Measuring 1.5 inches thick, 12.7 inches wide, and 11.3 inches deep and weighing a hefty 6.1 pounds, the Toshiba Satellite R15 is about twice the size and weight of the tiny HP Compaq Tablet PC tc1100. Though the R15 is a little narrower and lighter than the Acer TravelMate C301XCi, it's still so heavy that it can be uncomfortable to hold like a clipboard for more than a few minutes; it's clearly intended for working on your lap or a desktop. The black-and-silver case--with a magnesium frame, base, and lid--has been built to take daily abuse.
Like other convertible tablets, the Toshiba Satellite R15 is two computers in one: it looks like a standard keyboard-based laptop, but its screen rotates 180 degrees and folds over the keyboard to allow for pen input. Unfortunately, the R15's single swivel hinge allows the screen to wobble and rock at the slightest touch when it's in laptop mode. The 14.1-inch XGA display is more than adequate, but it lacks the automatic brightness adjustments of the TravelMate C301XCi, and our test system had an annoying piece of dust below the surface of the display. Below the screen are three buttons for rotating the display orientation, calling up the Windows Task Manager, and scrolling horizontally or vertically.
For any tablet to do its stuff, it needs a good pen and digitizer; in this realm the Toshiba Satellite R15 will satisfy even the most inveterate scribblers. The stylus, the Wacom digitizer, and the flush screen surface make writing nearly as natural as pencil on paper, although we would have liked a slightly rougher writing surface with a little more resistance. Character recognition, at about 85 percent, is slightly better than with older tablets. But the software still has trouble distinguishing between similar characters, such as a Y and a 4. If you want typed notes, in many cases, it's easier and quicker to use the keyboard.
While the screen and the pen are the center of attention, the R15 has a decent-size, if overly flexible, keyboard. The smallish touch pad has two huge mouse buttons, but it lacks either a scroll button or a scroll zone. Like any good business machine, the R15 can connect in a variety of ways, with headphone and microphone jacks, FireWire, three USB 2.0, VGA, S-Video, modem, and Ethernet ports--though corporate buyers who have standardized on Gigabit Ethernet will thumb their noses at the R15's 100Mbps LAN card. There's also an Intel 802.11b/g wireless radio, which has its own on/off switch on the front of the machine; in our anecdotal test it demonstrated a substandard range of only 90 feet.
When it comes to removable media, the Toshiba Satellite R15 comes with a modular combo DVD/CD-RW optical drive, but there's no DVD burner option available. And rather than a multicard reader that accepts five or six types of flash cards, the R15 has a plain-vanilla Secure Digital flash card slot. Unfortunately for businesses worried about data security, the R15 lacks a fingerprint reader, a smart-card slot, or a Trusted Platform Module.
Oddly, sound is central to the R15, with an integrated Analog Devices audio chip and SRS TruSurround XT technology that make the tablet's tiny speakers sound larger and more powerful. Though the speakers are partially covered when the display is folded flat, the sound is surprisingly good once you get the hang of the SRS adjustments. In addition, the machine features an array microphone with echo cancellation technology that makes it almost as good as a dedicated mike, letting you record meetings, dictate to a speech recognition program, and navigate menus by speaking simple commands such as "cut," "paste," and "undo" to the system. If there's a lot of background noise, however, you'll still need to use a headset microphone.