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Windows XP Tablet Notebook Reviews

Toshiba Portégé M200 and M205

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Review posted May 15, 2004 by Lisa Gade, Editor in Chief

If you want to read an intro to Windows XP Tablet Edition notebook features and specs, click here.

Update March 2005: Toshiba has updated the M200 line with 1.6 and 1.7GHz Intel processor options and otherwise remains the same.

The Toshiba M205 is discontinued and the Toshiba Portege M400 replaces it.

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.

Toshiba M205 notebook


Toshiba Portege Toshiba M200


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 and Best Buy, and comes with a bootable external DVD/CDRW drive.


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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 that grill.

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 units.

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 it easily.

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 drive.

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 Software

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 built-in.

Suggested list price for the M200 $1,999

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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.

Battery: 4400 mAh Polymer Lithium Ion rechargeable.

Processor 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).

Drives: Toshiba 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.

Audio: Built 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 stereo sound.

Software: Windows 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.

Expansion 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.


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