Editor's Note: discontinued and replaced by the Toshiba
M205 at the end of 2003
If you want to read a brief intro to Windows XP
Tablet Edition notebook features and specs, click here.
The Toshiba Portege 3500 was one of the first
Windows XP Tablet Edition notebooks to hit the shelves shortly
after their Nov. 7th, 2002 launch by Microsoft. These tablet notebooks
can double as a standard notebook and a digital notepad thanks
to their convertible design. For more info on the standard features
of Windows XP Tablet Edition, read our brief intro here.
view, showing left to right, the CF slot, PCMCIA slot, Ethernet
jack (behind door), WiFi switch and SD card slot. Goodbye external
We got the 3505 model which is identical to the
3500 model except that it has 512 megs of RAM rather than 256 and
is supposed to come with an external DVD drive. Out of the box,
the Toshiba looks and feels sturdy, is not flashy looking, and
is fairly small and light at 4.1 lbs. The case is a matte black
finish that is durable, though it shows fingerprints (easy to clean).
The pen fits flush into a slot on the light side of the display
and feels good in the hand, having good mass and a comfortable
What's striking about the Portege 3505 is that
it looks like an normal notebook computer. Only the telltale round
swivel plate that connects the display to the body of the notebook
gives it away. You'll get a standard notebook keyboard, a trackpad
and the usual set of ports, making this a fully functional standard
The box and sticker on the wrist rest area of
the 3505 state that an external DVD drive is included (reads CDs,
CDRs and DVDs). Well guess what boys and girls: you won't find
one in the box! Instead you'll get a coupon that you can mail in
to get a Targus Noteworthy DVD drive that connects to the Toshiba
via a PCMCIA card. This isn't good news if you don't have an external
CD drive handy-- without one, there's no way to install software,
read the manuals (supplied as .pdf files on the CD) or to use the
included recovery disks. If you need to boot from the recovery
disks to set your 3505 back to the factory install state, you must
use the drive from Toshiba, the machine will not boot from any
other CD drive (though you can use other CD drives for non-boot
tasks). The coupon is good until Jan. 15, 2003, and I hope at some
point before then, the DVD drive will ship in the box.
Battery Life, Screen, Sound,
Software and Gaming
The battery has lasted about 2.5 hours per charge so
far with WiFi turned on. It charges rather quickly compared to other
notebooks I've used (about 1.5 hours from empty to full charge). For
a notebook of this size and speed, the battery life is average. Speaking
of speed, the Toshiba is at the top of the pack with its 1.33GHz Mobile
The poly silicon screen is capable of displaying 16
million colors at 1024 x 768 resolution. The surface seems durable and
flexible and is designed to allow you to rest your hand on the screen
without showing grease marks. You'll notice the surface feels a bit tacky,
and that's because a resistive surface makes for a more natural (and
not too slippery!) writing surface when using the stylus.
How does the screen look compared to non-tablet
PCs? It is not as bright or sharp, and the viewing angle is limited.
That isn't to say the display isn't acceptable, it's perfectly
usable, but don't expect it to be best of breed. Given that the
screen is also a digitizing tablet, how much can we expect for
$2,500 and less? I would like to see increased viewing angle: while
we tend to use our notebooks in a single position as we work with
them, a tablet PC can be held at any of several different angles
when in tablet/portrait mode, and that means you're not always
looking at the screen at its best viewing angle.
Just as Microsoft promised, every commercial
software package we've installed has worked fine. I installed and
used Office 2000 Pro, Adobe Photoshop 7, Dreamweaver MX and several
other apps without a problem. Using Photoshop and Fractal Painter
is a dream on this machine, drawing and making lasso selections
is a dream when you're using a pen directly on the screen rather
than an accessory digitizer. I can't say enough about how wonderfully
it works. You can even select the text tool in Photoshop, then
use voice dictation to speak your text!
What about games? Well, this isn't anyone's first
choice as a gaming machine and that isn't its intended primary
use. The video card, A CyberALADDiN-T with
16 megs max of shared memory isn't exactly a Radeon 9000, but for
light game use it should do OK. The single speaker won't give you
3D sound effects, but it is quite loud and clear (you could plug
in some speakers or headphones for a better audio experience).
Of course, you'll need to use an external CD drive to play your
game, since an optical drive isn't built into the notebook. I tried
Need for Speed III (not the most recent of games, but the hardware
demands in terms of video are tamer than today's games), and yes,
it ran. No pen support to be found, which isn't surprising, and
the graphics were fairly jaggy. The game automatically turned off
some hardware acceleration features, so it ran without the bells
and whistles that make it look better on more standard systems
with dedicated video memory and faster video cards.
Pen and Voice Experience: Trying Out Those Tablet PC Features!
Since handwriting recognition, digital ink
technology, voice dictation and voice command are built into
the operating system, don't expect much variation between competing
brands and models. Machines with faster processors will translate
handwriting into text more quickly, and will also do a better
job of voice recognition. Most of the first generation machines
will have similar processing power however. Also, 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.
When you boot up your Portege 3505, you'll
be greeted by an excellent tutorial that will walk you through
using digital ink, handwriting recognition, voice commands and
voice dictation. It really does tell you everything you need
to know in a succinct manner. You'll even watch a few Windows
Media Player movies in the process of learning about the Tablet
PC features. And for us lefties out there, you'll be happy to
know that you can tell it whether you're a southpaw or rightie.
You can flip the screen in portrait mode so that the handgrip
and button strip are on the left rather than the right.
I am amazed at how well handwriting and voice
recognition are integrated into both Microsoft and other companies'
applications. I used voice and handwriting input to enter text
into Dreamweaver, Photoshop and Office. Excellent!
Top view of the Portege when closed.
Note the sturdy swivel joint protrudes from the back.
The Portege 3505 in Tablet mode.
How well does it work? Pretty well, and I'm a
lefty with poor handwriting. 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. Windows Journal, included
with Windows XP Tablet Edition, allows you to doodle, draw, write
free-form and later select handwriting to be translated into text.
It is a very useful and neat app! I can't imagine using this as
a keyboard replacement, but for short emails and note taking while
walking or standing it's great.
I'll be brutally honest: this feature makes for
a great party game and not much better. 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 (and Bill Gates' book)
to put in more training time, which is supposed to improve accuracy.
I did 3 training sessions, since the initial one yielded comic
results. Things didn't get much better after the third training,
but it did generate some really humorous sentences. My voice is
female, fairly deep, and clear except for some hissing on "s" sounds
and I do not have any accent. Surprisingly, it did not have trouble
with my "s" sounds, but rather standard vowels. It does
have a great deal of trouble discerning between similar sounds:
i.e. "th" vs. "f" sounds, which are aurally
though not linguistically similar. While similar sounds (such as
deaf vs. death) can be confusing, other mistakes made by the machine
made no sense at all. I tried speaking slowly and more clearly
than I would in normal conversation-- no luck. I gave the tablet
to another person (woman) and it had the same difficulties with
her speech as mine (which leads me to believe that it doesn't really
hone in on your voice, but rather your speech rate and voice pitch).
3 Different Card Slots and USB 2.0
Yep, you can throw your card reader away. The
Portege 3500 series comes with a CompactFlash slot, SD (secure
digital) slot and a PCMCIA type II slot. On top of that, you get
two USB 2.0 ports supporting high data transfer rates with new
USB 2.0 peripherals such as CD burners, scanners and etc..
It's cool, way cool! It's also light, relatively
small (though average in thickness) and is built to last. While
it's heavier than some other Tablets, it is exceptionally durable.
The processing power, hard drive and memory (for the 3505 which
has 512 megs of RAM) are enough for serious work. In fact the Toshiba
is the fastest of the first tablets to hit the market. The video
card is not the greatest if you're a gamer or a heavy graphics
person, but I imagine there are limitations as to which video cards
can support the digitizer features. Should you buy one? If you
intend to use the nifty special features of the Tablet OS, then
yes. If you don't intend to use these features, then you can find
a faster machine with a CD burner, firewire and a brighter sharper
screen for the same money.
Sheer cool factor (OK, that's not enough reason to spend this
much money, but man it is cool!). Rugged construction and sturdy
screen. Good horsepower for a near sub-notebook sized unit. Do
get the 3505 model- it's worth it to get a DVD and 512 megs total
RAM. USB 2.0 ports are great, though I wish for Firewire too.
Great integration of handwriting recognition and voice recognition
into most all applications from MS and 3rd parties. Con: The
DVD drive was not in the box, you must send away for it. Screen
isn't as bright or sharp as a normal high end laptop's. Voice
recognition doesn't work well.
list price for 3500 (256 megs RAM, no DVD): $2299. Suggested list price for 3505 (512 megs RAM, DVD): $2499
color Poly Silicon active matrix LCD, 16 million
colors, Screen Size Diag: 12.1", Resolution:
1024 x 768. Can drive an external monitor: 64K colors
up to 1600 x 1200. Trident CyberALADDiN-T Graphics
accelerator, BitBLT hardware, Alpha-blending, Direct
3D and Open GL support. 16 megs shared video RAM.
Ion rechargeable. 3600 Milliamps/hour.
and Memory: 1.33GHz
Intel Mobile Pentium III with SpeedStep technology.
16k Level 1 cache, 512kb write-back level 2 cache.
256 MB RAM in 3500, 3505 has 512 megs RAM. 1 gig
max. Uses PC133 SO DIMMs, 1 slot for RAM.
gig ATA 100 2.5" removable hard disk (you guessed
it, Toshiba brand), external DVD "included" with
the 3505 model only.
Size: 11.6" x
9.2" x 1.3. Weight 4.1 lbs.
in speaker, mic and stereo headphone jack. Voice
Recorder and command included in the operating
system. ALi M1535 integrated 16 bit audio, full
duplex sound, 64 channel wavetable synthesis, 3D
sound support, DirectSound, Direct 3D and DirectMusic
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.
and Ports: 1
SD (Secure Digital) slot, 1 CF (CompactFlash) slot,
one PCMCIA type II slot. IR port, VGA monitor port,
mic in (mono, 3.5mm), and stereo headphone jack-
3.5mm. Two USB 2.0 ports, V.92 modem, WiFi and