Tools Of The Trade: The Toshiba Tecra M4 tablet PC

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The Independent Online

Designing a good portable computer is both an art and a science. Inevitably, manufacturers have to make compromises between weight, size, battery life and functions.

Designing a good portable computer is both an art and a science. Inevitably, manufacturers have to make compromises between weight, size, battery life and functions.

Finding the right balance is all the more important with a tablet PC, as it has to work in two quite different ways. And combining a good keyboard design and a good touch screen needs a sound knowledge of ergonomics as well as technology.

Toshiba's high-end Tecra tablet PC scores highly on functions and performance, but less so on ergonomics, for the size of the machine makes it awkward to use in its tablet configuration. Although the large screen is pleasant to use, cradling such a bulky unit on your arm for any length of time becomes uncomfortable.

Nor is the Toshiba's screen as bright as that on some of its competitors, and in tablet mode, it covers the speakers, which will be a problem for applications such as internet telephony.

Swivel the screen into laptop mode, though, and the Tecra is on firmer ground. Its build quality is good. While not quite up to Thinkpad standards, it is robust enough for intensive business use. Add a decent-sized keyboard and display and this is a computer that is ideal for long periods of use.

As is to be expected from Toshiba, the Tecra comes with a host of multimedia functions, including decent-quality, if slightly quiet, speakers, a DVD-Rom and an SD (secure digital) card for sharing pictures from digital cameras. Toshiba has also added an iLink connector for digital camcorders.

Networking is supported by WiFi and Bluetooth wireless connections, and central processors up to 2.13Ghz, as well as up to two gigabytes of main memory. This gives the laptop more than enough power to run demanding business applications and multimedia programs.

But the main feature of interest might well be Toshiba's EasyGuard technology, including shock protection for the hard disk drive. Built-in software moves the drive to a safe position if the machine detects vibration, safeguarding data in the event of the computer being knocked or dropped. It is a reassuring feature to have, as tablet PCs are vulnerable because they spend so much time being used on the move.

As a high-end laptop, the Tecra M4 is a capable machine. There might also be applications where the combination of a tablet PC option and decent power is necessary.

But for business users who plan to use a tablet in meetings or on the move, rather than as a replacement for a desktop machine, a lighter and more compact model might be a better bet.

THE VERDICT

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pros: decent features and computing power.

Cons: too heavy to be fully practical as a tablet.

Price: from £1,349 (plus VAT).

Contact: www.toshiba.co.uk

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