Monthly Archives: March 2006

Toshiba slice expansion battery

Since the introduction of the Portege M400 laptop, Toshiba has stated as a second battery, a slice expansion battery will act as an attachment accessory that will increase the operating time by ~3hours.

The idea is quite good actually. Instead of using the slimbay as the slot for the battery, it will take on a form as a ‘wafer-thin’ attachment that clips on to the bottom of the device and interfaces power through the replicator ports. Therefore freeing up the slimbay for optical drives.

Of course, any person who demanded extra battery life was going to get one, instead of a second main battery which would involve swapping in & out when it was low. Sadly, Toshiba doesn’t even sell them yet. As an accessory that was demonstrated and marketed at CES 2006, and promoted in the user manual, being unavailable at product launch is quite a disappointment.

Toshiba Australia informed me that they expect to sell them in April. Optimistically it could be the 1st of April, but realistically it would be more like April 30th by the sounds of it.

In my opinion, it is a poorly executed launch plan that ultimately dissatisfies and inconveniences buyers of the laptop and potential buyers of the attachment.

Update: As of 1st of August 2006, the slice expansion battery is still not available in any Australian retailers.

Snipping Tool Bug

One of the most useful ‘powertoys’ of the Tablet PC is the Snipping Tool. It allows you to take a screenshot of your screen and annotate on top of it.

However, I’ve spotted a pretty major and severe bug with its capturing ability. It seems to affect all JPEG images. When your screen contains any rendered JPEG images, may it be in a browser or Windows Picture and Fax Preview, the JPEG image becomes artifacted with white lines. On some images, the lines are very small and only about 2px long. However, on other images this problem is very visible, as shown below.

I will forward this to the Tablet PC team at Microsoft, perhaps they can shed some light on this.

Toshiba Portege M400 Tablet PC Review

Ever since the introduction of Tablet PCs by Microsoft in early 2003, I became fascinated and in awe of functionality and coolness of these little machines. Little and cool they are.

Previously, due to their high prices and lack of performance, tablets were not what I’d want to purchase for a laptop. However, since I now have employment with one of the best companies to work with, conciding with Toshiba rapidly manufacturing a dual-core tablet after their initial announcement by Intel in late 2005, I now have one in my hands.

The machine comes with a load of unexpected gifts, however also lacks a whole heap of others. The gifts include:

  • Microsoft OneNote
  • Biometric fingerprint scanner
  • Accelerometer
  • A reserve pen

And the negatives include:

  • Optional (and probably overpriced) optical (CD/DVD) drives
  • No restore utility in optical media

The machine I bought was accessorized with an extra piece of 512mb RAM to boost the total to 1GB, and an extra battery (however the battery did not arrive at the time of writing).

Some other websites has commented favorably on the exterior of this machine, and they are certainly right. The slick metallic matte finish on this machine is very unique. It feels very comfortable when you rest your hands on or carry it. It is noted however the machine is quite thick, for a regular laptop it is fairly common, but for a Tablet PC it may seem difficult to carry. But since the machine is very light, at only about 2kg, it is still very portable.

Tablet PCs commonly have a small form factor around 12″, and this machine follows that norm. Compared to my previous 15″ Dell Inspiron 510m, this machine seems very small. While the screen is 3″ smaller, it boasts the same high-resolution (1400×1050) screen that leaves you with plenty of desktop space.

The keyboard has a grip-enhancing matte finish also, along with extra large captions on the keys, making the keyboard extremely easy to use. The touchpad on the other hand doesn’t inherit the same usability as the keyboard. The touch area is quite small in size compared to common touchpads, making it very difficult to accurately control the mouse cursor on such a high-resolution screen. But what’s a touchpad compared to a stylus right? Exactly. And that’s what you should be using too!

Since the stylus can be used in both standard notebook and tablet positions, there are no reasons to be complaining about the touchpad. The normal stylus is very big in size, and fits fairly comfortably in your hands. An extra grip would have been much nicer, but its textured surface helps a bit. The stylus has a very short response time making it fairly easy to write/draw with. However, I have found that the screen corners can cause many problems such as difficulty in tapping and positions, but this is an inherent problem of the Wacom stylus technology.

Intel Centrino Core Duo really makes this beast fly. And since Toshiba bundles a lot of background-applications, a second core really helps. At factory default, there are about 55+ active processes after boot. I’ve reduced this to around 40+, while keeping most of the (useful) third-party functionality.

In terms of battery life, the single battery brings around 3 hours or so of usable computer time. That includes doing light tasks (OneNote, web surfing, IM chatting) with WiFi . However more intense usage reduces it to a mere 2 hours or so. I expect a second battery to boost this to a more acceptable 5-6 hours level.

Other things include Windows XP Tablet Edition 2005, which adds Tablet PC functionality on top of a very solid Windows XP operating system. It is very easy to use, most applications support the new and extremely usable TIP (Tablet PC Input Panel), however some obscure applications like Cisco VPN denies you from using it. The biometric fingerprint scanner is one of those “really-cool-but-can’t-see-the-uses-for” devices. It reads fairly accurately, however since I’m not a security hothead, I haven’t found any significant uses for it other than to store common website passwords.

For the price of a very high quality/performance notebook with a dash of Tablet premium, the Toshiba Portege M400 is a great machine with plenty of processing power in a small package that includes the functionality and coolness of a Tablet PC.

Update 1
This machine is also Vista compatiable. Even though the graphics card is an integrated Intel 945GM, it is able to support Aero Glass as demonstrated by this video.

Photo opportunity.

Poor Tablet experience at Harvey Norman

Harvey Norman

I contacted Harvey Norman Chadstone to find out whether they retail Tablet PCs or not, because their cruddy website offers little or no catalogue of the products they sell. To my surprise, they told me they did sell Tablets and are available in-store for demo.

When I got there, there was only one Tablet, and it was the Toshiba Satellite R10, which isn’t the best machine to show off a tablet. To even further dissatisfy the experience, the battery and stylus pen were removed from the laptop. With the battery removed, you really couldn’t demo the true weight of the machine, and without the pen, there isn’t really much to play with.

After confronting a salesperson, they said the pen wasn’t available and I won’t be able to get one to demo the Tablet. Soon after he realised the stupidity of that, and began searching for the pen. After he found it, he said ‘it better be worth my time’ since he cut himself in the process. The tablet was poorly calibrated and it was worse than trying to write with an inkless ballpoint pen.

Then I began asking whether they were going to have any other Tablets and specifically the Toshiba Portege M400. They got back to me, and said they weren’t going to stock them, and if they were to get one just for me, it would cost even higher than the Toshiba recommended retail price, which is ridiculous.

So in summary, if you’re thinking about buying a Tablet, don’t go to Harvey Norman for it. In fact, don’t even go to Harvey Norman if you want to try a Tablet, because it might cause injuries to a salesperson and bring a dissatisfying experience.

Tablet PC retailer in Australia

I’ve spent a long time researching about Tablet PCs and especially purchasing them in Australia. With the lack of any major computer hardware retailer that is on par with America’s Newegg or Best Buy etc, finding cheap and trustworthy Tablet PC specialist retailers is almost impossible.

However, after a little digging around the blogging world, I’ve stumbled across Australian Tablet PC enthusiast Hugo Ortega, who runs TegaTech, an Australian Tablet PC specialist retailer.

Even though at the time of writing, he doesn’t sell any branded Tablets such as from Acer, HP or Toshiba, I contacted him and he is looking to expand to retailing Toshiba tablets as well. I gave him a few things I was after and he gave me a very competitive quote.

If you’re thinking about purchasing Tablet PCs in Australia, give TegaTech an email first.

New Vista trademark?

I spotted this on the front page of Microsoft. At first look, I thought it was some abstract drawing. However on close look, it has a trademark beside it, so it must have some significance.

Could be the ‘Vista-mark’ or something?

Update: Thanks a lot to Robert Scoble who asked Jenny Lam from the Microsoft Design team for me.

It’s not so much a new theme as a new brand element for Windows. We were feeling a little creatively trapped when it came to the Windows identity especially with branding the user experience (in UI). We know we didn’t want to slap the Windows flag logo everywhere (disparaging to the flag!), so we created this new little sweet, light gesture animation in the UI. I have to admit, there’s still some little treatment-like work I’d like to do to it.