Tech Review:Toshiba e740

--Anthony Chan

For the past several years, Compaq's IPAQ series has commanded the market share over the relatively weak competition in the Pocket PC arena. With news of Pocket PC devices soon to be released by business giants such as Dell, Viewsonic, Fujitsu, and Asus, the competition has certainly been heating up. Currently, the strongest contender is the Toshiba e740, sporting a 400MHz Intel XScale processor, 64MB of SDRAM, and a 3.5" TFT color reflective display capable of 64k colors. Aside from having one of the fastest processors on the market, Toshiba managed to pack support for two types of flash memory, SD (Secure Digital) and Compact Flash, as well as built in Wi-Fi (IEEE 802.11b) for wireless connectivity (the European model comes with built in Bluetooth support instead of Wi-Fi). As far as features go, you won't find a better concentration of storage and connectivity options on any other platform. Compaq's IPAQ devices, however, do not have any of these cutting-edge options integrated into the unit itself. The consumer still would have to attach a separate expansion sleeve for storage, or wireless support.

Although the numbers may seem to be stacked in favor of the potent e740, it is important to point out that the new 400MHz processor from Intel does not perform much faster than the 206MHz StrongARM based devices of old. The main reason for this lack of power is that many programs, and in fact the operating system itself (PocketPC 2002), are not optimized for the new XScale processors. However, it does not mean that the e740 runs slower than StrongARM based devices either. In short, the increase in performance from this new uber processor is indistinguishably disappointing. Battery performance is not utterly astonishing either. With the Wi-Fi turned on, the e740 only lasts around 3 hours. With Wi-Fi turned off, sytem life can be prolonged for up to another hour. While on the subject of batteries, it is interesting to note that Toshiba has actually initiated a recall of the e740s within a certain range of serial numbers (only those with serial numbers falling between 72014641L and 92041620L are affected), due to a flaw that renders the unit's onboard backup battery inoperable. This recall, however, is not a major cause for concern. One must simply call Toshiba's dedicated technical support line, and they will ship a box to return the unit in need of repair. Turn around time is only one day after they receive the unit, and they ship using Fedex's Priority Overnight service.

Despite the less-than-perfect image of the e740, if you are on the market for a Pocket PC and you want it right now, the e740 is the best way to go. It clearly performs above any of its competitors, in spite of failing to achieve its own potential. However, if you have the strength to hang on to your money a little longer, you'll definitely want to wait until all the new Pocket PCs in the works are released. By Christmas this year, and certainly into 2003, there will be a steady influx of new designs from companies big and small making the leap into the Pocket PC arena. Wise consumers will wait until the playing field has settled down once again and for a new champion to assert itself.

Pros: In terms of features, it's like comparing a double espresso to plain coffee. This definitely delivers the most bang for the buck. How can you beat SD, Compact Flash, AND Wi-Fi in a device no thicker than two Poptarts?
Cons: Can you really knock a product for not being as good as it "should" be? Not much faster than StrongARM based devices, and battery life is only on par with the competition.