When is a tablet not a tablet? When it's also a business-orientated, 12.1-inch laptop called the Toshiba Portege M780. With a twist of its screen, this bad boy can transform into a slightly chunky tablet PC in the same vein as the iPad. Our test model, the Portege M780-106, features an Intel Core i3 CPU, 2GB of DDR3 RAM, a 250GB hard drive and an integrated DVD rewriter drive. It's available for around £1,000.
The M780 is fairly small and light by laptop standards. It tips the scales at a modest 2kg, and its relatively compact chassis can be slotted into a bag with ease. It's a real heifer by tablet standards, though. Its 305 by 39 by 239mm chassis just feels too fat to hold in tablet mode, especially if you've already been wowed by the svelte lines of the iPad.
A favourable consequence of the M780's size is its very respectable quantity of additional features. It's one of relatively few tablets to come with a DVD rewriter drive. You also get a memory-card reader, three USB ports (one of which doubles as an eSATA port), a PC Card slot, a four-pin FireWire socket, an Ethernet jack and a fingerprint reader that lets you log into the machine without typing a lengthy password. There's no HDMI port (Toshiba's stuck with a trusty VGA video output) but that's just as well, since business users are more likely to connect the machine to projectors with D-Sub sockets.
Monkey see, monkey do
The M780's 12.1-inch screen is its biggest selling point. Sadly, though, it's also the point that lets the machine down the most. It's touch-sensitive, as all tablet displays are, but you have to exert a slight degree of pressure before an input is registered, and it suffers from poor image quality.
The panel has an almost dirty-looking film across it that causes the image to look lacklustre. Some will argue that the matte finish means the laptop can be used outdoors in direct sunlight, but, being mostly indoor types, we're not buying that one.
Another big gripe is the fact that the M780 doesn't have an accelerometer to automatically determine the correct screen orientation when running in tablet mode. When switching to tablet mode, the machine automatically goes into portrait orientation. You'll need to push and hold a button on the screen bezel to switch it back to landscape mode. That's fine -- we're not so lazy we can't push a button -- but accelerometers are fairly common even in low-end mobile phones, so it would have been good to see one in this £1,000 laptop.
I like your stylus
Most people will use the M780 in tablet mode when taking notes. To this end, Toshiba's supplied a stylus that can be used to scribble away in text-editing applications.
We suspect, however, that most people will use the machine primarily in laptop mode. Those that do should be pretty pleased, because the machine's keyboard is comfortable, responsive and facilitates accurate typing. The trackpad is tiny, and its buttons awkwardly positioned, but it's redundant anyway -- users can select what's on the screen simply by pointing a finger at it.
The M780-106 uses a dual-core, 2.13GHz Intel Core i3-330M CPU. Despite being an entry-level chip in the Core i range, it's surprisingly potent. It achieved a highly respectable score of 5,301 in the PCMark05 benchmark test, which proves it's more than capable of carrying out mundane desktop activities, as well as some serious number crunching and multitasking.
The M780-106's integrated Intel graphics processor is less impressive. But that's probably just as well -- suited business types probably don't want the temptation of playing Half-Life 2 when they've got a 60-page proposal to finish.
Battery life, a crucial area for a device of this type, is average. The M780-106 lasted 3 hours and 18 minutes in Battery Eater's intensive Classic test, which is designed to replicate the worst-case battery-life scenario by running the CPU at full tilt until the machine runs out of juice. The laptop lasted 5 hours and 21 minutes in the less demanding Reader's test, indicating what you can expect with more frugal use.
The Toshiba Portege M780 isn't as attractive as HP's convertible tablet laptops or as easy to handle as the iPad. You'll need to think carefully before dishing out your dosh.
Edited by Charles Kloet