Toshiba Tecra M4 review

Price when reviewed

As tablet PCs go, this new Tecra boasts some unusual specifications. Quite aside from the decidedly hefty 2.8kg weight, this is one of the few tablets we’ve seen with discrete graphics: Toshiba has shunned the norm by fitting a 64MB nVidia GeForce Go 6200 TE. The dimensions also separate it from your average tablet – the customary 12.1in tablet screen is replaced by a 14.1 in TFT display, with 1,400 x 1,050 pixels instead of 1,024 x 768.

Toshiba Tecra M4 review

Naturally, this has implications for its use. Holding the tablet in one hand isn’t an appealing prospect, since it’s both large and heavy. Instead, think of this as a standard notebook that happens to have a twist screen and pen input. You might use it as a slate at a desk, where you can prop it on the edge of the table to write on, or twist the screen round for desktop presentations, but you’ll soon tire of carrying it around.

Battery life only confirms this, lasting three hours, 15 minutes under a light load with the screen brightness turned down – not surprising given the 14.1in display and graphics card. We’d expect at least four hours (half a day) for an effective slate tablet, so you’ll be restricted to shorter excursions away from a desk and power supply.

While it does feel light for its size, build quality has suffered as a result. Overall, it’s a bit flimsy: when you let go of the screen after adjusting its angle, it wobbles excessively back and forth, and this flimsiness makes it more difficult to use the pen in notebook mode. Side-to-side movement is tempered by plastic stoppers that sit beside the hinge, although corresponding ridges on the lower bezel can scratch the area above the keyboard when twisting to tablet mode. On the plus side, however, the protection behind the display is exceptionally good.

One advantage of the big size is a spacious keyboard with enough room for separate page control keys outside the Enter key, although our unit was a little springy towards the top right. The Delete key is annoyingly buried to the right of the spacebar along with the Insert key, and the Windows key is displaced to the very top, all making for an unusual layout. Toshiba has set a trackpoint into the keyboard, which works well, and there’s also a decent touchpad below.

You get the same spacious feeling with the display, the 1,400 x 1,050 resolution giving a bigger area to write on than normal. That’s particularly useful when drawing diagrams or writing long sentences into the tablet input panel. But the screen is hard on the eyes: the semi-glossy polycarbonate coating mixes moderate room reflections with a milky appearance, making it hard to read. The backlight isn’t strong enough to overcome this, and the backlighting didn’t penetrate to the bottom corners of our screen, creating small shadows. Stylus accuracy was good, though, and consistent across the large surface.

Screen rotation is activated with a bezel-mounted button, although it can automatically flip to portrait in tablet mode, thanks to an onboard accelerometer, which it’s also possible to assign to specific functions, such as launching an application. There’s also a miniature joystick to navigate through a menu to change settings, as well as a volume thumbwheel for making quick adjustments in either mode.

There’s no denying that there’s some serious power under the bonnet. A 1.73GHz Pentium M 740, 512MB of DDR2 SDRAM and a 60GB 5,400rpm hard disk with shock protection bring the specification to desktop-replacement levels. The chassis also incorporates a CD-RW drive – usually a USB accessory that adds cost and clutter to tablet PCs. The benchmarking result was a little lighter than we’d hoped for, at 1.36 overall, but you won’t often be left staring at the hourglass.

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