Toshiba has always come up with an interesting take on the world of computers, and this year, the company is about making machines that inspire a new line of notebooks.
First, we had the Kirabook, a machine that pushed premium to a new level and was the first PC to feature a Retina-class screen.
Now it’s time to see what Toshiba can do with the Portege Z10t, a notebook that attempts to bridge the Ultrabook and tablet divide by throwing in a keyboard dock with the tablet and giving the customer two for the price of one.
Toshiba’s Portege line has usually meant slim and light, and that’s exactly what Toshiba is bundling in this machine, a notebook that packs all the innards in the tablet section and throws in a keyboard dock to keep the PC mentality close by.
Inside the tablet section is an Intel Core i5 processor clocked at 1.5GHz and from the third-generation, also known as “Ivy Bridge,” working alongside 4GB RAM, Windows 8 Pro, and a 128GB solid-state drive.
Intel’s HD graphics 4000 is the only choice of graphics here, which should suit most people, unless they have gaming on the agenda.
Wireless connectivity is build into the tablet, unsurprisingly, with 802.11 b/g/n Wifi, Bluetooth 4.0, support for DLNA, and 4G LTE provided you have a SIM to throw inside, while wired ports are handled by a microHDMI port, USB 3.0, headset jack, and a full-size SD card slot.
All of this sits underneath an 11.6 inch In-Plane Switching (IPS) screen boasting a resolution of Full HD (1920×1080) and supporting multiple points of touch.
Two camera are available on this machine, with a one megapixel webcam on the front above the screen, and a three megapixel shooter on the back.
Being a tablet, you can expect the majority of control on this tablet to come from the touchscreen, but Toshiba has also provided a few buttons, too, including the power, rotation lock, and volume rocker, all of which are located on the right side edge.
Toshiba also bundles in a keyboard dock as part of the package, which allows the screen to be connected to a keyboard and two mice (Accupoint nib and touchpad) via a dock connector inside the hinge.
The dock also expands the port selection on the tablet to include a USB 2.0 port, Gigabit Ethernet, full-size HDMI, and a VGA port.
We’ve been eagerly awaiting the Z10t since we first heard about it earlier in the year, and now we’ve spent a week with it to see what exactly Toshiba has done to the transformer formula.
Picking it up in the hands, you’ll find there are two sections: the tablet and the dock.
We’ll tackle the first section because it really is the most important.
More tablet than Ultrabook, Toshiba’s Z10t packs in all of the important technology into the 11.6 inch tablet measuring 12.4mm thin, and while it doesn’t quite weigh as little as an iPad, at 850 grams, it’s still not an uncomfortable machine to hold.
We actually quite liked the weight when held between two hands, and the dotted texture that runs along the rear of the tablet means there’s always something to grip, and less chance for it to accidentally slide out of your hands when you’re not thinking.
The use of plastic as the main casing material does lend itself to feel a touch cheaper than a $1500 machine probably should, but its not uncomfortable in the slightest.
Then there’s the screen, and this is one area where Toshiba has crafted a winner: it’s sharp, clear, and great from most angles.
Like many a tablet screen, it is very reflective, and you’ll often find you’re staring at a mirror image of your hands in darker screens, but it won’t bother many.
In fact, with a pixel density of 189ppi, the Z10t’s screen is certainly great for the eyes, and is much better than the 11 inch tables packing in HD-only 1366×768 resolutions.
Touch responsiveness is also very good, and every Windows 8 gesture – from swiping on the right, left, bottom, top and the staple “pinch to zoom” – is picked up without any problem.
While Toshiba opted to use a third generation Intel Core processor (we’re up to the fourth now with “Haswell” chips), the performance is still decent enough for most people to handle. As such, switching it on from standby took barely a second or two, and from being off was a rough 10 seconds, close to competitors in this regard.
The inclusion of 4G LTE connectivity is also excellent, and Windows 8 had no problem jumping onto Telstra’s 4G network in our test of this system, providing between 8 and 30Mbps of speed as we moved around Sydney.
Battery life is also decent, providing around five hours of life, although you’ll find less if you’re thinking of embracing some of the 4G and more of the horsepower from the processor.
We spent most of our time surfing the web, writing, checking email, and doing the regular office work, so five hours is decent for that, though not amazing.
With 4G switched on and being used, this brought the battery life down closer to three hours, which is less impressive.
But you need a decent keyboard for office work, for email, and for writing, and if there’s one thing we take seriously, it’s our keyboards. These are the main entry points for most of the data you throw into a computer, and if the keyboard is weak, it lets down the entire experience.
That is unfortunately the state of affairs with the Z10t, with a physical keyboard that feels too shallow for typing regardless of if you’re doing it on a desk or on your lap.
Despite the obvious factor that this is a smaller keyboard to match the 11.6 inch screen, the keys manage to feel undersized, unlike some of the comfy 11 inch keyboards we’ve seen from other manufacturers in the past. Keys like the tab key and arrows feel too small, while the sheer amount of cramping that has been made on this keyboard to accommodate everything doesn’t help either.
At least one key is useless in the dock, with the eject button (above) at the top right solely working to stop the tablet and keyboard dock from communicating.
You don’t actually need to eject the keyboard in order to remove the keyboard, and even though it sounds like it should eject the tablet, there’s actually a switch on the hinge that does this (below).
Essentially, it’s a button for the uber-safe that can’t take out a USB key without ejecting it from software, and need the same sort of assurance from their hardware that removing the tablet won’t break their computer (hint: it won’t).
While we can see the point, the eject button also doesn’t reconnect the two devices, meaning if you accidentally press the eject button and didn’t mean to, the only way to reconnect the keyboard and screen will be to detach the tablet and plug it back in again.
Ultimately, we think we’ll just stick with the touchscreen, as the responsive on-screen keyboard makes for one of the better in the business, and strange as it is, feels more reliable than the shallow keyboard dock.
But that’s not all we didn’t like about the dock, and even had an issue with the hinge.
We hope you like a roughly 90 degree angle because that’s all you’re going to get: dock the tablet in place and the hinge will sit there at only one usable point of view.
Heaven forbid you like typing on your lap and you need the screen to sit back at more of an angle to see, or even that you like typing closer and at an angle, as this dock won’t respond to your needs.
You also can only mount it one way, so if you wanted to recreate the experience from the Acer R7 that turns the computer into all-screen, you’re out of luck.
Toshiba’s dock also feels a touch unfinished, as the bottom reveals itself as a more industrial design rounded out with small bumps to stop the dock from moving on surfaces. It’s not slick or textured in the way the back of the Z10t’s tablet section is, and while it feels like the wrist pad, the clash between the two styles almost makes this part seem like it was an afterthought.
There isn’t even an included battery to recharge the tablet like on other tablets with hard wired keyboard docks.
About the only positives that come from the dock are that it gives you a full-size HDMI, Ethernet, VGA, and USB 2.0 port, which mean this dock is more of a portable port replicator, and less of a keyboard dock that turns the tablet into a fully-fledged laptop computer.
The included mice are also useful too, especially if you’re relying on Windows 7 and earlier apps in Windows 8’s desktop mode.
Toshiba has been making some of the better computers in the industry since the brand practically kickstarted notebook computing back in the eighties, but here in the Portege Z10t, the effort isn’t as strong.
There are certainly some positives in the Z10t, and we like the main tablet quite a lot, especially since it’s the first Windows tablet to properly integrate 4G from Telstra, but we wish Toshiba had refined the keyboard dock.
You certainly don’t need to take the dock with you, mind you, and this tablet flies solo better than it does together with its keyboard-equipped friend, but it could have been a truly excellent computer if Toshiba had just refined this part.