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Toshiba Portege R400 (with HSDPA) review: Toshiba Portege R400 (with HSDPA)

The last year has not been kind to Toshiba's Portege R400. While it retains the advantage of being a tablet, in all other respects the rest of the ultraportable crowd have left it well behind.

Craig Simms Special to CNET News
Craig was sucked into the endless vortex of tech at an early age, only to be spat back out babbling things like "phase-locked-loop crystal oscillators!". Mostly this receives a pat on the head from the listener, followed closely by a question about what laptop they should buy.
Craig Simms
3 min read

Design and Features
What a difference a year can make. Toshiba's R400 made quite the impression when it was launched — a small, lightweight, brilliantly sensitive tablet that packed in features with some serious style.


Toshiba Portege R400 (with HSDPA)

The Good

Excellent usability. Lightweight yet relatively rugged. Perfectly suited to Vista.

The Bad

Exorbitant price. Ancient specs. Keyboard flexes when typed on. Mono sound. No webcam. Heavy. Tiny touchpad. Screen rotate disables 3G in one direction, degrades quality in another.

The Bottom Line

The last year has not been kind to Toshiba's Portege R400. While it retains the advantage of being a tablet, in all other respects the rest of the ultraportable crowd have left it well behind.

Now, it's boxy and large for what's offered inside, and is seriously out of style and overpriced. The tiny, super-recessed touch pad. The squishy mouse buttons. The keyboard that flexes in the middle whenever you type. The lack of optical drive, despite the size of the laptop and that the smaller Portege R500 has one. The tablet-screen that only rotates one way. The old PCMCIA slot, and Windows Sideshow module — a technology that has died a death of a thousand non-adoptions since the R400's initial release. And finally, most horrendously — the hardware has not been updated in over a year, all that differs is the insertion of a Telstra-certified HSPDA module, which apparently justifies an AU$400 increase over the RRP from a year ago.

The tablet screen is still fantastically sensitive and accurate, although when using the stylus it feels a bit like a ballpoint pen with a ball that occasionally sticks, meanwhile the screen coating feels uneven and rough in some patches and smooth in others.

It's still a 12.1-inch, 1,280x800 tablet, with the OS auto-switching the display between portrait and landscape modes when you flip the screen around and convert from laptop to tablet mode. A button can be held down on the screen to rotate the screen in whichever direction you're holding it, which works fine, so long as the end pointing away from you is inclined upwards. While this presents no issues for two of the rotations, when in secondary portrait mode (with the right of the screen facing away from the fingerprint scanner) the 3G module disables itself, and when in secondary landscape mode (with the top of the screen facing the fingerprint scanner), the fonts are fuzzy and unclear.

Also mounted on the screen is a lock button for the OS (the equivalent of CTRL+ALT+DEL), a mail shortcut button, a mini joystick which emulates the keyboard arrow buttons and can be clicked to emulate an "Enter" key strike, and the aforementioned fingerprint scanner. To the right of this, built into the base, is a single speaker. Yes, this thing packs mono, something that is outperformed even by the diminutive EeePC and MiniNote.

In terms of connectivity only two USB ports are offered, along with VGA out, headphone and microphone jacks, and a gigabit Ethernet port. Wi-Fi is bundled in as well, supporting 802.11a/b/g.

As mentioned, the specs have not changed for a year — a 1.2GHZ Core Duo (yes, Core Duo, not Core 2 Duo) U2500 powers the installed Vista Business OS along well enough with 2GB RAM, and the integrated Intel GMA950 graphics chipset is acceptable enough for business use. The rotational speed of the 80GB, 4,200rpm hard drive is a blight, but nothing show stopping. This totalled to a PCMark05 score of 2,184, and the expected poor showing of 216 in 3DMark06, making it a clear business machine.

Turning off all the power-saving features, setting screen brightness and volume to maximum and playing an XviD file saw the battery on the R400 lasting one hour and 51 minutes, which isn't amazing, but is certainly passable — we can only assume the digitiser pulls a good whack more power than a usual screen.

The biggest problem is that all of this old technology is offered for the ludicrously absurd sum of AU$4,180 — both Toshiba's design and price have stayed firmly in the past, while the rest of the world has gone rushing past.