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Hand on heart I'm not a PC whizz kid although I've spent many hours swearing at my old PC until it was rendered useless and saw the big recycling bin when it came to turfing it. Typically as I trundled off to PC World to buy the laptop I had researched, PC World were unable to supply me with the laptop I wanted but I ordered and paid for it - and bless them - they managed next day delivery of my new Toshiba.
Why choose Toshiba? Well largely it has everything I want which trounces my dad's similar specified Advent at a quarter of the size. It didn't occur to me the complete size of his Advent laptop until I removed it one day to use in another part of the house and realised just how massive it is compared to Toshiba's Tecra M5. I was also recommended to try and find Toshiba as most of their laptops are generally well built and fuss free.
** I've never written a Laptop/PC review before so be kind - it is a long review but has been updated against the original which appears online elsewhere such as Ciao. **
** Nar's Quick Skip Product Spec **
* Intel Centrino core duo T2600 processor; 2.17GHZ (this basically means a competitive chip which can deal with faster and multiple applications!)
* 1GB DDRII 533 MHz SDRAM memory.
* 80Giga Byte Hard Drive; tons of space for me and my music files!!
* Single DVD driver which plats DVDs, CDs DVD +. DVD Ram and can also burn too!
* 14" colour screen
* NVIDIA Quadro graphics - suitable for business applications.
* Wireless LAN internet fitted with additional Bluetooth fitted.
* SD card memory slot
* Windows XP with Vista compatibility
* 2.5kg general weight.
* Silver and black finish
* 3 USB ports with Ethernet port
* Internet manual switch
* Fitted with Toshiba Anti Theft Timer & Finger Scriber
* Accu Point 5 way touch pad operation with central felt button option.
* Call on Assist Toshiba help button.
* Full screen single touch button.
* PC World Price £1274-00 with Laptop Back Pack and MS Office supplied (Student Teacher Edition). Retails between £1400.00 to £1700.00
* Stereo Speakers fitted as standard.
* 2 year guarantee (outwith PC World) with Toshiba guarantee.
* Microphone and Headphone socket sited close to one another.
* 3.8 hour battery time, Lithium based.
** What You Get in the Box **
When I had to go back to PCW to pick up my laptop I wasn't expecting the size of the box that it came in. Looking like a video player box, the box revealed a well organised layout in terms of ensuring the minimal of bashes. As with most laptops then, I received my mains powered adaptor, laptop and a myriad of software discs to get me started as well as two manuals and an easy set up guide card which brought back memories of my Evesham PC (boohoo how I miss it!). However accessing the Toshiba was easier simply by pressing the On button located to the middle left hand side at the top of the keyboard between the two stereo speakers whilst like many laptops it has a lockable switch located on the top away from the name plate to unlock and swing the screen up to any desired angle.
** Navigating & Discovering the Design **
Once I had downloaded all software needed (such as my Microsoft Windows Office version), and indeed the XP of which a recovery CD disc is also supplied by Toshiba I couldn't believe how easy it was to get around the laptop despite my least experience of using these compact notebooks. However the moment I started to navigate around the Tecra M5, I realised that this laptop has been designed with ease in mind.
The design of the Tecra M5 is indeed easy and clear to spot most controls using the function keys of which icons have been written in dark greyish white. Incase you ever forget what they do you can bring up an on screen keyboard which shows you what the buttons are for exactly. However whilst I was beginning to work out how to use the keyboard the Tecra M5 suddenly demanded security information from me and that also included the fabled finger scriber.
In short, what this laptop has is a thin microchip screen which takes a reading of your finger and it is set just as you open up the laptop by the right hand side away from the touch pad. You can use any one of your fingers to register the pattern which then serves as your logon and log off procedure whenever the laptop is about to be shut down or started up. Of course you do get the option to type in a password too if the laptop doesn't accept your finger swipe and already despite its great innovation, the location of the swipe scriber has been put directly in front of the "down" arrow which limits big fingers and often a screen pops up to suggest to try again. Quite why Toshiba have put it in this place is beyond me, as other Satellite models in Toshiba's range which have this finger swipe chip have located it elsewhere as far back from the keyboard pads as possible. And forget the idea that during work or doing work on the laptop the worry that if someone touches the swipe scribe, the laptop will automatically close down - it won't but it is a great idea as a security deterrent which minimises other users from trying to use the laptop. It's just poorly sited which is a slight design problem as it sits too near to keys.
A series of light LED's are located on the rim of the laptop before you open the screen. These consist of Power LED, Internal Clock, Battery LED, Hard drive, Internet LED and other settings. When the power cord is removed however on shut down all lights go out. On the other side there is a tiny little hole which acts as the laptop's own microphone.
Additionally although the keyboard keys are closely grouped together with flat and soft edged sides they don't creak much or give away a cheap feeling I've witnessed on other brand laptops; but the keyboard mimics most laptops in respect of the fact that you can see when the whole keyboard moves downwards through typing; a characteristic which is known to most laptops unless they are fitted with extra dampening springs.
Between the numbers and the function keys lies a thin black strip which has additional icons which light up. These icons consist of signs to indicate when a function key has been pressed, for example to suspend the screen window for a few moments, or to cancel internet connection as well as other functions. All icons light up in a pleasing non dazzling green colouring although there is a full indication list of what they mean in the user manual book.
Surrounded by the black and whitish grey labelled keys is silver metallic paint work which has been made to high standards. I wish the same could have been applied to the black frame sides of the screen as there is minimal gaps (but gaps all the same) which can be seen between the window and the frames.
** In Use **
The memory on the Tecra M5 is actually very impressive. I borrowed my dad's Firelight (as I was just about to buy one when he said looking over my shoulder that he had a spare one) to enable me to transfer files between the laptop and school thinking that the memory would never be able to cope with the 1000's of music files I have and additional music software which has been added to the Tecra. Tie in all my word documents, lesson plans from secondary and primary schools on visits and placements, music and affiliated software which has taken up a large chunk of the hard drive already and ongoing online reviews, you'd have thought that I would need a separate memory drive by now- but the Toshiba just keeps gobbling up files and documents with ease. Indeed PC World did offer me more memory capacity as an incentive but I'm happy with the 1GB memory overall and the additional internal 80GB hard drive. Indeed I can see why this laptop is a benefit to business users.
Another aspect which I am pleased to say is better than my dad's Advent is the speed of the modem and the general speed of applications of programs and he has only a quarter of applications and files compared to me. The Tecra M5 just does everything I need the laptop to do in a quick and efficient way without much worry. The system is effortlessly silent all the time with only a gentle whirr and slight tone from the cooling fan; the vent of which is located at the left hand side by USB points.
The Bluetooth and Wireless LAN signal set up is a very impressive visual effect comprising of blue circles which look very organic. Whilst I don't actually use this visual setting, the Tecra M5 can be set up where it automatically senses internet signal and tags on (provided you've paid your supplier in the first instance) or switch the modem on by flicking a tiny slide bar just below the main lights on the left hand side of the laptop before the touch pad and keyboard. In this respect the slide bar may appear old fashioned but it gives me complete control over the powering up of the modem.
Security is well marked on this laptop, not just from the finger scribe swipe technology but also it can be used for further security when opening certain documents. Passwords as well can also be assigned on the laptop and there is also another section similar to "My Documents" called "My Safe," which further protects files from prying eyes.
** Downsides **
Whilst it has an excellent internal modem with a fast delivery speed and a multi feature DVD player, the user manual gives the basics of information and that's about it. You can access Toshiba's inbuilt help service but then it needs to connect to the internet for more specialised help.
You may well think that this is a great idea but in reality Toshiba doesn't have an actual help desk where owners can voice their problems to someone who has actually built the system or at best knows the system inside and out. Instead they have a public forum which you must sign up to and then voice your problems to other Tecra or indeed other Toshiba related laptop users for finding out answers to ongoing problems which are not outlined in the manual. Frankly I find that a bit of a nonsense - in this day and age you'd think even with a laptop you could be given all the information you need.
Although Windows Media version 10 came with the laptop through Windows XP componentry I did update the new version but had to revert to version 10 as the new version plays havoc with Music files if they are additionally saved within your document files. This brings me onto the burning CD software;
Included with Tecra M5 is Sonic DVD burning recording software which after installing with the XP disk prevents the system from using any other burning software. It also has a bad knack of searching your complete music system for new files which takes ages. As a result I don't use the burning option with Sonic as it takes a shorter time using the Windows Media player burner which is a surprise as my last PC was the complete opposite when it came to using the very slow Roxio burner!
One problem which I noticed early on with my Tecra M5 was the fact that the mouse driver kept jumping on the page. Although I promised myself to buy an optical cordless mouse (but since haven't since the shocking model my dad has seems to burn batteries faster than a torch light) I became used to the touch pad although for the last twenty years have been used to a normal corded mouse on standard PC's and Mac's.
This brings me onto another downside to the Tecra M5; Toshiba's confusing Accu Point touch pad settings. 6 settings are available to use with the touch pad which seems like an awful lot when if like me, you are used to just three; left, right buttons and a scroll ball. But oh no, not here, not with the case of the Tecra M5.
As well as the viewable buttons which are evident on the keyboard's touch pad there are two other additional buttons on the touch pad before the QWERTY keyboard and you also adjust the laptop to configure the touch pad to encompass the same key buttons by hitting the pad gently. For business users this may well be a help but I found the whole procedure irritating and a piece of nonsense! To cure the jumping mouse icon darting about the screen I had to reinstall the mouse driver and download an updated version from Toshiba's support forum. A friend of mine who has also bought another Toshiba model didn't suffer from this problem so I guess its luck of the draw here!
I have only had one problem with the CD/DVD player where the door got stuck one day and refused to open just before the laptop was shutting down. Luckily like my PC it has a tiny little release hole where the size of a pin or blunt paper clip can be inserted to release the door. The door and CD holder itself travels with beautiful oiled precision but it doesn't feel particularly strong when loading an actual CD into it - but in this respect I've found it is average with most laptops in this respect.
** Sound Quality **
Laptop speakers have a genuinely bad reputation of sounding tinny and in this respect the Tecra M5 plays the same game. Bass and tone through equaliser settings can be changed without the additional support offered from the Windows Media player. But when the bass is turned up nearly all the way, it causes crackling on the speakers which is not what I expected. Having a stereo back at the halls which has an AUX point however means the laptop can transfer music to the stereo with the use of an additional cable I use with my keyboard - so in this respect although the speakers on the laptop are now rarely used, they sound better if headphones are used or you transmit the sound via cable through to a more qualitable sound system.
** Battery Life **
The battery life is supposed to last 3.8 hours but I found it surprisingly short. I'm only seem to be getting 2 hours maximum. The battery tends to suffer during times when I need to use the laptop in lectures i.e. when a lecture lasts for 3 hours I almost always have to take the adaptor with me which is a downside for student users (well, unless your lectures only last an hour!). Battery charging however is very quick and usually takes 30 minutes or so to charge the battery from 0% to 100% which is impressive despite the latter short time it can survive once the mains cord is pulled out. There is an additional screen which shows when the battery is charging and you can deselect this within the options menu located on the Tecra M5 itself.
But! Before you dismiss it, I have to say that the battery can go for longer periods but you do have to select the laptop's economy settings for this to prolong the battery. I'm not a huge fan of dimmed screens in general as the Tecra M5 has a great contrast generally and with selected items to make the laptop more economical it can prolong the battery. However it does diminish the brightness of the screen which is probably why I'm receiving only half of what the battery suggests. I've already written to Toshiba regarding the battery and await reply.
** Weight **
Compared to friend's laptops I have tried the Tecra M5 is average at just over 2.5kg. It strangely feels lighter to carry in my laptop back pack than it does in a standard skin with handles or a laptop suitcase type bag. It is however very thin in terms of diameter which is helpful for student desks and such like if space is at a premium whilst the overall size is reasonable compact with an excellent 180° moveable 14" screen with excellent resolution factors.
** Power Economy Settings **
Against my dad's Advent which has additional settings for economy on the use of actual power, the Toshiba has an extensive option list which also has an economy bar to show how to get the best out of your laptop where power is concerned. This means in effect that if the power cord is taken out, there is minimal interruption to the high resolution, contrast, brightness and colour when the laptop is made to take on the battery as its main source of power. I on the other hand have personalised this to get the best out of the battery and it slightly darkens the screen but does not make the screen any less difficult to view.
** Heat & Surface Notes **
There is a little heat which comes off the side vent to the cooling fan but in general although the Tecra M5 has smooth metallic surfaces, long working times reveal that the top of the laptop can get very warm whilst typing on flat surfaces. Here's a tip for you though; if you can find a material covered folder (I found a gardener's A4 ring binder folder in a local pound shop) use this to rest the Tecra on as it doesn't have mounts which can raise the laptop up at an angle. The rubber feet on the Tecra grip most surfaces including the fabric covered folder I use to rest the Tecra on and find it easier to type at an angle than the usual "sit up and beg" position offered when laptops have their keyboards on a flat surface as opposed to angled.
** Price **
Although the list price at the time was £1400 we managed to get this down to £1274-00 with the additional Windows Microsoft Student Package which has all the basics of Windows Microsoft Office tools as well as the Home Edition incorporated. Because of the nature of my course I managed to secure the Student package at a reduced rate which also brought the price down on my laptop; nice one PC World!!
** Conclusion **
I recommend the Tecra M5 wholeheartedly despite some of the problems I've had. It is a classy looking laptop which does an excellent job as well as being relatively easy to work with. It is silent free even when the CD player kicks in (with an apparent rising whine as the player searches and scans the disc before resting back down to activate the disc or in playback) and fits in most compact spaces.
Tie in the competitive memory, resolution and features and you have a laptop which sits above most in the compact notebook market. Thank you for reading. ©Nar07/©Nar2 07 .
UPDATE JUNE 2008
The laptop has been off line for a couple of months due to a hardware error. Sending it back to Toshiba revealed that they would repair it for free under their warranty scheme. However once the laptop has come back, the new hard drive is performing well with only ONE glitch. On start up it asks for an HDD password - and if you dont put one in, it wont start up! This is a very annoying procedure and some forums online regarding this start up password appear to show that Toshiba are aware of this problem. Just to let you know about this!