In this column over the last several months, I have had the opportunity to review a couple of different tablet PCs: the Archos 9 PCtablet (August 2010) and the Lenovo IdeaPad S10-3t Netbook Tablet (July 2010). My experience with both of these machines, I must admit, has soured me a bit on this segment. I was anxious to try out another tablet computer to see if someone could finally do it right. For the last couple of months, I have been using a review model of a Toshiba Portégé M780 tablet computer. The M780 is an ultra-portable 12.1" tablet PC with digital pen options and an optional touch display.
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The Portégé M780 comes in a variety of pre-built configurations, or you have the option of designing one yourself (custom models start at $1,499). The review model I received was the M780-S7210, which retails for $1,279 from the Toshiba store, has an Intel Core i3-330M processor, 2G of memory and 160G
All Portégé M780s have a 12.1" backlit LED with pen digitizer and 1280×800 resolution. However, the S7210 model I reviewed does not have a touch screen, a feature available on the other pre-built models.
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For attaching additional devices, the Portégé has two
When I pulled my Portégé M780 out of the box, I was struck by how much it looked like the Toshiba laptop I used some 10 years ago. In this age where laptop makers are trying to keep up with Apple in terms of looks and styling, the Portégé looks somewhat dull with its black and silver plastics.
For an ultra-portable, the Portégé M780 isn’t featherweight. It has a solid feel without being clunky and at just over four and a half pounds isn’t bulky to carry by hand or in a computer bag. It is also surprisingly thick for a 12.1" portable (roughly 1.5").
The screen rotates around 180 degrees and folds down to put the Portégé into slate mode. To control essential functions in this mode, the Portégé has hardware buttons below the screen on the LCD bezel. Between these buttons and the pen digitizer, I rarely found the need to have access to the physical keyboard. The 85-key keyboard isn’t cramped like some others I have found on ultra-portable PCs.
For an added layer of security, the Portégé M780 also comes with a fingerprint scanner that lives on the display bezel.
Navigating the display using the digitizer pen went rather smoothly, although I would have much preferred a touch display, which is available on the higher-end Portégé M780 models. However, even these models support only single-point touch, which I have found to be rather frustrating to those who have grown accustom to the multi-touch capabilities of devices such as the iPad.
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All Portégé M780 displays have a matte finish, which I prefer to high-gloss, as I find them much easier to view in bright-light situations or at an angle.
For ultra-portable PCs, I expect long battery life, since these are the types of systems one would most likely have for traveling where outlets aren’t always readily available. Performing such “basic” tasks as word processing and spreadsheet work, I was able to get slightly more than five hours of battery life. Connecting to WiFi to stream Netflix video, this dropped to roughly two hours. While this isn’t the worst battery life I have run across, I still expect more.
Overall, I never felt the Portégé M780-S7210 was underpowered, even running Windows 7 Pro. I was able to have multiple Microsoft Office applications open, all while using a Web browser and streaming Internet radio, without the system becoming bogged down. If I were selecting one of these for myself, I would have definitely gone with one with a touch screen,
I would consider the S7210 model I reviewed an entry-level tablet option. For those looking for a convertible laptop but who don’t need a touch screen, the Portégé M780-S7210 may be for them.
Toshiba Portégé M780-S7210
$1,279 (as reviewed) to over $2,500 for customized models
- Responsive digitizer pen control
- Deceptively lightweight, given its dimensions
- Reasonable price for tablet PC
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- Battery life could be better
- Low-end model lacks touch screen and, when available, only single-point touch
- Low-end model lacks optical drive
Wayne A. Thorp, CFA, is the author of “Gadget Corner.” All reviews are based on firsthand experience of the product or service. No third-party compensation is received for opinions on products, services, websites or topics. However, sometimes the author is not required by the manufacturer or their PR firm to return the product under review. In such instances, it is our policy to convey this within the review. The views and opinions expressed in these reviews are strictly those of the author. Any product claim, statistic, quote or other representation about a product or service should be verified with the manufacturer or provider.