Toshiba M200 Tablet PC Review (Part 1)

Christopher Rath

2004-10-21

Evaluation Context

M200 Photo

Toshiba M200

I live in eastern North America (Ottawa), but for the past 8 months I have been working on the west coast (Los Angeles). This 11.5Ė12 h. door-to-door commute---4.5 hours of which is on the second of 2 flights---is made productive through the use of a laptop computer; however, my ability to use the laptop is often hindered by cramped airline seating, and is almost eliminated when the seat in front of me is reclined by its occupant.

In the physical context of sitting behind a reclined economy airline seat, it is almost impossible to open and use a small laptop computer like the Dell D400: the laptop must be straddled between oneís legs. While seating in 1st/business class does reduce the problem considerably, I have found it next to impossible to obtain upgrades on routes in and out of Los Angeles (and it is prohibitively expensive to purchase a 1st class seat at the times I typically fly).

A Tablet PC appeared to be a possible solution to the problem; since a Tablet PC can be used in a flat configuration; requiring much less room than a traditional laptop. Thus was borne this evaluation, the purpose of which is to determine if use of a Tablet PC will make airline-based work less irritating and more productive.

A potential side-benefit---for me personally---is to alleviate the occasional client complaint I receive when typing on my keyboard during meetings. I do not use a paper logbook; instead I take my notes on my laptop. Every couple of months I find myself in a situation where the sound of my typing causes a disruption to the meeting; for example, if I am seated close to a Polycom telephone unit during a teleconference. I am hopeful that use of the laptop in Tablet mode will alleviate the disturbance in those situations and remove the need to use pen and paper on such occasions.

Hardware Selection

As defined by Microsoft, Tablet PCs exist in two forms: convertible units and slates. Convertible units have an attached keyboard and can be used as either a traditional laptop or as a tablet (with the keyboard folded away or detached). Slate units have no attached keyboard; although a USB keyboard and mouse may be used in some situations. Since it was my goal to primarily use the Tablet PC in laptop mode---only making use of the tablet/slate configuration in a minority of situations---a convertible unit was most suitable.

Most Tablet PCs in the marketplace are designed with battery life as one of their primary design goals. This means that most of them have substandard computing ability when compared to my Dell D400 laptop. I was not prepared to compromise computing power while changing form factor, so this greatly reduced the number of devices from which to choose.

A final hardware selection criterion considered was access to hardware break-fix support. My corporate-supplied Dell laptop comes with next business day on-site support. Since my laptop is a primary tool used in servicing clients, it is vital for prompt hardware support to be available. This criteria eliminated most of the Tablet PC suppliers from consideration.

The table, below, documents the Tablet PCs I considered and the differentiating factors that were important to me. Units that did not meet the service, convertible, and basic performance requirements are not listed (e.g., slates, and units with sub-1 GHz processors are omitted).

Vendor Model Mouse Weight CPU HD Screen NBD Service Price*
 Gateway M275X Pad 5.4 lbs 1.5 GHz 60 GB 1024 x 768 US only $2,044
 HP T1100 Stick 3.1 lbs 1.0 GHz 40 GB 1024 x 768 US & Canada $2,397
 Toshiba M200 Pad 4.5 lbs 1.5 GHz 60 GB 1400 x 1050 US or Canada $2,300

My corporate laptop, shown for comparison:
 Dell D400 Stick & Pad 3.7 lbs 1.6 GHz 60 GB 1024 x 768 US & Canada $2,104

* Price in USD for similarly configured units (512 MB RAM, CD-RW/DVD-ROM drive); next-day, on site service contract cost not included.

After considering the options available, I chose a Toshiba M200 to purchase for the evaluation. The HP offered better service, but I had previously evaluated an older HP Tablet PC (a T1000) and was not happy with the lack of a touchpad. The Gateway was eliminated because it was heaver and had lower screen resolution than the Toshiba. A factor in choosing the Toshiba was its very low failure rate compared to other manufacturers (as rated by Consumer Reports).

LAPTOP REPAIR HISTORY

Source: Consumer Reports, September 2004---Based on laptop computers purchased between 1999 and 2003, according to more than 57,000 responses to our 2003 Annual Questionnaire. Bars show percentage that ever had a repair or a serious problem. Data were standardized to eliminate differences linked to age and usage. Differences of 3 or more points are meaningful.

General Comments

Software notes:

Hardware notes:

Basic performance:

First-Blush Evaluation

After using the M200 on a daily basis for the past 6 weeks, I am not disappointed with my decision to switch to a Tablet PC. On 5 or 6 occasions in that time I have made use of the M200 in cramped airline quarters in its slate configuration. In those cramped conditions the Tablet PC fulfills my expectations: productive use of the laptop without the frustration associated with not being able to comfortably make proper use of the physical device.

The Tablet PCís handwriting recognition is excellent: as good as an Apple Newtonís (in the Newtonís later incarnations). Similar to the Newton, the Tablet PC relies heavily upon a dictionary lookup to perform handwriting recognition; so, poor spellers beware: the recognition of your handwriting wonít be the best. A problem with  the recogniser's dictionary is the it is not integrated with the MS Office dictionary, or with the Address Book.  One of the Apple Newton's approaches to the dictionary was to use the people and place names contained in the Address Book as a source of words the user may enter.  Also, the lack of a unified dictionary for the system means that unusual words must be entered into both dictionaries by the user; creating unnecessary user actions.

The success of the Tablet PCís recognition has allowed me to be effective when sending emails, entering my expenses into Excel expense forms, and editing MS Word documents. While my performance in slate mode is not has good as it is in normal keyboard mode, in cramped airline quarters my slate mode performance equals keyboard mode; without the frustration and hassles one normally experiences when using a laptop in suboptimal space.

Related Articles On This Website

I have written several other related articles that may be of interest to readers of this evaluation:


©Copyright 2004, Christopher Rath
Telephone: 613-824-4584
Address: 1371 Major Rd., Ottawa, ON, Canada K1E 1H3
Last updated: 2008/05/26 @ 09:14:56 ( )