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With a silver lid and a black base, the Toshiba Tecra M4 convertible tablet looks right at home in the boardroom. It is solidly designed and loaded with features, but its 6.2-pound weight is a killer if you want to hold your tablet like a clipboard for any length of time. If you want a decent laptop with tablet functionality, the Tecra M4 provides top-notch performance, a comfortable keyboard, and a large 14-inch screen. If you're looking for something to use primarily as a tablet, you're better off with smaller devices such as the ThinkPad X41 or the Motion LE1600.
Measuring 12.9 inches wide, 11.4 inches deep, and approximately 1.5 inches thick, the Toshiba Tecra M4 has the same dimensions as the Toshiba Satellite R15; both are significantly larger than the other convertible tablets we've seen, such as the HP Compaq tc4200 and the Averatec C3500. Again, the Tecra M4 is one of the heaviest tablets around and really appropriate only for carrying down the hall and on occasional trips.
The large dimensions do allow for some creature comforts, including a spacious keyboard and two pointing options: an eraser-head pointing stick (similar to the TrackPoint on ThinkPads) and a touch pad. As on the HP Compaq tc4200, the pointing stick and the touch pad each has its own mouse button, and the touch pad features horizontal and vertical scroll zones. With the Tecra M4 in tablet mode, you can navigate and write on the screen with a stylus that has the bulk of a ballpoint pen and offers a good pen-on-paper feel. However, we prefer the rubberized grip and the thick Montblanc feel of the Motion LE1600's stylus. We also wish the Tecra M4's pen had a tether to keep us from losing it.
If you want to see life on the big screen, the Toshiba Tecra M4 is the tablet for you. While the Acer TravelMate C301XCi, the Gateway M275, and the Toshiba Satellite R15 all feature 14-inch screens, none can touch the Tecra M4's superfine 1,400x1,050 SXGA+ native resolution, which lets you view multiple windows while in landscape mode. Unfortunately, the screen is prone to glare and doesn't have as wide a viewing angle as we've seen elsewhere--for example, on the Motion LE1600. With the Tecra M4 in tablet mode or laid flat beneath overhead lights, we had problems viewing the screen at a 45-degree angle.
Another advantage of the Toshiba Tecra M4's size is that it can accommodate a decent mix of ports and connections. In addition to the headphone and microphone jacks, you'll find VGA, S-Video, four-pin FireWire, infrared, and three USB 2.0 ports. There are also SecureDigital and Type II PC Card slots, and you can connect to the Internet via modem, Ethernet, or 802.11b/g Wi-Fi. We like that the headphone and microphone jacks, the volume control, and a button to kill the wireless are easily accessible on the front of the machine. Small stereo speakers offer decent sound, but the lid covers them in tablet mode. The Tecra M4 lacks a fingerprint scanner, which would both provide security and make it easier to log on in tablet mode; however, it does have a Trusted Platform Module to help protect you from data theft. Like other Toshiba laptops, to keep data safe in the event that it's dropped, the Tecra M4 stops the hard drive from spinning whenever the tablet moves too fast. For tablets, which are often held on a wobbly arm and are more likely to be dropped, this feature is a necessity.
The Tecra M4 runs Windows XP Tablet Edition, and our test unit came with a good selection of software, including Microsoft Office OneNote, Microsoft Works 8.0, and Zinio Reader for reading digital magazines. It also came with Toshiba's very cool ConfigFree utility, which has a neat NORAD-like radar graphic that plots the signal strength (but not the location) of nearby wireless networks.
Toshiba has always been competitive with features and has put more power under the hood of the Tecra M4 than you will find in any other tablet. Our $2,099 (as of August 2005) test unit included a very fast 2GHz Pentium M processor, 512MB of quick 533MHz SDRAM, and a smoking Nvidia GeForce Go graphics card with 64MB of dedicated video memory (rare for a tablet). In CNET Labs' performance benchmarks, the Tecra M4 performed 24 percent faster than the similar-size Toshiba Satellite R15, which has a slower 1.6GHz processor. The Tecra M4 also handily beat the 1.8GHz Pentium M-based HP Compaq tc4200 and the Averatec C3500, which has a 1.67GHz processor. Only the new Acer TravelMate C310, with its 2.2GHz processor and 14.1-inch screen, looks poised to give the Tecra M4 a run for its money.
On the downside, the Toshiba Tecra M4's battery lasted for a mediocre 2 hours, 47 minutes. By contrast, the Toshiba Satellite R15's lasted 4 hours, 42 minutes, and the HP Compaq tc4200's lasted 4 hours, 56 minutes. If you don't need the DVD drive, you might want to consider swapping it out for an additional slim SelectBay battery ($169), which Toshiba claims will give you a total of 6 hours of battery life (CNET did not test this battery).
Like most business systems, the Tecra M4 comes with a three-year warranty on the computer and a one-year warranty on the battery. We called at 9:43 p.m. PT and connected with a technical-support representative in just over a minute. The technical-support Web site includes a thorough knowledge base with a cute Ask Iris interface and plenty of information. The site also includes product-specific support bulletins and downloadable updates of every utility in the computer. If you want to post a question online, Toshiba links to a third-party user message board.
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Find out more about how we test Windows notebooks.
Windows XP Home; 1.67GHz Athlon XP-M 2200+; 512MB DDR SDRAM PC2700 333MHz; ATI Radeon IGP 320M 64MB; Fujitsu MHT2060AT 60GB 4,200rpm
HP Compaq tc4200
Windows XP Tablet 2005; 1.8GHz Intel Pentium M 745; 512MB DDR2 SDRAM PC3200 400MHz; Intel 915GM 128MB; Toshiba MK6026GAX 60GB 5,400rpm
Toshiba Tecra M4
Windows XP Tablet 2002; 2GHz Intel Pentium M 760; DDR2 PC4200 533MHz SDRAM; Nvidia GeForce Go 6600 TE 64MB/6600 TE 128MB; Fujitsu MHT2080BH 80GB 4,200rpm
Toshiba Satellite R15-S822
Windows XP Tablet; 1.6GHz Intel Pentium M 725; 512MB DDR SDRAM PC2700 333MHz; Intel 82852/82855 GM/GME 64MB; Hitachi Travelstar 5K100 60GN 60GB 5,400rpm