By Brian Nadel
Easily the best equipped tablet, the Toshiba Portege 3505, shown in Figure A, does it all with style and technological flair. With a weight of four pounds and a thickness of 1.4 inches, the Toshiba is slightly bigger and heavier than some other tablets. Still, the Portege 3505 sets the pace for convertible tablets with its flexible design, category-leading performance, and extras such as USB 2.0 ports, as well as CompactFlash and Secure Digital slots not found on other tablets. In spite of a few first-generation snags, the Portege 3505 is ready for the rigors of business or the home.
|The Toshiba Portege 3505 Tablet PC is ranked 8.2 out of 10 by CNET Editors and was awarded an Editors' Choice award.|
The good: Great design; screen swivels and folds; fastest CPU for a tablet; largest hard drive; USB 2.0 ports.
The bad: Big for a tablet; expensive; speaker is covered when screen is folded.
Looking at the black Toshiba Portege 3505, your eye is immediately drawn to the silver hinge in the back, which sticks out like a big, shiny button. Like the Acer TravelMate C102TI, the Portege 3505 is a convertible tablet. The hinge allows the screen to not only open and close but rotate a full 180 degrees side to side so that it can face toward or away from you. Need a standard notebook layout with the keyboard below the screen? No problem. Want a tablet to draw or write on? Just swivel the screen, then lay it flat (see Figure B). A small but well-designed lock keeps the screen in one position or another, so the display feels surprisingly sturdy.
|Here is the Portege in tablet mode.|
With the Portege 3505, you can scribble notes with the screen folded flat, open it up to type some details and description, then finally swivel the screen around to show a group what you've been working on. The more we used the Portege 3505, the more we grew to appreciate this flexible design.
All those abilities translate, unfortunately, to a system that is large when compared with other tablets. At 11.6 by 9.2 by 1.4 inches, the Portege is one-third bigger than the Fujitsu Stylistic ST4000 and more in line with a standard ultraportable notebook than a tablet. It also weighs more than the Stylistic ST4000, but because it uses a tiny 7-ounce AC adapter, the total travel weight is only 4.4 pounds, half a pound less than the smaller, slower, and less capable ViewSonic V1100.
Compared to other tablets, the Portege 3505 has the best place to stash the writing stylus, shown in Figure C. Its handy storage place is next to the screen—not around the system's periphery. When you press the bottom of the pen, it pops out. Unfortunately, to keep the pen flush with the screen frame, it's flat on one side and doesn't feel as nice in your hand as a regular pen.
|Here is the penlike stylus.|
Thoughtful touches abound in this design, with a volume thumbwheel and five activity LEDs that show the system's status with a series of icons, as shown in Figure D. There's even a switch to quickly turn off the tablet's Wi-Fi radio for use in sensitive areas and during flights.
|Here are the five activity LEDs on the front edge.|
If you expected that the keyboard would be hard to use, you were wrong. With 19mm keys, the system is easy to type on, although the 1.5mm of key travel is a bit skimpy, and the spacebar is anemic. The silver touchpad has smooth action but lacks a scroll key.
As good as the design is, there are some first-round glitches that mar an otherwise superior effort. First, the screen is 1.8mm below the surrounding bezel, so the writing experience is awkward at times compared to those tablets that place the screen and frame at roughly the same level. In addition, aside from the LAN, modem, and external monitor ports, the other slots aren't covered, and the pen occasionally skips when writing quickly. Finally, the Portege 3505's speaker sounds pretty good when the system is in notebook mode, but as a tablet, the speaker is covered and muffled.
It's what's inside that counts, Mom always said, and the Portege 3505 puts many other tablets to shame with a 1.3-GHz Pentium III-M processor (a third faster than most tablets), 512 MB of RAM (twice that of most tablets), and a 40-GB hard drive (double the capacity of its competitors). With a 12.1-inch XGA screen, there's plenty of room to work, and the system effortlessly rotates its orientation at the touch of a button. A Trident CyberAlladdin-T graphics accelerator with 16 MB of RAM controls the screen, which was lightning fast and smooth.
You'll find ports aplenty, with connections for audio, an external monitor, a LAN, and a modem. In a move that shows Toshiba's engineering prowess, the Portege 3505 has a pair of USB 2.0 ports (see Figure E); the rest of the Tablet PCs use the slower USB 1.1.
|Here is the screen, swiveled around to the back, where you can see the Portege's two USB 2.0 ports.|
For those who use a digital camera or portable MP3 player, the Portege 3505 may be a godsend. Like the other tablets, it has a PC Card slot. But unlike the others, it can use CompactFlash and postage-stamp-size Secure Digital cards, as shown in Figure F.
|Here is the Secure Digital slot and the wireless on/off switch.|
To say the least, software is scant on this system. All that comes with the Portege 3505 is Windows XP Tablet Edition and a few Toshiba utilities.
With a faster processor and larger hard drive than its competitors, and shared graphics memory, the Portege 3505 was, not surprisingly, the fastest system on CNET Labs' performance tests, though not by the margin that we expected. It also boasted a class-leading Wi-Fi range of 100 feet and successfully translated 93 percent of the words we dictated on more informal tests.
Mobile application performance
The Toshiba Portege 3505, with a 1.3-GHz Pentium III-M processor and 512 MB of RAM, was the fastest machine in a recent CNET roundup of Tablet PCs (see Table A). But considering its processor, we expected it to score higher. Instead, it beat the Fujitsu Stylistic ST4000 by only one point, though the Fujitsu is 500 MHz slower. The Portege 3505's lackluster performance can be attributed to its Trident CyberBlade XAi1 graphics controller, which uses 16 MB of main system memory as video RAM.
|Longer bars indicate faster performance.|
The Toshiba couldn't match its top-of-the-heap performance stats in battery life, but it did stay on for a respectable 2 hours, 46 minutes (see Table B). It might have gone longer if it weren't for its 1.3-GHz Pentium III-M, which draws more power than the lower-speed processors of the Fujitsu and the ViewSonic. The only reason the Toshiba's battery life isn't worse is because of its 10.8V, 3,600mAh battery, which goes a long way toward making up for the power-greedy CPU.
MobileMark2002 battery-life test
|Time is measured in minutes. Longer bars indicate better performance.|
To measure mobile application performance and battery life, CNET Labs uses BAPCo's MobileMark2002. MobileMark measures both applications performance and battery life concurrently using a number of popular applications (Microsoft Word 2002, Microsoft Excel 2002, Microsoft PowerPoint 2002, Microsoft Outlook 2002, Netscape Communicator 6.0, WinZip Computing WinZip 8.0, McAfee VirusScan 5.13, Adobe Photoshop 6.0.1, and Macromedia Flash 5.0).
Find out more about how we test notebook systems by clicking here.
- Fujitsu Stylistic ST4000: Windows XP Tablet PC Edition; 800-MHz Intel Pentium III-M; 248-MB SDRAM 133 MHz; Intel Extreme graphics controller 48 MB (8 MB shared); Toshiba MK2018GAP 20 GB 4,200 rpm
- HP Compaq Tablet PC TC1000: Windows XP Tablet PC Edition; 1 GHz Transmeta Crusoe-TM5800; 232 MB SDRAM 133 MHz; Nvidia GeForce2 Go 16 MB; Toshiba MK3018GAP 30 GB 4,200 rpm
- Motion Computing M1200: Windows XP Tablet PC Edition; 866 MHz Intel Pentium III-M; 248 MB SDRAM 133 MHz; Intel 82830M graphics controller-0 48 MB (8 MB shared); IBM Travelstar 20GN 20GB 4,200 rpm
- Toshiba Portege 3505: Windows XP Tablet PC Edition; 1.3 GHz Pentium III-M; 496 MB SDRAM 133 MHz; Trident CyberBlade XAi1 16 MB; Toshiba MK4019GAX 30 GB 5,400 rpm
- ViewSonic Tablet PC V1100: Windows XP Tablet PC Edition; 866-MHz Intel Pentium III-M; 248-MB SDRAM 133 MHz; Intel 82830M graphics controller-0 48 MB (8 MB shared); Toshiba MK2018GAP 20 GB 4,200 rpm
Service and support
Toshiba has a track record of offering comprehensive notebook service and support that is second to none in quality and the variety of services that are available. There's 24-hour phone support, AskIris interactive troubleshooting, e-mail queries about problems, and an integrated Web site with no shortage of downloadable files that are organized by model or purpose. At present, the company still seems to be getting its act together on Tablet PCs, but we expect to see a similar level of support on these devices.
Another point in Toshiba's favor is that it's the only tablet maker to offer a three-year standard warranty.
Click here to check the latest prices on the Toshiba Portege 3505 Tablet PC.
This review was originally published by CNET on Nov. 11, 2002.