Toshiba Tecra M7 review
A capable machine for a very good price, but the screen leaves much to be desired
Review Date: 22 Sep 2006
Reviewed By: David Fearon
Price when reviewed: (£1,174 inc VAT)
With its latest laptop, Toshiba is trying to generate a brand-new market sector that we're surprised no-one else has thought of yet: the widescreen convertible tablet. The M7 boasts a 14.1in screen with a resolution of 1,440 x 900 pixels, making it the first widescreen tablet available.
Despite being the M7's unique selling point, the screen itself is a disappointment. Tablet displays inevitably suffer both from the extra stylus-sensing layer and the need to be usable in portrait and landscape modes, but the M7's display is a letdown bearing even that in mind. In landscape mode, there's a clearly visible drop-off in brightness from top to bottom, although horizontal viewing angles - which translate to vertical in portrait mode - are much better, with only a slight brightness change even out to 90 degrees off-axis either side. Overall, though, it lacks brightness and there's a distracting amount of graininess to the image, which is clearly visible on white backgrounds from a normal working distance.
Base specification is perfectly adequate, with an Intel Core Duo T2300 processor, 512MB of RAM and an 80GB hard disk. A full 1GB of memory would be preferable if you're planning on running heavyweight applications: an official Toshiba upgrade will set you back £60, and there's a memory slot free. With the components as is, the machine scores a respectable but not amazing 0.88 in our application benchmarks, although it's still more than fast enough for everyday use.
The T7 isn't lacking when it comes to peripherals and connectors, with both 802.11a/b/g WLAN and Bluetooth, plus a good array of ports around the sides. This includes three USB 2 ports and a mini-FireWire interface, plus an SD/xD/Memory Stick reader. The only omissions are serial and parallel ports, which do still have their place in enterprise and vertical-market applications. Biometrics are covered, though, with a fingerprint reader set into the bezel.
Graphics are handled by an Nvidia Quadro NVS 110M chipset. This isn't to be confused with the Quadro workstation parts: the NVS range is Nvidia's line of business-specific chipsets, with perfectly good 2D performance but little in the way of 3D acceleration by modern standards. It's up to running the full Windows Vista Aero interface, though, with the beta of Microsoft's Windows Vista Upgrade Advisor giving it a clean bill of health, and if you feel like attaching an external monitor it will manage analogue resolutions up to 2,048 x 1,536.
Toshiba is keen to point out internal design changes aimed at rendering the M7 less vulnerable to the rigours of the road. It's followed the trend set by Lenovo with a hard-disk protection system, sensing when the unit has been dropped and attempting to park the drive heads before the unit hits the ground.
Swivelling the screen on its central hinge and converting the Tecra to portrait tablet mode is initially a bit frightening; you find yourself sitting at the bottom of 30cm of screen stretching off into the distance. If you regularly use Windows' tablet input panel in handwriting-recognition mode, you may well warm to it, since the vertical space on offer means you can scribble away over multiple lines without running out of space. Overall, though, the more A4-like aspect and size of a standard 4:3 screen feels more natural and certainly more manageable.
With the standard battery installed, we got just under three-and-a-half hours' light use from the Tecra, and 2hrs 18mins under our CPU and hard disk-intensive heavy-use test. These days, that places its endurance squarely into the average category. It's also average when it comes to portability, with 2.7kg making it fine for the office but less suitable for people out on the road.
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