I was lucky enough to borrow a Toshiba M400 from Toshiba New Zealand for a couple of days. I picked it up today before lunch when I was passing by. I had quite a busy day today so the thing sat on my desk all day largely unmolested. Talk about torment!
The unit I received was not speced to the gills, but was not too bad. It sports a 1.8GHz Dual Core Centrino Duo processor, which is fast enough, but it only has 512MB of RAM installed. On the storage side there is a 70GB hard drive – plenty of space to fill up over time! All things considered though it seems to run pretty well for a machine with only 512MB of RAM, but if I were ordering one it would be fair to say I would want a couple of gigs in it. There was no optical drive installed.
A Visual Tour
Over the M400 is really nice to look at. It has a sleek black and silver finish. It does not look or feel cheap or flimsy. Even the touchpad is silver – which looks really nice. The front edge of the base and the screen is rounded over, which adds to the visual appeal.
That said the rounded edges do appear to be purely for looks. They don’t add anything in terms of making the unit easier to hold in slate mode.
To give you an idea of size - here is the M400 next to my little TC1100.
On the front left corner of the base – on the rounded edge – is a row of indicator lights. These indicate (left to right):
A) The unit is on mains power
B) Powered on.
C) Battery state (battery 1)
D) Battery state (battery 2)
E) HDD activity
F) Wireless Activity
Below the curved edge on the front there is also:
G) Hardware on/off switch for wireless
H) 2 x external microphones
I) Mic in
J) Audio out
K) Volume wheel
L) Release button for cover latch
On the right side (if you are facing the unit in laptop mode) there is:
M) Stylus (push in to release)
N) Card Reader (SD, XD, Memory Stick)
O) Modular Bay
Round the back you will find:
P) Power in
Q) USB (x1)
R) VGA Out
S) Modem port
T) LAN Port
The left side, in addition to a large heat vent and the obligatory security cable connector, there is:
U) USB (x2)
V) PCMCIA slot
On the Screen
The following controls are available on the screen:
X) Power button
Y) D Pad/Enter
AA) Windows Security (sends Ctrl-Alt-Del)
BB) Toshiba Assist button.
CC) Zoom in/out
DD) Fingerprint Reader
Also on the screen is the latch. The latch is a clasp mechanism. The male part of the latch is attached to the screen and can be flipped over 180 degrees. This allows you to lock the screen in either laptop mode or slate mode with a flick of the latch. I have to say that as the latch is fairly thin plastic I could see this failing over time (I’d love to be wrong). Personally I prefer the magnetic type latches.
On the bottom of the unit you find the usual battery and modular bay releases and a docking station port. In addition to these there is what has to be The Feature of the M400. Behind the docking station port there is a Secret Squirrel compartment that contains a really cool little space saver stylus – just in case! What a fantastic idea. If you are already a tablet user and have ever lost a stylus – or even left yours at home or at the office – you know how very useful that would be.
Inside the secret compartment...
Side by side with the standard stylus...
I’m really impressed with the weight of this device. I have to state my bias here – for the last year or so I have used mostly slates. That said the M400 is certainly no brick. For the grunt you get in the box the weight is really very good. While it is light enough to be held in your arms or lap for short periods it really does not feel like it has been designed to be held like a clipboard. There is no rubberised grip (like there is on the Lenovo X41 and the Motion Computing LE1600 or LS800) and it really feels like it has been designed as a laptop that converts into a tablet – rather than a “tablet first” device. This is hardly surprising as that is exactly what the M400 is. To me it feels quite thick, and it is. Here is a photo that shows it compared to my TC1100 with the keyboard off (which is how I tend to use it as a slate). I suspect you would get use to it.
Despite this the M400 is quite usable as a slate. The button location is well thought out and all off the hardware buttons are accessible in slate mode. Toshiba have gotten great milage from the buttons on the screen. Three of the buttons have one action if you press it and another if you hold it down.
While pressing the D Pad will send Enter, holding it down for a couple of seconds brings up the Toshiba Shortcut menu – giving you quick access to common settings such as brightness and rotation, and action such as mute.
Similarly holding down the ESC hardware button will rotate the screen to the current physical orientation of the device.
There is also a zoom button. Pressing it steps it down a resolution level (three available) and holding it takes it back to full resolution (1400x1050).
For anyone who has seen the old M200 – the screen on the M400 is in a whole different league. The brightness and the viewing angle are both excellent. Overall the clarity of the screen is crystalline.
There is a significant amount of software installed on the M400 out-of-the-box. I can almost hear Warner Crocker shouting CRAPWARE! In truth it is not all bad. OneNote is bundled and pre-installed and I think that is a good thing. Other pre-installed software includes:
· Acrobat Reader
· DVD RAM
· Protector Suite (Fingerprint software)
· Sonic RecordNow!
· Toshiba Utililities (see below)
Some of the Toshiba utils are really cool. There are too many to list – here are some of the nifty ones:
· Remote Camera – in the Bluetooth suite this utility apparently allows you to snap photos using your cellphone camera from your laptop. Could be great for mischief J
· RAID Console – you can put a second HDD into the modular drive bay (in lieu of an optical drive) and mirror them.
· Tablet Access Code Logon – Allows you to register a code word that you write in order to authenticate to Windows. The registration process involves writing the same word several times (much like the multiple swipes of a finger when registering a fingerprint) and the software analyses how you write it (strokes, speed, pressure, etc). You can then use this to log on.
Overall I am very pleased with the M400. The device is pleasant to look at and the design is very functional. Some of the value add software is excellent. Also – and very importantly – Toshiba clearly listened to it’s customers when they griped about the brightness and viewing angle on the M200 because the problem is well and truly gone on the M400. With the Dual Core processor the M400 should be able to make Vista race along. I might give that a try tomorrow J