Life's Better with a Convertible

At first I wasn't sure I needed a notebook that converts to a tablet PC. What could a tablet give me that my trusty old notebook couldn't?

Spending a few months with Gateway's M275 changed my mind. I'm convinced I need a convertible machine. The dual format is extremely useful -- both in the office and at home.

Several manufacturers now offer convertible notebooks, and Gateway's take on the concept is certainly worth a look. The M275 is a big, full-featured notebook, and a useful -- if somewhat heavy -- tablet PC.

The top-of-the-line XL model we tested -- which lists for a little more than $2,000 -- delivers plenty of power and memory thanks to a 1.6 GHz Intel Pentium M processor, 60 GB hard drive and 512 MB SDRAM. Intel Centrino technology gives the M275 built-in wireless connectivity. The machine also offers a nice complement of drives, including a combination DVD/CD-RW, a four-in-one memory card reader and a Type II PC card slot.

The M275's full-size keyboard was easy to use, but the "EZ Pad" mouse may be a bit too sensitive for ham-handed typists. I continually rested my fingers on the mouse pad, shooting my cursor across the screen.

Among the M275's best attributes is a gorgeous 14.1-inch TFT active matrix display, a feature you'll appreciate when you pop in a DVD. With enough battery capacity to accommodate a full-length movie and then some, the M275 eases the pain of cross-country flights. Pack your headphones though. The machine's tiny built-in stereo speakers, while serviceable, don't deliver much oomph.

The M275's big screen mounts on a clever rotating hinge that locks in a screen-out position, turning the notebook into a tablet PC. The machine comes with Microsoft Windows XP Tablet PC Edition, which supports use of a stylus and provides tablet PC functions.

In tablet form, the M275 shines in a few situations.

First, it's an ideal format for meetings. Where conventional notebooks hide users behind a screen, a tablet PC is no more intrusive that a sheet of paper. Using included Microsoft Journal software, it was easy to scribble down notes with the stylus and save them in the computer where I could find them. The software converts handwritten notes to type, so they can be pasted into e-mail or other documents.

The tablet also is great for wirelessly browsing the Web or e-mail, opening the door to multitasking opportunities like reviewing e-mail while watching a basketball game on the couch. Talk about ROI.

The M275 delivers these capabilities with no real compromises -- save one. It's heavy.

The machine weighs in at nearly 6 pounds, which isn't a concern when it's sitting on your desk or a conference table. It does, however, take a toll when you're holding the tablet or lugging it through an airport.

Overall, the M275 seems well built, although the stylus' pocket clip snapped off when I tried to clip it in my pocket. The stylus still worked though, and new ones are available from Gateway for a fairly reasonable $19.

For anyone who needs computing power that easily travels from desk, to meeting, to home and occasionally has to hit the road, it may be hard to find a better package than Gateway's M275.

Specs

12.6" x 10.8" x 1.1"

5.7 lbs

60 GB hard drive

512 MB SDRAM

1.6 GHz Intel Pentium M processor

Integrated 802.11b wireless networking card with Intel Centrino mobile technology

14.1" XGA TFT active matrix display

24x/10x/24x CDRW and 8x DVD combo

4-in-1 memory card reader

Type II PC card slot

8-cell lithium-ion battery

Rating

4 out of 5