Four years ago, CNET reviewed the Toshiba Portege M400, a convertible tablet laptop that was the first of its kind with a Core 2 Duo processor. Imagine our surprise in 2010 when we received the Portege M780, a Core i5 convertible laptop/tablet with pretty much exactly the same design.
For the princely sum of $1,699, the Portege M780 gives you a sturdy, medium-weight 12.1-inch computer with a firmly locking, capacitive-touch swiveling screen. However, you can get its Core i5 processor and medium-range specs for half the price with non-touch-screen laptops, and the M780's battery life is not stellar.
|Price as reviewed||$1,699|
|Processor||2.4 GHz Intel Core i5 M520|
|Memory||3GB DDR3 RAM, 1,066MHz|
|Hard drive||250GB 5,400rpm|
|Graphics||Intel Media Accelerator HD|
|Operating System||Windows 7 Professional (64-bit)|
|Dimensions (WD)||12.0x9.4 inches|
|Screen size (diagonal)||12.1 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||4.4/5.4 pounds|
In 2006, we said the extremely similar-looking Portege M400 laptop had a retro, boxy feel. Four years later, we now say that same look has an "absurdly thick, did-you-pull-this-laptop-out-of-your-basement" feel. Its design is a dull gray plastic with matte-black plastic highlights around the square screen and keyboard that reeks of a half-decade ago, and the bottom half of this keyboard is far chunkier than any recent "ultraportable" laptop we've seen.
Clearly, this Portege is going after a more industrial corporate crowd akin to Panasonic's Toughbook market. The design and semirugged feel match the look of a Toughbook, but its lightweight plastic heft and slight flex we found on parts of the chassis suggest it has a less-than-rugged construction.
The Portege M780 favors physical buttons and wheels over function-key combos; there's a volume wheel on the front edge, but it has no max/min cut-offs and will spin infinitely until the onboard volume maxes. A row of confusing and small identical buttons below the convertible swivel-screen control power, screen orientation, and even includes an odd mini joystick for repositioning and minimizing open windows. It would have made more sense to convert this stick into a trackpoint.
To its credit, however, the old-fashioned and spill-resistant tapered keyboard on the M780 was one of the more comfortable typing experiences among recent laptops. Its key presses were slightly soft, but the key shape and positioning was generous and spacious. The small touch pad feels awkwardly designed; we wondered why Toshiba didn't simply make it bigger to use more of the available palm-rest space.
The Portege's matte-finish 12.1-inch screen has 1,280x800-pixel native resolution, making it one of the few modern laptop screens doesn't have a 16:9 aspect ratio. We like having a nonreflective screen surface over the highly glossy glass displays we're often subjected to; however, the heavy touch-screen overlay on the Portege M780 gives images and Web pages a slightly cloudy, occluded look.
We really like the M780s touch-screen responsiveness. Using both direct-touch and the included pen-thick stylus, navigating with touch was both quick and accurate. Unfortunately, a Windows-based computing environment doesn't have icons or other interface elements suited for touch screen, making some controls difficult to use.
The capacitive type of touch display the M780 uses creates a small focusing dot wherever your finger goes, which helps you pretrack your touch gesture a little. With the stylus, the dot focuses when the stylus is a few millimeters off the screen, allowing some prenavigation before pressing down and making contact. By pressing a small side button on the stylus, a right-click action can be initiated. However, the Portege doesn't support multitouch, so it could be jarring to anyone expecting easy pinch-to-zoom or two-finger scrolling. Flick-based scrolls seem to initiate preset scroll movements that act with a slight delay and don't feel organic.
The stereo speakers, located above the keyboard, were louder than we needed during video playback, and leaned toward treble-heavy, but they were better than average. The Webcam above the keyboard works in both laptop and tablet modes, and had resolution quality similar to other Toshiba Satellite laptops we've recently reviewed--fine for Web conferencing, passable for pictures.
|Toshiba Portege M780-S7230||Average for category [ultraportable]|
|Video||VGA||VGA plus HDMI or DisplayPort|
|Audio||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||3 USB 2.0 (1 with eSATA/sleep-and-charge), SD card reader, mini-Firewire||3 USB 2.0, SD card reader|
|Expansion||ExpressCard/54, docking connector||None|
|Networking||Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth||Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, optional mobile broadband|
|Optical drive||DVD burner||None|
Toshiba packs a professional and wide array of into the Portege M780, including mini-FireWire, an eSATA combo USB port, and a full-size ExpressCard slot. Toshiba didn't include an HDMI port, which makes sense as this is more of a small-business machine, but with its speedy Core i5 processor, this M780 could have interfaced with an HDTV for video and streaming shows easily. Ports flank all four sides of the M780's thick base, which can make locating a desired port a bit of a head-scratcher. An included fingerprint reader could be an attractive add for business security.
The 3GB of RAM and a 250GB hard drive are a little less than we'd expect for a $1,700 laptop; Toshiba could have bumped the hard drive to 500GB and the memory to 4GB. On the other hand, this Portege comes with 64-bit Windows 7 Professional.
On its Web site, Toshiba offers M780 configurations ranging from a Core i3 up to a Core i7 processor, and prices from $1,279 to $1,799. Our configuration is a fixed ordering option that's near the top of the pack.