Five months gone….

I was hoping to make my next entry the most glorious, pumped up, praiseworthy review of the Toshiba M400. I mean, what’s there not to like? Intel Core Duo T2400 processor, 512MB DDR2 667MHz RAM, built in sound, video, bluetooth, and fingerprint scanner… all in the tablet platform. My spare stylus for my M200 (the Consolidator) works with it, as do the batteries. Plus, where the Consolidator lacked IEE1394 (firewire) and optical drive, the M400 has a built-in 4-pin firewire and a DVD Super Multi drive. The firewire port is better than on Lapzilla (my old 17″ P30). Where Lapzilla would lose connection on the side ports (something I noticed too late after my warranty expired), the side ports on my new sword, “Excalibur”, hold the cables securely so I can move my audio interface wthout losing connection.

And the fingerprint sensor does more than I expected. On top of simplifying my computer login to a quick thumb swipe, I can use the protector software to store information for password protected pages and applications, like GTalk and Skype. Let’s forget for an moment that I set a hard disk password, which I didn’t realize I can’t remove. Ever. Fingerprint reader to the rescue! Not only will my thumb swipe open the hard drive, but it also scoots me past the BIOS, and even into the default login account for Windows, no questions asked. THAT is a skookum piece of hardware.

With that we hit the end of the positives. My model #M400-TD10TE has been wrought with problems ever since I bought it, but the problems have been inconsistent, which makes me believe they’re more due to system software rather than hardware. At any rate, I thought I should at least post these out here on net-land, as I haven’t heard these problems nor resolutions in the past number of weeks.

I spent the first three weeks trying to unload built-in software I was never going to use, and setting up software I was. I was really annoyed that my computer was running really slowly. I mean, the machine has two processors and a shared 2MB level 2 cache, and it was operating less efficiently than the Consolidator, which is a Centrino-based system. Even after upgrading the RAM to 2GB (using Toshiba-certified 667MHz chips) there was a slight delay when opening applications applications. And let’s not talk about battery life for even a moment, because if I were writing this review using the battery power alone, I wouldn’t get through all of it. Fortunately my special came with a docking station, which has been the most consistent piece of hardware related to this Tablet PC purchase.

My first web search revealed a system recovery was in order. Armed with my notes, I said “bye bye” to all my work and ran the recovery DVDs, selecting the opton to also free up the hidden recovery partition on the hard drive — I needed the extra 3 gigs. I ran all the updates to Windows XP and had my IT guy at work install our corporate licenses for my software, and they worked well. Well enough, anyway.

That was when the problems started. Being a bluetooth geek, I worked hard to get the built-in bluetooth card working. I bought a Rocketfish bluetooth keyboard and mouse and after an hour got it communicating properly. Why did I need a keyboard if I have a keyboard? Well, when I’m using applicaions like Photoshop, Illustrator and CorelDraw, I find some features aren’t accessible with menus. And besides, keyboard shortuts are the tools of the master. I still wanted to draw in tablet mode, so the only option was an external keyboard. Rocketfish works great. The mouse has issues with it’s battery compartment, but it’s a mnor inconvenience for the lifespan of those batteries once the mouse gets working.

I have a Sony Ericsson Z520 cell phone, which had no problems synching with Outlook using a bluetooth dongle on the Consolidator. Unfortunately, the SE sync station doesn’t recognize my internal bluetooth card, and so I can’t synchronize my contacts with my cell phone. However, Toshiba’s most recent update to the bluetooth stack (version 5.10.06) increased the functionality so I can open the phone like a hard drive and copy files between my computer and the phone again. The only function the original bluetooth stack provided was to use my cell phone as a wireless remote control, for use in triggering powerpoint presentations or windows media player. Useful functions I lost on the Consolidator. Now I see that it’s because the SE driver took over in order to be able to synch my cell phone contacts. At any rate, I hope that SE will update their program to use built-in bluetooth cards. (Note to all: I’ve also tried IVT Bluesoleil version, and spoke with the customer service people, and they confirm that the drivers aren’t compatible with Toshiba’s internal card.)

Just last week I managed to get the official release of ActiveSync 4.5 to snchronize my Toshiba E830 Pocket PC, and it works great! It’s a bit of a challenge to load applications, as the bluetooth driver always disconnects the serial port after synchronizing. I’ve looked everywhere, and even when the “leave connected” setting is selected, the two devices stop talking at the end of the data transfer. But if I time it just right, applications load and content synchs at the same time. So that’s bearable. This makes me believe that I need to ditch my Z520a and get a Pocket PC cell phone. Any suggestions? (no Moto Q, please!)

On the success of my bluetooth update, I went ahead and updated the BIOS, first to version 3.30, then later to version 3.40. I also updated the Wacom Tablet PC driver, to add pressure-sensitivity to applications that didn’t respond to it, strangely enough, including Photoshop CS2. At work I use Photoshop extensively, and it recognized the pressure levels of my old Wacom Graphire 2 USB tablet. But out of the box, Photoshop wasn’t initially sensitive to the Excalibur’s pressure. The Wacom driver fixed all that. Come to think of it, before I installed the Graphire on my work machine I downloaded the latest driver, so that’s probably why it worked.

Somewhere in this update cocktail, with a few Windows XP updates thrown in to balance things out, my system is worse off than ever. My tablet works like a tablet only part of the time. Occasionally, after the screen blanks out when I enter standby, hibernation, or simply close the lid, The stylus stops working. The computer works fine, otherwise, but what’s the point of a Tablet PC without a stylus?

I first noticed the problem after the BIOS update version 3.30. So I went ahead and upgraded to the Vista-ready BIOS version 3.40. The problem with this upgrade is that Toshiba’s website said once I switched to a Vista-ready variant, I can no longer downgrade.

As I searched the web for problems related to the M400, I found a knowledge base article which cleared up a problem with IE and other applications opening slowly. My favourite application, the fingerprint reader software, was due for a build update. So I downloaded it and installed it, and all my problems were over. I could now enter standby and hibernate my system, and when it woke up the tablet pen worked. Such joy and jubiliation were short-lived, however. After lunch on Friday, I returned to my desk only to find that my computer resumed from standby, and the stylus didn’t work. I was robbed! There went the neighbourhood.

So I’m still searching for the ideal fix for this problem. I’m thinking that I might have changed some settings related to the video display in the BIOS, but since upgrading to version 3.30 I haven’t been able to use F1 to enter the BIOS. How stupid. I keep on trying though, and I know I will get in. Oh yes. I will get in.

While I had already planned to write a review today, in the hopes that some kind netizen will read my post and offer a solution to my woes, I now have a completely bizarre, new problem. Fortunately, I recall reading about it somewhere else. I’ll have to find it again. Essentially, when I left the house this morning, I merely closed the laptop without powering it down, hibernating, nor entering standby. I’ve set my power options to do nothing when I close the laptop. I figure the hard drive shock protector will keep the machine safe if I transport it while it’s still on. As I unsheathed Excalibur to engage in this review my stylus chose instead to track my scribbles in primary landscape mode, regardless of the screen orientation.

Will these problems never cease? I was planning to return Excalibur last month but then it started living up to its name. Now it’s almost five months one and I haven’t a clue where to begin solving these problems.


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