My purchase of a Toshiba Tecra M4 TabletPC was the first time I've ever purchased a laptop for myself. I've used a lot of laptops from a variety of manufacturers. None of them have ever really impressed me, except maybe the IBM ThinkPads. When I went to buy a laptop for myself, I discovered that IBM had sold their ThinkPad division to Lenovo. I'm sure they're a nice company, but I wasn't comfortable buying something from a relatively new company.
In addition to that, I wanted to try a TabletPC. Since I do a lot of work with Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, etc., having the pen available seemed like a good idea. This idea has worked out pretty well, there's none of the disconnect I experience when I use my Wacom tablet on my desktop. The problem is that my TabletPC is a "hybrid" model where the screen folds around and down over the keyboard.
Do you know how much fun it is to try to use Photoshop with no keyboard shortcuts? Trust me on this: It sucks.
So now I'm looking for a Bluetooth keyboard I can slip into my briefcase and keep with me all the time so I can use the laptop as a tablet and still have access to all those neat keyboard shortcuts that make life so easy.
After I received the laptop and ran through the setup, I kept some notes on the experience. Maybe they'll help someone else make a decision. (Or remind me of something I've forgotten.)
A Flash-based overview of the laptop. This link doesn't work anymore. It takes you to the main Toshiba Support page.
Initial notes about Toshiba tablet laptop PC
- No recovery CD's or DVD's in the box. Great. Found the installed software on a "system restore partition" and created recovery DVD's from it.
- Keyboard organization is really foolish. Windows key in wrong spot. I could understand if the windows key was on the right side of the spacebar, but putting it in the top row with the function keys is nuts.
Putting the Insert and Delete keys to the right of the spacebar is also foolish, as I use Control and Alt more frequently than Insert and Delete. The tilde/backtick key to the left of the spacebar is a waste. All Toshiba has to do is swap the tilde key with the left Alt key to make my life a little easier. Then swap the Insert key with the right Alt key to put them in the correct location.
- The Input panel from Microsoft is an interesting idea. Unfortunately every time you pull it up the Input Panel pushes any icon on the desktop that would be covered by the input panel upwards. Closing the input panel results in a blue gap about an inch and a half tall on my screen between the bottommost desktop icons and the Windows Task bar. This is crazy. Surely Microsoft can create an input panel that "floats" over the desktop (Always on top).
- There is far, far too much useless crap appearing in my tray. On the order of 16 icons. Enough already. Not everyone needs to be in the tray.
- When rotating into tablet mode, I'd really like to be able to push the plastic clip on the screen down to catch on the laptop base. Whoops. I just found out that the clip actually rotates around so you can clip the screen to the base. Clever.
- The screen feels a little floppy. It waggles too much.
- For some reason, the On Screen Keyboard appears on the screen as windows presents its "welcome" message. If you accidentally hit the Shift key with the stylus, the computer interprets this as a SHIFT lock and this will affect all of the programs you attempt to open.
- Note to Windows: Quit popping up the damn information bubbles. I know I have no bluetooth devices, wireless networks, and my antivirus software might be out of date. SHUT UP ALREADY. Note to Microsoft programmers: Make Windows realize that if no wireless or bluetooth devices have been found recently, it should not tell me it can't find anything. Tell me when you do find something, that's much more interesting.
- This keyboard layout totally bites @$$.
- Why does the stylus have a button on it if it can't be programmed?
- Dead pixel: About one inch from the top of the screen and four inches from the right of the screen. Gets a little annoying.
- There's a Wacom-developed pressure sensitive coating on this screen, but there are no options to enable pressure sensitivity anywhere in Windows or any Toshiba application. I had to download drivers from Wacom. Lame.
After A Few Days Use
After using the laptop for a few days, I have found a few other things I should mention.
- The power options don't appear to work. When I close the lid, the system doesn't complete the hibernation/sleep stuff. It just hangs.
- When I open the lid, or try to power on after going into standby mode, the screen remains black. The system appears to be doing something as the hard drive starts to run, but nothing appears on the screen.
Note: I was able to fix this problem. Here's the information about how I did it.
Physical Usability Issues
- The folded over tablet mode is really nice for reading books, PDF files, etc. but it would be nicer if there was a Page Down key option somewhere on the case. Maybe in a strip along the side of the display. Programmable keys like those found on my Wacom tablet.
- I keep expecting to be able to flip the stylus over and use the other end to activate the eraser. There appears to be no eraser function in the default ink application. This is a real problem as the system also hides the special keys, like tab, enter, and backspace when you start writing.
- When rotating from one screen format to another, not all applications keep the correct settings. If you move the recycle bin to the lower right corner in your screen when it's a laptop screen and flip to tablet mode, the recycle bin will be repositioned.
- Notepad when rotating the screen, the space of the viewport doesn't move. The screen doesn't rewrap/reflow. Weird. This happens to Photoshop as well. Haven't tested it on other applications like Firefox or OpenOffice.
- The use of a "tap and hold" for the pen to create a right-mouse button action stinks.
After a few months of using this laptop, there are some things I really don't like:
- Hibernate option disappears from keyboard if you don't use Toshiba provided power setup utility. (Keyboard shortcut for hibernate stops working.)
Note: Problem solved.
- Hibernate stops working if you use the Windows power control panel and don't use Toshiba Power Saver utility.
Note: Problem solved.
- Multiple programs launch in background and suck up RAM, but apparently don't do anything.
- Installed crapware. Too much of it, and not enough of it is useful.
- Keyboard key placement sucks.
After a couple years
Well, I've been using this laptop for a couple of years now, and here's the list of stuff that bothers me.
- I've used the pen/tablet mode maybe twenty times in the past two years. Of course when I used the pen it was an absolute lifesaver.
- Battery life sucks. Used to get about 6 hours of life out of the batteries, now I don't. (I know it's a result of the batteries being old. Still annoying.)
- The CPU fan is annoying. Not so much the fan itself as the frequency of the sound, which reminds me of a dentist's drill.
- Airflow through the case apparently sucks. My hard drive gets really hot after a while.
- Speaking of heat, putting the CPU and the hard drive on the left side of the case probably sounded like a good idea, but it isn't. The left side of the computer gets really hot.
- Playing games on this is a challenge. Both MechCommander 2 and Plants Vs. Zombies make the CPU run at full speed, which runs the fan at full speed, which makes the loud drilling noise, and makes the hard drive hot too.
- Oh! The motherboard died. That was a nice $600 replacement. (But I did discover that The Laptop Guy has excellent service. Highly recommended if your laptop dies.)