M200 Review – Part I – March 2004

Got my (first) M200 about a year ago. Here are my initial impressions.


The M200 – thoughts after a week.
– originally posted on
TabletPC Buzz (follow the link to see this in context with comments posted by others)

As promised, here is a review of the M200.

Summary: I am glad that I don’t have to choose between an HP TC1100 or Toshiba M200. I think that they are both excellent implementations of the Tablet PC concept, addressing different needs.

Context: So that you can assess how relevant my comments might be for you, I am including some information about how I use the Tablet PC so you will know the context of my impressions.

How I use the Tablet PC:

Primary: – Presentations and Lectures/Teaching
Some presentations – are just that – and I run MindManager, Internet Explorer, Alias Sketchbook, Corel Grafigo, Journal, Excel, Word, and on rare occasions – PowerPoint.
When I teach technical material this involves all of the above, plus various integrated development environments – the most complex of which is Visual Studio. IIS, SQL Server MSDE, MySQL, PHP, various text editors, Netscape, FireFox, etc.

Connections required/preferred:
Projector (usually supplied running 1024×768)
LAN / Internet Access

Secondary – Personal Information Management
Software: MindManager, Outlook

Tertiary – Desktop Replacement, Development
Software: MindManager, Visual Studio, IIS, SQL Server MSDE, MySQL, PHP, various text editors, Netscape, FireFox, etc.

Configuration of my M200:
Pentium M 1.6
1 gig RAM
60 gig 7200 rpm hard drive
802.11 g (originally came with 802.11b)
Ethernet RJ45 10/100
No bluetooth

Prior to the M200
I already had a TC1000 and a TC1100 and for most presentations, I would bring both (using the TC1000 as wireless gateway for the video signal – to get to the projector). When not using it that way, I use the TC1000 to access material that I don’t necessarily want to share on the projector. It also served as a battery charger, and backup in case anything went wrong with the TC1100.


First Impressions:
The Screen
The high resolution screen is great.
I have no difficulty with the screen but probably because I am used to a lot of real estate in a small package. I do most of my development work on a ThinkPad A31p (1600×1200 screen, Pentium 4M 1.7, 1 gig ram)

Having 1400 x 1050 pixels on the screen vs 1024 x 768 on the TC1100 makes a big difference when doing development work.
When doing presentations, I have to scale back to 1024 x 768 (to work with a projector) and the screen is slightly fuzzy, but usable. It is very easy to switch to the lower resolution. Toshiba uses the same Fn-Spacebar shortcut as is found in the IBM ThinkPads.

Viewing angle is not as “wide” as the TC1100, but in desktop mode, this is not an issue. In slate mode, it is.

Performance
The TC1100 is a little faster than my ThinkPad. The M200 is faster noticeably faster than both. While the performance difference is nice, for most of what I do, it has little real impact on how I work or what I can do.

Ergonomics
The M200 seems big and heavy, at times almost clumsy compared to the sleek TC1100. It is odd that I get this impression of it because it is really no bigger than the TC1100 with the keyboard attached – when it is housed in the portfolio case.

Another way to visualize this: I almost always carry the TC1100 in the original case. If you have one of these, you know that there is a little extra width to the case. I then pack that in various bags or hardshell cases, depending on where I am going. The M200 fits into all the same places as the TC1100 with its case does. I was surprised.

For weight: the bare M200 weighs about the same as the TC1100 with its keyboard and its standard case. So the impression that the M200 is bigger and heavier are perceived but not actual. In actual use, I frequently use the TC1100 in “slate” mode without the keyboard, so it is then 3 pounds vs. 4.4 and about 1/2 to 3/4 and inch smaller than the M200 in all dimensions

Despite the perception of weight, I am more comfortable toting the M200 between tasks (from place to place within the same building without a case) because I can close it with the screen facing inwards. Not an option with the TC1100.
I *never* carry a Tablet PC with the screen exposed. It is just too easy to scratch the screen with a watchband, button, or zipper pull.

Fit/Finish
The M200 has a few little warts. The edge of the screen is not quite flush with the case near the hinge. This means that I can ‘feel’ that edge when in Slate mode. (I am right handed) so the heel of my hand brushes across this edge all the time. In Desktop mode, there are triangular plastic pieces in the bezel at the top corners. These are probably screw covers, but they don’t fit quite flush.

The Hinge
This seems very sturdy, and in Desktop mode, the screen sits level with the body. There is no wobble or jiggle when using it. The swivel mechanism is smooth.

The Latch
I like the latch mechanism. It seems clicks into place “with authority”. Since it takes a some effort to “lift” the screen, I am struggling a bit with opening the M200 with one hand. I’ll probably figure it out in time.

The Pen
I didn’t like the skinny pen at first. I found it slippery and a bit awkward to use the button. Over the last week though, I have grown accustomed to it. I’m fine with it now. I’m not so comfortable with the location of the pen garage. In the way that I use it in Slate mode, the pen comes out the bottom. I fear that I could lose it someday.

The clip on the pen is an integral part of the locking mechanism, so I have to be aware of that and careful not to break it.

Although there is place to store an emergency pen in the battery compartment, this is for me an optional extra.

User Interface: Buttons etc.:
Pluses
– You can lock the power button so you don’t accidently turn the M200 on/off.
– The “cross” button is handy for scrolling up/down and left/right when in Slate mode.
– Pen Buttons: There are also “soft” buttons in the bezel that you activiate with the pen. These are context aware, and can do different things depending what application is running.
– Physical switch to disable wireless. This is on the edge, so don’t have to open the screen to get to it.
– Analogue volume control: (think old transistor radio with a skinny wheel on the edge of the unit)
Minuses
– nothing really
Interesting
Two sets of indicator lights for ac connection, power, battery, hard drive access, wireless. One set is visible when the screen is open. The other is visible when the screen is closed.

Physical Appearance
Don’t really like the appearance. All the contrast betwen the black base and brushed metallic top and accents reminds me of chrome bits on a car. I prefer body paint matched side mouldings in a car, and would have preferred a similar look on the M200. I haven’t figured out what the top is made of, and am a little concerned that I could scratch it.

Ports and Connections
Most of the connections are at the “back” if you are in Desktop mode. This is great from a cord management standpoint, but a bit painful when actually connecting things. The SD card is at the front left, and PC card is on the left side, near the front. If I needed these, this would be convenient.

Accelerometer
This is really nice for changing the screen orientation. Turn the unit, press the button, the image rotates. The motion detecting alarm system is fun, too. It is not all that that secure because it can be defeated by turning off the power, but it would at least alert me if someone was tampering with it while my attention is elsewhere..

I’ve tried to use the tilt and shake options with the Accelerometer, but I don’t find them very useful/usable. Maybe in time.

Other than that, it has great novelty value. It is like the keyless entry/ignition system in my car. It doesn’t do very much, but I enjoy it every time I use it.

Keyboard
The layout is good. This is a full size keyboard with the non-ASCII keys positioned it seems by typical frequency of use. Some might quibble about the Windows Key and the Applications Key being positioned at the top right. I don’t mind this, but I would have preferred the Home and End keys (that are also at the top right) to be at the bottom right near the arrow keys.

I find the keyboard to be very noisy. Even with headphones on, I can hear the keys as I tap them. I would not want to be using the keyboard in a quiet lecture, a library or a meeting. This is diminished somewhat because at least in a lecture or a meeting, I would be using the pen not typing.

When doing something that requires typing and I am in the presence of other people, I am quite aware of the noise. The HP keyboard, and the IBM keyboards that I have used in the past are a lot quieter.

Nitpicking about the keyboard – but things that are troublesome for me
Next, are a couple of issues that are important to me, but wouldn’t necessarily be for others.
I have grown used to the (often controversial) positions of the Fn and Ctrl keys on IBM ThinkPads and the HP machines. (Bottom left row is: Fn Ctrl Alt). On the Toshiba it is (Ctrl Fn Alt tilde/backquote). This means that I have to stretch farther than I’m used to, to get to the Ctrl key and to use the Ctrl key combinations. Even after a week, I am still having trouble with this.

The full size keyboard would be nice for most people. Personally I prefer the smaller keyboard in the HP machines. I just find it more comfortable to type on a slightly undersized keyboard. The less stretching for the keys, the happier I am.

Touchpad
This is a major issue for me. I have been using the IBM style TrackPoint and integrated scroll functions for years. I don’t get the scroll functions with the HP machines, but the pointing stick is there.

The good news (and not really news for anyone who is used to a touchpad mouse) is that there is a lot of functionality here. Four programmable functions in the corners are nice. I have mine set to cut/paste and Ctrl-scrollUp /Ctrl-ScrollDown. The latter two are very handy for increasing/decreasing fonts in Internet Explorer.
There is also an area near the top that lets you go back/forward with a quick drag of the finger.
You can also scroll up/down and left/right. It took about a day to get used to all of the functionality, and to really like it.

All this works well when I am seated in front of the M200 and the machine and I are relatively stationary with respect to one another.

Now here’s the rub… At least half of the time, I am using the machine while standing, doing presentations. All of a sudden I can’t seem to remain correctly oriented with respect to the touchpad.

Clicks turn into double clicks, drags turn into IE forward/back. Attempts to scroll up / down turn into changes to the font size. I gave up fighting with this on Friday, and connected (horrors) a mouse.

Well, I am not a great typist, and it is now many hours since I started this tome. I will try to document some other observations comparing the M200 to the TC1100 in a later posting.

I have to acknowledge all the others who have posted their observations about the M200. Without your input, I would not have had enough information to make the decision to get one.

I am not ready to retire or dispose of the TC1100. I will keep them both. Pluses and Minuses in complementary ways: and those things that are Interesting about them, are lots of fun to explore.

Best to All


 


 


note: I’ll post Part II (a week later), tomorrow

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