Toshiba's first Windows Vista laptop, the Portege R400, is a beautifully crafted convertible tablet that unfortunately is every bit as expensive as it looks. It won't be available for purchase until January 30, 2007, with a base price of $2,599. Our review unit came packed with high-end features such as built-in EV-DO, an OLED display on the front edge, and a screen that uses the new LED backlight technology. Add in Windows Vista Ultimate, and you've got a system that will strain even the thickest wallets at $3,499. We'll have to wait until closer to the release date to see what money-saving configuration options are offered. Despite its excellent design and build quality, it's hard to recommend a system this expensive, especially one that provides only a Core Duo processor, a rather skimpy 80GB hard drive, and integrated graphics. Ignoring its high price, the Toshiba Portege R400 is an impressive achievement, firmly in the same industrial design league as Apple and Sony.
The Toshiba Portege R400 measures 12 inches wide, 9.4 inches deep, and 1.25 inches high, slightly smaller than the Apple MacBook. Like the Vista-based HP Pavilion tx1000us, the Portege R400 has a comfortable full-size keyboard and a 12.1-inch screen that is a little on the small side for long-term use. The Portege R400 weighs 3.8 pounds (4.6 pounds with the AC adapter), which is just about right for a thin-and-light notebook you'd carry around on a frequent basis.
The system's base, screen bezel, and spine are black, but the lid and the keyboard tray are white, giving it an almost Mac-like look, especially when closed. The center hinge is solid and literally snaps into place, letting you know it's correctly situated. Unlike the HP Pavilion tx1000us, the Portege R400's tablet screen is of the traditional, active-stylus-type, and you'll need to use the included stylus to control it.
Turning the screen 180 degrees and folding it down over the keyboard automatically switches the display into tablet mode, although we had trouble further rotating the display orientation with the screen rotation button after that. By fishing around the various Toshiba and Windows tablet settings menus, we were able to figure out that the rotation button was assigned to another task by default, a situation easily remedied. The other controls sitting below the LCD--buttons for e-mail and locking the system, and a small thumb stick for scrolling--all worked correctly, as did the fingerprint reader.
Sitting on the front edge of the system is a small OLED readout, called the Toshiba Edge Display. This, by default, shows you the time, the battery level, and the wireless signal strength, but it can also be used with a new Windows Vista feature called Active Notification. If you set up a POP3 e-mail account with Outlook 2007, Active Notifications allows the system's wireless connection to stay active (or cycle on and off periodically) even when the laptop is closed and in sleep mode. If a new e-mail message comes in, the Edge Display can display an appropriate icon. Naturally, keeping the wireless connection on will have an impact on battery life. We haven't had time to set up Outlook yet, so we'll examine this feature's usefulness in a later update to this review.
Connections are somewhat skimpier than we're used to having with a modern laptop, and include two USB 2.0 jacks, headphone and mic jacks, a PC Card slot, and a VGA output. On such a pricey and otherwise cutting-edge laptop, we expected more ports and slots, including FireWire, a media card reader, and an ExpressCard slot. Networking equipment includes a Gigabit Ethernet jack, integrated 802.11b/g wireless, and built-in EV-DO from Verizon Wireless (which requires a separate subscription). Toshiba's proprietary connection utility makes setting up the EV-DO signal almost completely painless.
Given its $3,500 price, we were somewhat disappointed with the components on our review unit. While definitely small, the Portege R400 is not an ultraportable system, so we could reasonably expect an Intel Core 2 Duo processor, not a slower Core Duo (in this case the ultralow-voltage 1.2GHz U2500). The 2GB of DDR2 RAM is a good choice for Windows Vista, but the 80GB hard drive, at a slower 4,200rpm speed, was disappointing. The DVD burner is also shunted off to an external add-on box, something we've seen in ultraportable systems, but rarely, if at all, in a laptop this size.
Compared to HP's new Vista tablet, the Pavilion tx1000us, which costs roughly half the price, the Portege R400 did not perform as well on CNET Labs' Photoshop CS2 and iTunes encoding tests, falling behind the more powerful AMD Turion 64 X2 TL-56 processor found on the Vista-based Pavilion. The R400's performance was comparable to a Windows XP laptop with a Core Duo processor, such as the Sony VAIO N170.
Despite our misgivings about some of the component choices in both Vista systems, each one is perfectly adequate for mainstream productivity and multimedia use--despite the resource-hogging reputation of Windows Vista. As with the Pavilion tx1000us, the Portege R400 felt robust and speedy during our hands-on testing. We're continuing to test this system and will update this review as more results become available.
With an ultralow-voltage CPU and a lack of power-hungry components, we expected more battery life from the Portege R400 than the paltry 1 hour and 54 minutes we got in CNET Labs' DVD battery drain test. Windows Vista can be power hungry, and the secondary edge display probably doesn't help, but at least three hours is what we'd expect from tablet PCs, which are intended to be mobile by their very nature. Our review unit included a second, extended battery pack (which we have not tested yet) which clips onto the bottom of the system. That would add considerable work time but also add weight and bulk to the system.
Toshiba covers the R400 with a one-year warranty with return-to-depot service. The company's toll-free tech support line is available 24/7, but there is no online chat option. You can extend coverage to three years for $149, and upgrades to on-site service are also available.