Bigger Can be Better
Who says that tablets must have 8- or 10-inch screens to be useful in the classroom? Not Toshiba, whose Radius P55W convertible notebook makes a big statement for education.
At 0.8- by 15.0- by 9.7-inches and 4.9-pounds, the dull silver and gold tone Radius is big and proud of it. The system has a 15.6-inch screen and can be a lot to carry around, but its aluminum case is fractions of an inch smaller than Acer’s Aspire R7 and a lot thinner.
More to the point, the Radius weighs 6 ounces less than the R7. The bottom line is that it’s easier to carry and fits better into the typical briefcase or backpack. With its AC adapter, the system weighs a hefty 5.2 pounds, but the Radius has a two-prong plug that will be welcome in older schools that lack up-to-date AC outlets.
Just like Dell’s much smaller and less expensive Inspiron 11 3000, the power of its design is that the Radius can assume five different computing personalities, depending on what work needs to get done. Of course, it starts out as a standard notebook with a touch-screen and a full mechanical keyboard that has backlit keys. The system’s case is wide enough for full-size 19.3 millimeter keys, an embedded numeric keypad and has a huge touchpad. There’s no DVD drive, however.
Flip the screen over and Radius becomes one of the biggest – and heaviest – tablets around. Turn the screen over to produce a tent orientation or presentation mode for small group work. It can even fold flat on a tabletop for artwork like drawing a diagram or finger painting.
Overall, the system is well made, feels sturdy and its 15.6-inch screen provides a wide view compared to a traditional tablet. Be warned: it can be unwieldy and a lot to carry around if your go from room to room all day. In other words, it works best on a desk with the teacher or student occasionally picking it up to use as a tablet.
Above the keys are the Radius’s Harmon Kardon speakers, which sound sharp and vibrant, although they produce a lot of distortion at full volume. While the speakers are aimed at the user when using the Radius as a notebook, when you flip it into tablet mode, they point downward and the audio loses its vibrancy. The system has a volume control on the edge as well as an on/off key. Under the screen is a handy Windows key.
The system’s 15.6-inch display shows 1,920 by 1,080 resolution and has rich colors. The screen is flush with the edge of the lid and it responds to 10-independent touches. It worked just as well with fingers as with a generic stylus, but Toshiba doesn’t offer a pressure-sensitive stylus as is the case with the Aspire R7. On the downside, the display tends to wobble a lot when it is poked, swiped or tapped.
Inside, the P55W-B5224 Radius that I looked at is a fully up to date system that has some of the best components around and will likely be seen as a little too good for schools on a tight budget. The test system has a dual-core Core i7 processor runs at between 2.0 and 2.7GHz, 8GB of RAM and a 1TB hard drive, making this notebook a screamer. Toshiba also sells a more mainstream $700 version of the Radius that is built around Core i5 version with a 750GB hard drive but nothing in the $500 range.
To its credit, Radius can connect with just about anything in the classroom. It has three USB 3.0 ports, an SD card slot, audio and an HDMI connector for a projector or monitor. It lacks a VGA port for older monitors and projectors, though.
The system comes with the latest 802.11ac WiFi and Bluetooth 4.0 built-in. I was able to connect wirelessly to a projector using its WiDi system and a Belkin ScreenCast receiver.
With all that premium hardware behind it, it’s no wonder that the Radius blew away the competition with a Passmark PerformanceTest 8 score of 1,784. That’s about a quarter faster than the R7, more than twice the performance potential of comparable convertibles and likely one of the most powerful computers at school.
Happily, the power was not at the expense of battery life. The Radius was able to continuously play YouTube videos for 7 hours and 12 minutes, more than enough for a full day of teaching or learning followed by some homework, grading or gaming.
The system comes with Windows 8.1, a 1-year warranty and a year’s subscription to Norton AntiVirus software. Overall, the Radius shows that in a world obsessed with having the smallest notebook or tablet, bigger can be better.
+ Big HD screen
+ Excellent configuration
+ 5 computing personalities
+ Well-made and sturdy
+ Top performance/battery life
- Screen wobbles
- Can be unwieldy