concessions
as a notebook, while offering all those neat and useful tablet
features. This model is a convertible, which means that it looks
like a regular notebook and has a standard notebook keyboard. However
you can twist and rotate the display to turn it into a tablet,
with the keyboard concealed under the display. In fact, the Toshiba
will detect when you do this and automatically change from landscape
to portrait orientation. In either mode, you can write and drawn
on the screen and use handwriting recognition to turn your scrawl
into text. If you want the features of Windows XP Tablet Edition
but need to do some serious data entry, convertible tablets are
a wise choice.
There are several M200/M205 configurations available,
including a build-to-order option on Toshiba's web site. We tested
the M205-S810, which is available directly from retailers such
as Amazon.com and
Best Buy, and comes with a bootable external DVD/CDRW drive.
Design and Ergonomics
The Toshiba looks like an unassuming notebook. The
top lid's casing is silver, while the rest of the notebook is matte black.
It's a compact and relatively light notebook that houses an excellent
full-sized notebook keyboard and a 12.1" display. It looks professional,
but not futuristic or flashy. Like its predecessor, the Portege
3505, the unit has a sturdy center swivel hinge that connects the
display to the base of the notebook. This robust metal disk should survive
years of use.
Open the notebook and you'll see the standard keyboard
with dedicated number and Fn key rows and a two button trackpad that's
offset to the left. On the front edge, you'll find the rotary dial audio
volume control, an SD card slot, and audio in and out jacks. The single
CardBus PCMCIA slot and WiFi on/off switch are located on the left, and
the EMR (electromagnetic resonance) pen lives on the right side. The
pen slot is spring loaded, and the pen itself is comfy and has an eraser.
There's a slot under the battery for a second smaller spare stylus which
you can buy from Toshiba (some European versions come with this second
stylus). The rear (see photo, right) has two USB 2.0 ports, a VGA port,
the charger port, a modem port and a 10/100 Ethernet port. To the far
right you can see the large fan grill, and there's a heat sink behind
Since this unit can be used in tablet mode, there are
several controls on the bezel surrounding the display. There's a small
joystick that you can use to scroll pages, buttons for cancel/escape
and OK, the power switch, a lock switch that prevents accidental power
button bumps from turning the unit off and on, and 4 programmable quick
launchers which are pen-activated. If you press and hold the OK button,
the Toshiba Cross Menu utilities pops up. One of the menu items lets
you lock the tablet so if anyone moves it, an alarm (Windows "Ringing" WAV)
will sound until someone (hopefully you) enters the correct Windows password.
The unit weighs 4.5 lbs, which is reasonably light
for a full-featured convertible tablet. If you crave even greater portability
and don't need a dedicated keyboard, consider the straight tablet design
Horsepower and What's Inside
The unit has a 1.5 GHz Centrino Pentium M processor,
with a 1.7 GHz optional, both with a 400 MHz front side bus. On May 10,
2004 Toshiba announced that they'd start offering the M200 series models
with the new Dothan (Intel 735/745/755) Centrino processor. Dothan has
a larger cache than the original Banias Centrino and be built at higher
clock speeds. Centrino has become the standard for small notebooks. It's
MUCH faster and less power hungry than the Pentium III used in past tablets
and older notebooks. In fact it is faster than notebook Pentium 4 processors
while using much less power.
The M205-S810 configuration comes with 512 megs of
DDR SDRAM expandable to 2 gigs. The machine has two DIMM slots and comes
with two 256 meg sticks of memory, so you'll have to toss one or more
if you wish to upgrade the memory. The M205 uses standard DDR 333 MHz/PC2700
SODIMMs. It comes with a 60 gig, 5,400 RPM Toshiba hard drive (you can
upgrade to a 7,200 RPM drive if you build to order), built-in WiFi 802.11g,
and a standard RJ45 Ethernet port along with a modem.
The Toshiba is a fast performer, and competes easily
with regular Centrino notebooks. MS Office 2003, Adobe Photoshop CS,
Corel Painter, Macromedia Dreamweaver MX, OneNote 2003 and other apps
are responsive and a joy to use on this machine. Even current demanding
games are playable at high resolutions. Nice!
The built-in Intel PRO/Wireless 2200 802.11g WiFi worked
well and had good range. The unit ships with Intel's networking control
panel which is full featured, and you can use it or Windows to manage
the WiFi and 10/100 Ethernet connections. A WiFi on/off switch is located
on the unit's left side.
The M205 has just about every port you'd want except
FireWire IEE 1394. If you need FireWire, pick up one of the sub- $50
PCMCIA Firewire cards. It has two USB 2.0, a type II CardBus PCMCIA slot,
10/100 RJ45 Ethernet , RJ11 56k modem, standard VGA, 3.5mm audio in and
audio out jacks and IR. The M205-S810 comes with Toshiba's slimline external
USB DVD/CDRW which can be powered using the included AC adapter or via
the drive's internal NiMH battery pack.
Display and Sound
The M200 series is the winner among tablets when
it comes to resolution, thanks to its SXGA+ 1400 x 1050 pixel display.
The extra screen real estate makes this an excellent desktop replacement
machine that won't make you run to the nearest external monitor
or desktop system when you need to have several windows open. Likewise,
surfing web pages with the unit in portrait orientation in tablet
mode is a joy and requires less vertical scrolling. The M205 packs
all those pixels into a 12.1" LCD, and while that's relatively
small, text is easy to read since the display is sharp and has
very good contrast for a tablet. You might think the ViewSonic
V1250 would have the best display of the bunch since ViewSonic
is a well-respected monitor and LCD maker, but the Toshiba beats
First generation tablets left me wanting when
it came to viewing angle, brightness and contrast. However, second
generation machines like the M205 and Electrovaya
Scribbler SC2010 are much improved (heck, even the ViewSonic
V1250 offers great improvements). I care a great deal about screen
quality since I work with graphics, and have been spoiled by the
amazing XBrite display on my Sony Vaio
TR2A subnotebook. The Toshiba's sharp, contrasty and colorful
screen is so good that I have no qualms using it as my main notebook.
It rivals regular notebook displays, and suffers only from a more
limited viewing angle when compared to recent traditional LCDs.
Since the clear protective layer over the LCD is thinner on second
generation tablets, parallax is reduced and you don't get the feeling
you're looking at the display through an extra layer of plastic.
As with all XP tablets, it comes with an electromagnetic pen which
has a "pen" tip and an eraser.
Nvidia's GeForce Go5200 graphics controller with
32 megs of dedicated DDR memory drives the display. Most Centrino
notebooks use the Intel 855 integrated graphics controller with
shared memory, and the GeForce is a nice step up. The Go5200 is
a member of Nvidia's most recent family of mobile graphics processors,
and offers DirectX 9 support, AGP 8x, and a 350 MHz RAMDAC. Not
too shabby for a business-oriented notebook, and good enough for
gaming with current titles. While you may get 30 fps, rather than
60 fps with high end graphics-intensive titles, games are still
very playable, even with some effects turned on. Of course, you
will need to use the external DVD/CDRW or a virtual CD software
application to play games since the M205 lacks an internal optical
A 16 bit integrated stereo audio controller provides
support for Direct 3D Sound. Sound volume and clarity is quite
good through the built-in speaker located near the display panel,
and a hardware rotary dial makes it easy to adjust volume. Of course,
you'll want to use headphones when listening to music or watching
DVDs, as the stereo out quality is excellent.
Battery Life and Bundled
The M200 series models come with a 6 cell, 4400
mAh Lithium Ion battery. Toshiba claims it's good for up to 4.34
hours on a charge, and for once, a manufacturer's claims came close
to our real world experience. With WiFi turned on, and the unit
running at the default unplugged power management setting, I got
close to four hours on a charge when using the notebook for writing
in MS Journal, editing Word and Excel docs, checking email and
surfing the web. Not bad! Like most Centrinos, the Toshiba comes
with several power management settings that work well for a variety
of usage scenarios, and you can create your own custom settings.
The unit comes with Windows XP Tablet Edition,
which includes MS Journal, a great virtual pad of paper application.
You can use Journal to write on most any kind of document. Say
you want to mark up a web page and circle some interesting elements
before sending it to a colleague. Simply choose Print from IE and
select the MS Journal printer. It will create a copy of that page
in Journal format, on which you can write and draw to your heart's
content. When you email that annotated page, Journal includes the
original URL, so your colleague can visit that page on the web.
Toshiba includes full versions of OneNote 2003 (a must have for
tablets, and pricey if you have to buy it separately), MS Works
7 and Zinio Reader (a magazine reader: you can subscribe to some
of your favorite magazines in Zinio format). Demo versions of Alias
SketchBook Pro and Franklin Covey Planner are also included. You
get the recovery disc should you need to re-install the OS and
applications. The tablet comes with Toshiba's excellent tools for
configuring the BIOS when in Windows, power management and several
other handy tablet-oriented utilities and WiFi connection helpers.
The XP Tablet Features
Handwriting recognition, digital ink technology,
voice dictation and voice command are built into the operating
system, and work similarly on all machines, with the handwriting
recognition edge going to faster machines. A better built-in mic
can help improve voice recognition, but you're really going to
need a good quality headset mic if you want to successfully use
voice dictation. Why? A good headset mic is always going to be
of better quality compared to a built-in mic, and you won't have
to worry as much about ambient noise.
Handwriting recognition works very well, even
with my terrible leftie scrawl. You can use handwriting recognition
(HWR) with most any application. It's built into the OS, as is
the on-demand on screen keyboard and voice command/voice dictation
app. You can write in either print or cursive, and specify the
delay before your writing is translated. If you're a Pocket PC
user, you can also use the same character recognizer found on Pocket
PCs. As noted with other tablets reviewed here, cursive and print
writing using the standard input mode worked as well as character
recognizer. Cursive writing in standard mode should be more demanding
than character recognizer, but somehow they're equally accurate.
As you've seen me state in other tablet reviews,
Windows XP Tablets don't have the greatest voice recognition capabilities.
Before you use speech, you must spend approximately 10 minutes
doing an initial voice training exercise with the machine. After
that, you can choose to read aloud excerpts from classic works
to put in more training time, which is supposed to improve accuracy.
Even after going through the required bouts of training, we got
some comical results here in the office when using the built-in
mic. Some users (generally male), have reported better results
in discussion forums on the Net.
Pro: A great display that's not only currently
the highest resolution on the market, but it looks great too. Solid
and well-built, excellent keyboard. Fast processor and generous
RAM make it a strong performer. Comes with a large battery and
has very good battery life. MS OneNote 2003 is included: a must-have
tablet app that's expensive if purchased separately. Con: No FireWire
Display: 12.1" Polysilicon
SXGA+ Display, 32 bit, 16 million colors. Resolution:
1400 x 1050. Nvidia GeForce FX Go5200 graphics with
32 megs DDR dedicated (not shared with system) memory.
mAh Polymer Lithium Ion rechargeable.
and Memory: 1.5
GHz ultra-low voltage Pentium M processor (Centrino)
with 1 MB level 2 cache. 1.7 GHz processor available
as a build to order option. 512 megs SDRAM, upgradeable
to 2 gigs. Uses standard DDR SODIMMs and has two
slots for RAM (comes populated, so you'll remove
the existing DIMMs to upgrade the RAM).
60 gig 5,400 RPM ATA6 hard disk. Ultra ATA controller.
2.5" drive, 9.5mm high. 7,200 RPM and higher
capacity drives available on build to order. External
USB 2.0 DVD/CDRW drive with NiMH battery and power
adapter. Drive Speed Read: 24x CD-ROM, 24x CD-R,
12x CD-RW, 8x DVD-ROM. Write: 24x CD-R, 10x CD-RW.
Size: 11.6” x
9.8” x 1.3 to 1.5" thick. Weighs 4.5 lbs.
in speaker, mic, 3.5mm line-out and line-in jacks.
Voice Recorder and command included in the operating
system. Uses an AD1981B audio controller. 16 bit
XP Tablet Edition operating system. Microsoft Journal
application for word processing and support for ink
notes and drawings. Voice Recorder, voice command
and handwriting recognition built into the OS. Full
versions of MS OneNote 2003, MS Works 7, Norton Anti
Virus and Zinio Reader included. Several demo versions
of XP Tablet oriented software included.
and Ports: 2
USB (2.0), VGA, audio in and out, V.92 56k modem,
1PCMCIA type II CardBus slot, 1 SD card slot, 1
RJ45 Ethernet port (Intel Pro 100 VM controller),
IR, docking port connector and built-in Intel Pro
Wireless 2200 WiFi 802.11g. Bluetooth is optional
on build to order models.