Review: Toshiba’s Split Personality Notebook

Looking at the $1,799 Toshiba Portégé M700-S7002 notebook PC, it doesn’t seem a whole lot different from other compact business-class notebooks on the market. But it’s got a secret that might make it your road-going weapon of choice, especially if you’re just as likely to jot a note as type an e-mail: This unassuming notebook converts to a tablet PC with just a twist-and-fold of the screen.

In traditional notebook mode, the glossy-gray M700-S7002 has all the comforts you would expect. The 12.1-inch (diagonal) widescreen LCD is sharp and bright, delivering crisp text and vibrant colors. And unlike some other tablet PCs, the digitizer (the overlay that makes navigating and writing on the screen possible) is visible only if you look hard to see it; otherwise, it’s barely noticeable. The full-size keyboard is comfortable and quiet, and the touchpad and mouse buttons make navigating Windows the old-fashioned way easy.

Tablet Conversion
But pivot the LCD on its sturdy center hinge and lay it flat against the keyboard, and using the M700-S7002 becomes a whole different experience. You can launch applications, select on-screen items, and jot notes using your finger or (for better accuracy) the included stylus. The five-pound machine fits comfortably in the crook of your arm, though for longer sessions in tablet mode you’ll want to prop it on a table or in your lap.

The on-screen image automatically switches from landscape orientation (wider from left to right) to portrait mode (longer from top to bottom) when you convert the M700-S7002 to a tablet, and a handy toggle switch on the screen bezel lets you switch it on the fly to suit the way you work. For example, when annotating Word documents or working with electronic forms, portrait mode likely works best; if you need to cycle through a PowerPoint presentation, surf the Web, or (when work is done) watch a DVD movie, landscape orientation is ideal.

Toshiba Portégé M700-S7002
The Toshiba Portégé M700-S7002 converts easily from a typical ultra-portable notebook to a tablet PC.

The M700-S7002 comes preloaded with Windows Vista Business, which includes the tablet functionality formerly found only in Microsoft’s Windows XP Tablet PC Edition operating system. Used in conjunction with the very accurate digitizer, navigating with the stylus becomes second nature. You can hover over an on-screen icon or menu choice to reveal a pop-up message or pre-select the item, then tap to complete the action.

The handy Tablet PC Input Panel is a pen-aware applet that lives just off-screen; tap its edge and the utility pops into view. The utility lets you add hand-written notes to open applications, as well as convert your handwriting to text (with fairly good accuracy). If you need a keyboard quickly, the Input Panel provides an on-screen version ideal for tapping out short entries, such as a URL to fill into a browser address bar.

Toshiba has also pre-loaded Microsoft OneNote 2007, an excellent note-taking and organizational application. Resembling an electronic tabbed notebook, OneNote, lets you assemble documents, handwritten notes, multimedia files, snippets of Web pages and other items related to a project in a single place. Search capabilities let you find what you’re looking for easily, and you can even set up shared “notebooks” for team use.

Powerful Hardware
Of course, the M700-S7002 is also a full-featured traditional notebook PC. It comes equipped with a 2.2-GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7500 processor and 2GB of memory, both of which deliver plenty of horsepower for multitasking, even with demanding applications. The integrated Intel X3100 graphic engine is fine for Vista’s slick “Aero” effects, and the spacious 160GB hard drive has an active protection system that parks the drive heads during bumps or falls to protect the drive and your data.

Toshiba has included a fingerprint reader on the screen bezel (so you can access it with the machine in either tablet or notebook mode), which keeps unauthorized people from logging onto Windows. Simply register your fingerprints using the included utility, and for subsequent logons, all you need to do is swipe a finger. It’s quicker and more convenient than typing in a Windows password, especially if you tend to leave the machine in tablet mode.

A Webcam above the screen lets you use the M700-S7002 for videoconferencing or video e-mail. The system has all the usual ports, including a PC Card slot, three USB ports, Ethernet, modem, VGA-out and a memory-card reader. The multi-format DVD burner is in a modular bay, so you can swap it out for an extra battery or other compatible Portégé peripheral.

Road warriors may want to opt for that bay battery, of buy a spare main battery. In our informal battery rundown test, watching a DVD movie with notebook performance set to high and all power-saving options disabled, the M700-S7002’s main battery lasted only one hour 15 minutes, which is on the low side for an ultra-portable notebook. Expect about 2.5 to 3 hours of typical computing use per charge.

But that’s the only nit we can pick about the Portégé M700-S7002. Toshiba backs the system with a generous three-year warranty on parts and labor (one year on the battery) and 24/7 tech support. If you’re in the market for a compact notebook, the split personality of the M700-S7002 might help you expand the way you work.

Jamie Bsales is an award-winning technology writer and editor with nearly 14 years of experience covering the latest hardware, software and Internet products and services.

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