Toshiba R15 Tablet PC – Our Full Review

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Toshiba R15 Tablet PC – Our Full Review

by: Barry J. Doyle


Toshiba R15 Overview

“It’s a notebook when you need it to be, and a tablet when you want the comfort of paper and pen.” These words come straight from the manufacturer. Toshiba is marketing their first consumer-oriented Tablet PC as the best of both arenas, a “full-featured notebook that doubles as a tablet”. Toshiba states that the R15 “enables a more intuitive, more personal way of computing”. We have worked with the R15 daily for a month. Does this machine chalk up to Toshiba’s claims? Is it worth it to go for Tablet functionality over the standard Satellite notebook? Is the R15 worth the $1,599 price tag? In this review we offer our no-holds-barred opinion, so please read on!

Basic Specs:

  • OS – Windows XP Tablet PC Edition 2005
  • Intel Pentium M 725 (1.60GHz, 2MB L2 Cache, 400MHz FSB)
  • 14.0″ SXGA (1024 x 768) display
  • 60GB, 4200RPM Hard Drive
  • 512MB DDR333 SDRAM
  • CD-RW/DVD-ROM (CD 24x Read, 24x Write)
  • 6-cell battery (4700mAh)
  • Ports: RGB (monitor) port, TV-out (S-Video), 3 USB (2.0),
    External Mic jack, Headphone jack, RJ-45 LAN port,
    RJ-11 modem port, 240pin docking connector
  • Intel Extreme Graphics 2, 16MB-64MB (DVMA) Shared
  • Intel PRO/Wireless 2200BG (802.11b/g)

Extra Features worth noting:

  • Modular (removable) Optical Drive
  • Shock Mounted (and protected) Hard Drive
  • Port Replicator Slot
  • Toshiba “ConfigFree” Software


R15 Design

Let me start by saying that the Toshiba R15 is jam packed with so many features that we had to label our photos to really illustrate all that this machine offers! It is clear that much thought went into the usability and design of this model. Sometimes it’s just the little extras that make the end-user experience so much better than the competition. It is refreshing to see Toshiba incorporating the same excellent features into the R15 that made the Satellite name legendary in mobile computing products. Nowadays this isn’t the norm for low cost “value” models that don the shelves of Best Buy and COMPUSA.

One of the first things I look for in a convertible design is durability. The R15 feels solid and roadworthy. The hard drive is “shock mounted” to prevent data loss if the unit is bumped or dropped (hopefully not) while it is powered on. The swiveling display hinge moves smoothly and feels sturdy enough to withstand repeat use. The display locks firmly in place when the R15 is in “tablet mode” and when the lid is closed with the screen facing inward (standard). There is no play in either position which makes the device feel stable to load in a case or “carry down the hall” to your next meeting.


The “swivel hinge” feels strong and solid.


Toshiba HDD Protection to the rescue!

Secondly, I consider the aesthetic look and feel of a device. If your going to spend hundreds of hours behind a computer, it is important to be comfortable. The R15 is no Apple PowerBook in the looks department. However, the silver and black casing looks adequately attractive and carries a professional style. The buttons, status lights, keyboard and switches all appear to be of average to above-average quality, and in no way come across as “cheap” which sadly enough I can’t say for many consumer-oriented models these days.

Toshiba was thoughtful enough to place the heat vent on the SIDE of the machine, rather than the base. For this we thank you Toshiba! Unless you enjoy cooking your legs, this is the only option for long-term comfort while using a convertible Tablet PC on your lap or in your arm. Additionally, the R15 while mildly noisy at times (fan), runs acceptably cool. The base warms up a bit, but does not feel hot to the touch, even after hours of run time.


Up Close and Personal

Here is our grand photo tour of the R15. On the way, we will point out the various ports, switches and features to provide an up close and personal view of this model and illustrate how the components are integrated into the unit.


Front View

The front has an easy access WiFi switch and dual built-in mics that will grab dictation or sound from different areas of the room – a nice touch. Notice the hardware volume dial which is in a perfect location.


Rear View

Not much to say here. The back of the unit offers the expected standard features.


Right Side

I absolutely love the spring loaded pen slot. The location is perfect to grab the pen in both “notebook” or “tablet” mode. Contrary to the specs published by Toshiba, the optical drive (CDRW/DVD-ROM) is indeed modular and can be removed. Also notice the “Launch MS OneNote” button. This button is customizable to launch other applications besides OneNote via a software utility. The switch lock next to the button will lock the button to avoid “accidental” presses.


A utility in the control panel is available to customize the “OneNote button”.

 


Left Side

Unfortunately Toshiba opted for a SD card reader instead of the multi-card reader that other manufacturers are starting to offer. However, most any type of card reader can be added to the PCMCIA slot if needed. A big plus – thank goodness the heat exhaust (heat vent) is on the side instead of the bottom of the unit!

 


Underside

On the right of the photo you can see how the optical drive can be pulled out of the unit. This is beneficial in the case that you want to upgrade to a DVD burner or to replace a broken drive without sending in the whole machine.



Screen Edge

The usual Tablet PC hardware controls are found here. Toshiba thought ahead and made sure that the power switch can be accessed no matter which way the display is rotated or latched. I did find the toggle/navigation “joystick-like” switch to be handy and easy to use.


Display

The R15 has a 14.1 inch, XGA (1,024 x 768 pixel resolution) electromagnetic touchscreen. The display is very bright, and the color saturation is excellent. Whites appear white (rather than having yellow or blue overtones) and the display is evenly lit. The screen surface is slightly textured to allow for good traction with the pen and a nice feel overall. Our review model did have a couple of pixel anomalies (pixels stuck in one color), but this is common enough with lcd screens that you are going to run into this problem sometimes.

The graphics are powered by the very common “Intel Extreme Graphics 2” shared memory architecture solution. The user can choose to allocate up to 64MB of system memory to be used for graphics. This chip is fine for everyday computing tasks, photo editing and basic multimedia tasks. However, don’t plan on playing resource hungry games like Doom 3 or rendering 3D graphics with this machine. The shared video architecture won’t provide that kind of performance.

One issue to note; our R15 came factory set to a 16 bit color setting which looks awful! Luckily, the graphics can easily be reset to the 32 bit color setting in just a few seconds.


Sound

The R15 incorporates “SRS TruSurround XT” technology. Despite the fancy name, the speakers produce average quality sound (for a notebook) and acceptable volume. Overall I would rate the sound as above the quality of the average notebook. Watching a DVD is tolerable, but for real tone and depth for music playback, only external speakers will do justice.


The built-in speakers look nice, but they only produce “average” sound for a notebook.

As we mentioned, the R15 has dual built-in microphones. A nice software extra SoundMAX from Andrea Electronics is included to control voice input and filtering options. Dictation and voice recognition seems to be more accurate on the R15 than other tablets that I have worked with.


The SoundMAX utility is a nice little extra.


Keyboard / TouchPad / Pen

The R15 keyboard is fairly responsive and quiet. The keys are spread out properly, so that typing is near that of desktop experience. The touchpad allows horizontal and vertical scrolling and has a tactile surface for a good feel on the fingertip. The touchpad driver delivers smooth scrolling that works fine in Firefox (there have been issues with many laptop models being problematic with the current version of this browser). Each of the “mouse buttons” has a molded curvature making them a pleasure to use. The mouse buttons are both deliver a solid “click” and both the left and right buttons are equally responsive when pressed.

Toshiba hit the mark with the R15’s responsive touchpad.

The R15 includes a Wacom electromagnetic pen which thankfully does not require batteries. The placement of the pen’s “right click” button is perfect so that it doesn’t get in the way of regular writing. The pen is housed in a spring loaded slot on the right side of the R15 which makes it easy to access without turning the unit around or upside down. With a “push” of the button on the top of the pen, it pops right out of the slot and is ready for use.


Processor and Performance

The Toshiba R15-S822 is powered by the Intel Pentium M 725 (1.60GHz, 2MB L2 Cache, 400MHz FSB). This processor offers more than enough power for most anything you throw at it. The only limits holding this machine back from being snappier is its 4200RPM hard drive and shared video memory. For about 95% of users, this configuration will feel plenty fast and offer a great compromise in extended battery life. Launching multiple programs at once (i.e. Web Browser, Photoshop, Dreamweaver) does not present a problem for the R15. Should you find that you require a bit more punch, it is easy to install additional RAM in the accessible slot on the base.

We used SuperPI to calculate the number Pi to 2 Million digits in this raw number crunching benchmark. This open source benchmark application allows the user to change the number of digits of Pi that can be calculated from 16 Thousand to 32 Million. The benchmark, which uses 19 iterations in the test, was set to 2 Million digits.

Comparison of tablet/notebook models using Super Pi to calculate Pi to 2 million digits (plugged in):

 Notebook Time to Calculate Pi to 2 Million Digits
Toshiba R15-S822 (1.60 GHz Banias Pentium M) 2m 8s
IBM ThinkPad T41 (1.6GHz Banias Pentium M) 2m 23s
Compaq R3000T (Celeron 2.8GHz) 3m 3s
Dell Inspiron 600m (1.6 GHz Dothan Pentium M) 2m 10s
Dell Inspiron 8600 (1.7GHz Banias Pentium M) 2m 28s


We used Futuremark’s PCMark ’04 benchmarking softare to compare the R15’s raw performance to a faster Fujitsu N3510 notebook. See below for the results:

Performance Benchmarks for the Toshiba R15 (1.6 GHz) compared to the Fujitsu N3510 (1.73 GHz) notebook (simulating multiple computing tasks):

 Futuremark PCMark04 Scores Toshiba R15 (1.60 GHz) Fujitsu N3510 (1.73 GHz)
Multithreaded Test 1 / File Compression 3.08 MB/s 3.33 MB/s
Multithreaded Test 1 / File Encryption 23.84 MB/s 27.19 MB/s
Multithreaded Test 2 / File Decompression 20.39 MB/s 23.4 MB/s
Multithreaded Test 2 / Image Processing 9.49 MPixels/s 10.88 MPixels/s
Multithreaded Test 3 / Virus Scanning 1602.26 MB/s 1914.17 MB/s
Multithreaded Test 3 / Grammar Check 2.42 KB/s 2.82 KB/s
File Decryption 47.32 MB/s 54.11 MB/s
Audio Conversion 2186.68 KB/s 2496.87 KB/s
Web Page Rendering 4.73 Pages/s 5.27 Pages/s
DivX Video Compression 42.84 FPS 51.71 FPS

Based on this comparison, the R15 falls right where it should in overall performance. At 1.60 GHz this machine delivers exactly as expected.


Using “HD Tune” we tested the 60GB, 4200RPM hard disk performance.


Heat & Fan

The fan on the R15 does kick in after 20 minutes or so. The fan is not silent, but seems to fade off into the background noise of an office or active home. The heat is well-controlled on the R15 as the palm rests and base never become hot or uncomfortably warm to the touch. I still would like to hear (or for lack of better terms “not hear”) a quieter fan still. I am very spoiled since I spend a great deal of time in front of an Apple PowerBook which runs almost completely silent.


Wireless Connectivity

Let me just get this gripe out of the way first. Where’s the Bluetooth? I would like to see Bluetooth included in every mobile computer of this caliber. Intel can go on and on about how great it is to be “unwired” with Centrino Technology, but without a Bluetooth radio I still need to plug in an external keyboard or mouse, use a cable for my Blackberry and a USB port for a stand alone printer. On the bright side, the integrated Intel Pro Wireless 802.11b/g card works great on the R15. The range is above average and connectivity is easy for users of all levels of experience with the aide of Toshiba’s ConfigFree software utility.


I love checking out all the available access points at work with the Toshiba ConfigFree Utility!


Battery

The 6-cell 4700 mAh battery provides around 3 1/2 hours of constant use with the Wireless turned on and the screen cranked up to about 75% brightness (which is more than adequate on this model). A more conservative user could probably squeeze out another half an hour per charge by lowering the brightness settings and turning off the Wireless when it is not in use. The unit goes into a deep sleep (hibernation) mode when the lid is closed, so it is easy to just suspend the machine intermittently throughout the day without bothering to restart. When doing this, I still managed to get over three hours of actual full use before getting any low battery warnings.


Service and Support

The Toshiba R15 is backed by a 1 Year Limited Warranty for parts and labor. Toshiba offers a toll-free technical support option through their “Toshiba Global Support Centre” at 1-800-457-7777. I called the number at 8:54 p.m. (MST) on a Sunday night. I went from the recording to an actual human being is less than 2 minutes. By 8:56 I was well on my way to explaining to the representative that I was just calling to time them for our review. She was very courteous and professional. We both had a good laugh once I told her what was up! LOL

Toshiba also offers it’s “Ask IRIS Online” support. That is IRIS (Instant Response Information Service). However if your computer is on the fritz, getting online might just be a bit of a problem!


Just another “extra” worth mentioning. The Toshiba HWSetup software utility can make it easy to troubleshoot odd issues on your own. Some settings with this unique utility can be changed without otherwise having to go into the system BIOS.


Conclusion

“Packed with peanuts chewy caramel and fluffy nougat. Snickers really satisfies!” You have probably heard the slogan. In this way, the Toshiba R15 reminds me of a Snickers Bar. It is so packed with features and extras, that it does truly satisfy. The Toshiba R15 is a great upper quality notebook that truly doubles as a full-fledge Tablet PC. The construction is roadworthy and the design and features are well-planned. In most every aspect the R15 is a pleasure to use, and runs as reliable and stable as any desktop PC. I would highly recommend this model to business users, students and most any mobile professional or home users who don’t require the extra demands that require dedicated video memory or a 7200RPM high-performance hard drive. The 1.6GHz Pentium M processor provides plenty of power for any general computing task and then some. Priced at $1,599 and below, this machine offers many features and extra conveniences that are otherwise only found on $2,000+ notebooks. The Tablet functionality is as good as it gets and many users will enjoy the large bright screen with extra physical space to write (over many of the 12.1″ tablets out there). If this is your first move into the Tablet PC world, the R15 is a perfect choice since when you use it as a notebook, it feels exactly like a notebook. When you flip the display down into “tablet mode”, it feels exactly like a tablet. This machine offers the best of both worlds.

Pros

  • Great all around design and features
  • Durable and solid feeling machine
  • Tablet functionality/experience is great
  • Bright, crisp and colorful display
  • Good value for the price

Cons

  • No Bluetooth radio
  • Sound from built-in speakers is average
  • A bit heavier and bulkier than its M200 cousin

 

 

Barry J. Doyle
TabletPCReviewSpot.com
Editor in Chief


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