As regular readers of my ramblings will no doubt be aware, my job dictates that I spend a considerable amount of my time away from home (hence the deluge of hotel opinions). One of the key frustrations for me was always that as soon as I was away from home (which incidentally doubles as the office) I lost contact with email, and given that I normally have time to kill in the aforementioned hotel rooms (between finding grubby shower curtains and creaking doors), a laptop computer seemed the obvious answer. Having presented a sound business case to the boss (Buy me one or Ill sulk), the finance was duly authorised and a week or so later my first ever laptop, Tosh, arrived.
Toshiba is a well recognised manufacturer of electronics equipment. As well as computing equipment, Toshiba also make televisions, videos, DVD players, fax machines and even air conditioning systems. The company currently manufacture the following range of laptops:
Portege Ultra portable, high performance specification with prices to match.
Satellite cheaper, chunkier range targeted at small office or personal users
Satellite Pro Higher spec Satellite models, targeted at small and medium sized business users
Tecra Corporate platform models top of the range laptops.
The model that I had was the Satellite Pro 4600. It is worth noting that the specification of this model can vary considerably (as will the price) I can obviously only comment on the specifications of the one I received. My 4600 came complete with a (noisy) CD-Rom drive (DVD-Roms and CD Re-Writers are an available option) and an integral 56k PSTN modem. Wireless LAN capability comes as standard with Pentium III processors with mine it was an optional upgrade, which I declined.
Look and Feel
The base unit is fashioned from grey, matt finish plastic and the top cover has a dull silver finish with a subtle Toshiba logo nestled into a chrome strip. The unit feels solid and strong but then given the weight, I would expect it to. Having seen lots of different laptops around and about, I think that the 4600 looks slightly dated. This is one of those areas of technology where new models come along almost every week and Tosh looks a bit old-fashioned already.
The unit has two stereo speakers at the front, and a volume control dial to the left hand side. Sound output is not a strong feature though any music played sounds rather scratchy and the quality of output is generally very poor. The front of the unit has a number of illuminated system indicators that advise when the unit is connected to a power source, when the power is on and the status of battery power. Despite the presence of these lights, I often fail to notice that my battery power is about to go, and would prefer a percentage indicator somewhere on the key board, as this is where you are looking whilst you type. Battery stand by time is not as high as I would like Ive lost power after a full recharge and just a few hours working indeed, the product brochure states average charged battery life of just three hours.
Comfort and Portability
The first thing that I noticed about this laptop was the weight its a bit of a beast and is considerably heavier than I would have preferred (weight = 3.08kg). The 4600 is also relatively chunky not as brick-like as some older laptops, but far deeper than many of the slim line Dell models that everyone (apart from me) seems to have on the train. In terms of portability, this is therefore not a winner. In terms of comfort, I often sit for a couple of hours at a time with the unit on my lap, and find it very comfortable to use.
One thing that I have noticed is that with prolonged use, the base unit can get very hot. Whilst there is a built in fan to enable cooling, the heat is such that I prefer to switch off and let it cool down properly. If you were to leave the unit on your lap, the heat would be enough to make you very uncomfortable - even through clothes. The device is supposed to have a built-in cooling system Id hate to see what it would be like without one.
Speed and Memory
The 4600 is available with a number of processor options. You can opt for either a Mobile Intel Celeron Processor (speeds of 650, 700 or 750 MHz) or a Mobile Pentium III processor (speeds of 650, 700, 750 or 800 MHz). My unit came with the most powerful Celeron Processor (750 MHz) and I am more than satisfied with the processing speed of the unit. The additional upgrade of 256 MB of memory (standard memory capacity is 128 MB) means that I experience more or less the same efficiency with either my desk top or my lap top. The hard disk has 10Gb of memory easily enough to store the numbers and sizes of documents that my needs dictate.
I do tend to find that when I first start up the machine, it is relatively slow to get going. The system generally halts on the Windows 98 screen for up to five minutes, and finally loads the desktop a few minutes thereafter. Its something you get used to but Im not sure you should have to.
The built-in display comprises a thin-film transistor colour LCD and can be ordered in three different sizes 13.3, 14.1 and 15.0. I ordered the 13.3 sized screen which is more than adequate. It also seems pretty likely that as the screen size increases, so does the overall weight of the unit, so my suggestion would be to stick to the smallest size. The resolution comprises 1024 horizontal by 768 vertical pixels (regardless of screen size) and the quality of image is good, although as with most laptops you can clearly see the pixels in photography or animation.
Using the Keyboard
I do not like the keyboard on this machine whatsoever. Although the base unit is sturdy and chunky, the keys of the keyboard are flimsy and insubstantial. I have had a number of problems with the keys at the current time, the A key has come completely adrift and is sat on my desk waiting for an engineer to come and replace or mend him. As with most laptops, the keyboard is a condensed version of the standard keyboard, which means that you dont have the separate numeric keypad to the right hand side. Instead, this is embedded into the standard keyboard (using some of the letters to the far right). To activate this function, you have to press Fn (only found on Toshiba keyboards) + F11 simultaneously. Trouble is when this feature is on, some of the letters become numbers, which means you cant type properly. I simply couldnt be bothered to keep switching between the two, so I now use the strip of numbers at the top of the keyboard which is much slower. There are a number of keypad combinations that will activate various hot key functions, but I tend to stray away from these to avoid confusion on my desk top.
Using The Mouse
Although you can connect a standard corded mouse, this is not normally practical in the sorts of place where you might want to use a laptop, so instead Toshiba provide you with the AccuPoint II system. This is basically a nibbed button in the centre of the key board that you guide with your finger to control the cursor on the screen. Using the AccuPoint is quite a strange experience if you are used to using a normal mouse, but I quickly found the button easy to control. To ensure good grip, the button is coated in a rough, furry substance that I can only liken to a cats tongue over time this can become worn (and quite dirty) but replacements are cheap and easy to fit.
As well as the AccuPoint, there are also scroll buttons and control buttons below the keyboard, which act like the left and right buttons on a mouse. These buttons are surprisingly sensitive in use I had to make a mental note to be quite gentle with them, and avoid the temptation to click them as hard as I would a normal mouse. Unlike a normal mouse though, these buttons are not very intuitive, and you will often find yourself clicking the wrong one. The main problem is that the (traditional) right button is actually underneath the (traditional) left one. You do get used to it but I would prefer left and right to stay left and right, even on this unit.
According to specification, this model will cost you between £900 and £1600. This puts it in the mid price range of the laptop market. Although mine cost me nothing, if I were paying I would probably not choose this model. I am not satisfied with the product quality that broken A button is a bit of a worry and in terms of portability this model is relatively cumbersome. Processing speeds and general efficiency are good but then I did specifically order extra memory. In terms of additional features, there is nothing that sets this computer out above the competition. Reliability also became an issue - the screen failed twice, the memory board had to be replaced twice, and the battery needed changing every six months.
The Toshiba Satellite Pro 4600 Laptop Computer is a good reliable workhorse and I have been using mine most days for the last two years. >>> General Description <<< At the front of the computer is a display latch. Sliding this to one side allows the display panel to hinge up to set the screen to your desired angle and to reveal the keyboard. At the front of the computer there are built in stereo speakers and some system indicators to show the status of the DC in, Power, Battery, built in Hard Disk drive and Diskette / CD ROM drive. On the left of the computer there is a security lock which I use to keep it ?strapped? to my desk whilst in office. There is also a fan, power connector, power button lock, PC card slot (this can accommodate two 5mm PC cards or one 10.5mm PC card, reset switch and wireless LAN switch. On the right of the computer there is a volume control, headphone jack, microphone jack, Modem jack, Diskette drive and DVD ROM Drive (model dependant), a LAN jack and an Infrared port. I find the infrared port useful for quick transfer of information with my PDA when the PDA is not synchronised live with the computer. At the back of the computer is the DC in connector, mouse/keyboard port, video out, serial port, docking interface port, parallel port, external monitor port and USB Ports (2 off) Underneath is a memory expansion socket and access to the battery >>> Specification <<< Processor: Intel Pentium III 700 MHz (model dependant) Memory: Two slots accommodating the following modules 64MB 128MB 256MB Comes fitted with 128MB and I have added 256Mb to give it a bit of extra speed Cache: 128kB or 256 KB Video RAM: 16MB SDRAM Disks: 2 Sizes of hard Disk available ? 9.35GB or 18.62GB Diskette ? 3.5? DVD ROM / CD ROM Display: 1024 horizontal x 768 vertical pixels, available in 3 sizes (13, 14 or 15?) Graphics: 64 bit
graphics controller Modem: Built in 56kBit Keyboard: 86 keys, compatible with IBM enhanced keyboard. Size: 321 x 46.5x274.5mm (14? display) Weight: Typical 3.17kg Battery: 2 Types. Lithium Ion Battery Pack and Real Time Clock Battery After switch off the battery pack will retain data for approx. 4 ? 7 days, the RTC battery will last for greater than 1 month. The battery pack takes approx. 3 hours to charge from fully discharged. Fully charged batteries will give you approx. 2.5 hrs of general operation. Network: Network Interface Card installed (Ethernet) The computer comes Microsoft Windows 98 Second Edition installed but I now run windows 2000 (which seems a backward step!) >>> General and Comments <<< The computer has a built in Pointing Device called the ?AccuPoint II?. It is in the centre of the keyboard, and is a small nipple (but not as much fun!) used to move the cursor on the screen (instead of the mouse). This is done by applying slight pressure from your pinky. A colleague of mine has the same computer and immediately bought a mouse for his. I persevered and after a week or 2 I found that it was as easy to use as the mouse ? and being in the centre of the keyboard it is always there! There are also two larger buttons on the hand rest in front of the keyboard which act as ?left? and ?right? mouse buttons, ant two smaller buttons for scrolling up and down. These are all ergonomically placed so that the hand rests comfortably and you are able to navigate the pointing device and select the buttons with minimal hand effort. The display has a very good viewing angle from the front and the sides and is bright, crisp and clear. I have found the computer to be heavy. When used as a desktop it is not a problem, however, when carrying it around in a shoulder bag it soon starts to feel heavy (you eventually start to walk lop-sided!) >>> Price <<< The purchase
price for this laptop computer 2 years ago was approximately £1,100 + VAT, depending on screen size and how much memory fitted. They are currently advertised on E-bay at less than £500 (that?s progress!) >>> Summary <<< A good, versatile Laptop Computer that packs a lot of computing power, peripherals and interfaces into a small space. Good display and performance has always been adequate for Word processing, spreadsheets, presentations (gets slow if the presentation starts getting above 10Mb), Databases and Internet access. The only real complaint is the weight, which if you are travelling, can get uncomfortable.
This is my fifth laptop PC – but only the first to be “given” to me by an employer, rather than being chosen and paid for by me. It really is not what I would choose. I normally choose a smaller, lighter machine. But despite that, I quite like it. And while it is heavier than I would like it is no heavier than many other conventional laptops, and it is lighter than many such as the equivalent Sony Vaio. Toshiba have a hugely wide product range, seemingly designed to fill every imaginable niche of the market. The Satellite Pro 4600 isn’t a model – it is a complete range, addressing (I think) the middle of the corporate market. Mine runs a 650MHz Celeron, a 9.3GB disk, and it has Windows 2000; but other combinations are available. Many others. In appearance, it struggles to avoid anonymity. Only an artfully curved slice of brushed alloy on the two-tone grey lid distinguishes it from other makes. The alloy bears the name “TOSHIBA” carefully positioned so that it is UPSIDE DOWN for anyone sitting opposite you when you use it! Oh well… Actually, now I look more closely, the lid isn’t two tones of grey, it is three tones; but two of the colours are so similar that I bet Toshiba meant them to be the same. Hmmm… The features are good. The screen is large (though it has one permanently-on pixel, which should not be there). It will be perfect for presentations. There are microphones and two speakers built in, and the pointing device uses one of those little bendy sticks in the keyboard, instead of the more usual trackpad below the keyboard. I am lucky there, as I like this pointing device – but I know that many others don’t. More amusingly, Toshiba has fitted four “mouse” buttons – there are two small buttons above the two conventional large buttons. Why, do Tosh engineers suppose that four buttons are twice as good as two? I don’t.
The driver software allows you to configure the two extra buttons to do some potentially useful things, like “copy” or “paste” and some entirely un-useful ones like “explore my computer” and “cyberjump” [no, I didn’t make that up]. I am still not convinced, but I suppose we have to allow these Japanese designers some freedom to try to improve the human-computer interface, even though they rarely succeed. The keyboard is mainly OK for feel, though I would like to be able to angle it a bit (you can’t). I have no difficulty with the size, touch, key travel and so on. The space bar looks small, but turns out to be 100% OK. The keyboard layout, though, is poor. I thought at first Toshiba had followed IBM’s maverick example by not including a “Windows” or “Start” key; eventually, I noticed it sitting at the exact opposite end of the keyboard to where you expect it. Yes, Toshiba has placed the Start key at (nearly) top right of the keyboard instead of bottom left. And to my mind, the Del key is poorly placed, three quarters of the way along the bottom row. Five out of ten for the keyboard, Toshiba. Connectivity is above average, as it jolly well should be for a PC this heavy. I have two PC-card slots, two USB ports (hooray – more than one!), a parallel port, a serial port, a proprietary docking port, a socket for an external monitor or projector, some sort of video port I don’t know about, a PS/2 mouse/keyboard socket, infrared, microphone in and sound out sockets. Strangely, the docking port has a port cover – but none of the other sockets have covers of any kind, so the PC doesn’t look too good around the ports – but on the other hand there is less to break off or lose. In addition to the ports, there is a diskette drive, a DVD-ROM drive, modem and a 100Mbps network adapter, all built in. Really the only luxury mi
ssing is a FireWire port, and most users don’t want those yet. I’m not sure whether the DVD drive is removable, so if you want to install a CD-RW drive you would have to check. The overall feel and look of the construction is good. The lid feels good when you open it, the screen does not flop around (even during the bumpy train journey in which I am typing this) and there are neat screws holding down all the removable bits in the base save for the battery. It feels solid, and looks safe and unadventurous accordingly. Performance is good on mains power. With the same amount of RAM as my desktop 1,000MHz Pentium, this laptop actually feels faster for some tasks, notably starting up Microsoft Word. I think that is thanks to running Windows 2000 rather than Windows Me though. When running on batteries, it is still quick, though much less so. To be more accurate, you can control how fast you want it to be on batteries, to control the battery life. So far, I have not managed to exhaust the battery, so I can’t say how long it can run… my impression is that the battery life is good. But, I wish it would wake up faster from suspend mode (the mode it assumes when you close the lid); 14 seconds seems like an eternity for a PC this fast to wake up. As I said, this seems to be a corporate PC. It feels solid, unadventurous, and reliable. It will do the job I want it to do, and probably for a long time. Its just as well that I like the machine and that I get on well with it, as I won’t be able to justify a (smaller) replacement for a long time.