Do you need a $2,600 tablet PC?

Toshiba's new tablet PC is snazzy - and pricey.

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By Bjorn Billhardt, FSB Magazine

toshiba_tablet_pc.03.jpg

(FSB Magazine) -- As the peripatetic CEO of Enspire Learning, a business training company, I depend on my laptop to stay productive and connected during business trips. So I was excited to test Toshiba's new Portégé R400 tablet PC, one of the first Vista-powered tablets to hit the market.

The Portégé is light (less than four pounds) and nicely designed, with a thin profile and a sleek black-and-white chassis done in high-impact plastic.

One unusual feature is a tiny display on the front edge of the computer. Powered by Microsoft's (MSFT, Fortune 500) new Active Notifications system, the display flags e-mail traffic, calendar appointments and the like while the computer is powered down and closed.

It periodically turns on the machine, checks e-mail using a broadband wireless card and displays the sender and subject lines. I was able to use this system in meetings, in a cab and at dinner with out-of-town friends. However, Active Notifications is no substitute for a handheld e-mail device. (For one thing, it displays only the first few words of the subject line.)

Performance is under-whelming for such an expensive machine ($2,599, base). The Portégé ships with a midrange 1.2-giga-hertz Intel Core Duo processor and a rather skimpy 80-gigabyte hard drive. The internal battery lasted a bit less than three hours in my tests, which I find is about average for most notebooks nowadays.

The 12.1-inch backlit display automatically switches from landscape mode to portrait mode once the PC is converted into a tablet. But while the widescreen aspect ratio may be great for watching movies, it felt as if I had a lot less vertical screen real estate in which to do my work. That's a problem because I normally keep around four applications open at the same time.

Nor did I love the keyboard: The keys are smaller, more crammed together, and more sensitive to accidental tapping than those on my admittedly heavier Dell (DELL, Fortune 500) Latitude D610.

The R400 handles awkwardly in tablet mode. Toshiba's predecessor tablet, the M400, had a rubbery strip across the bottom that made it easier to hold. The R400 also has sharper edges than the M400, making it uncomfortable to carry from meeting to meeting.

Finally, the stylus is short and difficult to grip. I felt as if I were drawing with an eraser on a rubber surface, not writing with a sharpened pen on a pad.

Bottom line:

For me, the benefits of this stylish new machine don't justify its elevated pricetag.

As a business owner, you pride yourself on giving good customer service. What experiences have you had - whether with a hotel, restaurant, airline, supplier or service provider (cable, phone, insurance, car dealer) - that has either delighted you or made you mad? Let us know what your experiences have been by writing to us (please include your contact information and your business's name and city) at fsb_mail@timeinc.com.

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Bjorn Billhardt is CEO of Enspire Learning in Austin (enspire.com).  To top of page

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