Yesterday I picked up a Portege R400 from Toshiba for review. I unboxed the unit and found that it had Windows Vista Business pre-installed. This innovative new convertible from Toshiba has drawn some flack from some because it lacks some features people have come to expect from Mobile PCs. And this is in fact a valid criticism. There is no 6-in-one card reader. There are only two USB ports and no FireWire. There is no integrated optical drive.
On the other hand there is a lot to like in this tablet. The R400 is far and away the most slate like convertable I have ever handled. It is light and thin and this makes it very comfortable to use in slate mode. It is also the quietest Core Duo device I have yet seen.
In addition it has a very innovative hinge design that completely eliminates the floppy head that some convertables suffer from. I also suspect that the new hinge design has eliminated a lot of weight from the swivel. On either end of the bottom edge of the screen there is a foot - for want of a better term - that seats into a plastic guide. The screen will only rotate when it is roughly at right angles. The rest of the time there is no side-to-side play at all. Here is a close-up of the foot on the right.
The innovation does not stop there. The R400 also sports integrated EVDO - which is not activated on my demo unit. Indeed I know that Telecom New Zealand requires that any EVDO device used on the Telecom network be certified and I don't know if this has been done yet on the module in the R400. For my American readers - there is a link in one of the utilities that takes you to the Verizon site to activate the EVDO.
In addition the R400 sports a Windows SideShow enabled LCD display on the front bezel that supports something that Toshiba call "Active Notifications". This display is extremely hard to photograph, so sorry if it is a little blurry.
You may not have heard of Active Notifications before, but it is not actually not a new thing. Active Notifications uses Exchange DirectPush, which is the same technology that enables push email delivery to Windows Mobile 5.0 devices. The net effect is that you can recieve notifications of new emails on the SideShow display, even if your tablet is in Sleep mode. That is very, very cool.
The other cool feature of the R400 is the wireless port replicator, which alas - I don't have for this review. What I do have is the tablet itself, so lets go for a wee tour of that.
On the front bezel, in addition to SideShow display, there is (left to right) the pen, an array of indicator lights (power in, power state, battery state, aux. battery state, disk activity, Wi-Fi activity and cellular state), a microphone, the SideShow, three buttons for use with the SideShow display and a Wi-Fi hardware switch.
On the right there is a PCMCIA slot, the volume control, headphones and microphone jack. Thw two jacks are right at the back and, if the R400 port replicator lacks audio output like the M400 port replicator does then I much prefer the new placement.
The back of the device includes two USB ports, ethernet, power and a vent.
On the left there is a lock slot, VGA output and the edge of the pen, so you can push it out the front.
The stylus is quite compact and includes the traditional right click button on the barrel and an eraser on the top.
In slate mode, as I said, the R400 really feels good, for a convertable. The hardware buttons available in slate mode include a power button - which has a lock switch so you can store the tablet in slate mode without risking it turning on in your bag. There is also a joystick directional control that can be pressed in to send "enter". The next three buttons are Esc/rotate, Windows security and an email button.
There is also a finger print reader. In slate mode the screen is offset (in portrait) so you can adjust the orientation based on your handedness and still have an edge that is comfortable to hold. Since I am right handed I put the buttons (which are on the edge you would hold) on the left.
Over all this is a really nice convertable. While I think that some of the criticisms that have been made are valid (the lack of an SD card slot in particular) the R400 looks great and has a nice feel to it. Performance is snappy and it rates a respectable 3.1 on the Vista Perfromance Rating.
I am very excited by the innovative features such as the hinge design, the wireless port replicator and the SideShow display that is powered by DirectPush.