At a Glance
The powerful M285-E offers an unusually roomy keyboard, especially for a tablet PC. Screen pivoting works smoothly.
When Gateway introduced the first convertible tablet PC with a 14.1-inch wide screen, skeptics said nobody would want to carry around a note-taking device that heavy, even one with a modular bay and a full-size keyboard. Today Toshiba and Acer sell their own 14.1-inch-screen tablets, but none as powerful as Gateway's latest offering, the M285-E.
The M285-E uses Intel's new 2-GHz Core 2 Duo T7200 processor, so it's as fast as any standard notebook on the market, and its 256MB ATI Mobility Radeon X1400 graphics card boosts graphics operations. The unit turned in strong performance, with a WorldBench 5 score of 97--about what we expected for a tablet with a Core 2 Duo processor and 1GB of RAM. An HP Compaq tc4400 tablet with a same-speed Core Duo chip and half the RAM scored 88.
The M285-E lasted a respectable 4 hours in our battery tests. For even fewer worries about staying near an outlet, you can upgrade to a $44 12-cell battery or double up with a 6-cell battery in the modular bay. Gateway rates the two-battery configuration at 8 hours (we didn't test it).
Typing on the M285-E's roomy keyboard is very comfortable; the notebook is sloped because of the tall rear battery. When you want to use the stylus to write, the screen swivels smoothly and locks flat against the keyboard. The battery doubles as a comfortable handgrip.
I had to calibrate the screen twice, once for portrait mode and again for landscape mode, before the cursor would go where I wanted it to, but afterward the stylus worked perfectly. The handwriting recognition of the latest Windows XP Tablet Edition operating system works incredibly well with the Gateway stylus's continuous-sensing technology. The combination recognizes the worst scrawl, getting every letter right.
The M285-E is Gateway's heaviest convertible yet at 7.1 pounds, not a tablet you would want to carry around all day. But the roomy screen holds bigger drawings and more notes, which is a great bonus.
The M285-E starts at $1449; our $1989 (as of 11/6/06) review unit came with an 80GB hard drive, a dual-format DVD burner, three USB ports, and a seven-in-one media card reader--generous features for a tablet. Storage and RAM, both of which are user upgradable, top out at 100GB and 4GB, respectively--also impressive.
Gateway tablets typically skimp on button controls, and the M285-E is no exception, which means you'll have to rely more on the stylus. While conveniently located at the lower-right corner of the tablet, the M285-E's basic shortcut buttons include just one that can be reprogrammed. The four-way rocker is stiff and difficult to use to adjust screen brightness and volume.
A few other design aspects could stand improvement. Rather than being spring-loaded, the stylus has a separate bottom release. Instead of being able to remove the pen by simply pushing in the tip, you must reach under the bottom of the tablet and slide a release, and then extract the pen. And in place of a docking station with screen stand for conveniently parking the tablet, Gateway offers a $180 port replicator that hangs off the side by a short cable.
When you use the device as a tablet, the optical drive is located at the bottom, which makes inserting a disc while on your feet awkward. To prevent accidental contact, it would be nice if the drive tray had a lock like the power button does.
The M285-E is certainly a muscular unit with performance to spare, making it well suited for students and small businesses. It's also ideal for business executives who need the roomiest tablet screen possible. The M285-E is a good choice for displaying schematics, taking notes at meetings, and saving on-the-spot sketches. At the moment, no other large-screen tablet is as powerful.