Toshiba Portege R400 Notebook

Toshiba Portege R400Tablet PCs are still trying to make inroads into the market. Somebody must be buying them, but they’re a niche product few artists and designers have a use for, tending as we do to work at a base of operations rather than on the run like a sales executive.

They’re especially hard to justify when we already have a handwriting methodology that’s been with us since the time of the ancient Egyptians in some form — a notepad and pen.

If you do forgo the traditional method at client meetings or briefings to scratch out notes, it will not only impress clients and give them something to talk about, it’ll give you up to the minute PC technology in an attractive and functional package.

The Toshiba Portege R400 is one of the first tablet PCs built especially for Windows Vista, and one that makes good use of Vista features including the new Journal software that recognises handwriting when the device is in tablet mode.

It looks distinctive, more like an Apple product than the black/silver laptops of the metallic age. The stark black and white casing makes it look more like an attractive kitchen appliance. When you open the laptop, simply twist the screen (in one direction only) and fold it back down in the open position and the Portege should immediately reorient the display image for your changed working mode.

We say ‘should’, because it didn’t always recognise the change to tablet mode and instead you have to hit the button that reorients the display manually. But once you’re in the tablet zone, the active stylus is fairly accurate and Windows Journal’s handwriting recognition technology is very good at translating your scrawl into editable text.

One of the most intriguing features is the front-mounted, one-line LED display. Click a button beside it and you’ll get the time, your current battery capacity and more. Every time you get an email or calendar notification the tiny screen comes to life to tell you about it. It works even when the system’s in sleep mode, syncing to your calendar data or email over a local network or even a 3G card. It’s one of those things you can imagine becoming standard on all or at least most laptops — like the fingerprint reader and email button.

The Portege R400 isn’t without downsides. The most glaring is that it has no optical drive whatsoever, and at over three thousand dollars most prospective purchasers will expect one. There’s also an old PCMCIA slot rather than the new Express card slot all laptops are adopting.

A dual core 1.2Ghz Intel Centrino processor, 80Gb hard drive and 2Mb of RAM is fairly standard in a laptop and you might find it a shade low for high end design data crunching, and the amount you pay for the tablet functions is pretty hefty considering you can get similar specs in a late model laptop for half the price. It might not be the perfect time to splash out on the Portege R400 before the price comes down, but it’s definitely heading in a direction you should keep your eye on.