It looks rugged and it feels solid. That's the point of the Toshiba Tecra M9, which is aimed at users who want something big and sturdy but not too heavy to take on the road. Best of all, it features a built-in 3G modem, so all you need to get online while you're on the move is a BigPond account.
The laptop itself has a 14.1in screen with a native resolution of 1280x800, so it's not a small unit, and it can't easily be used while on public transport or on a plane (unless you're sitting up front, that is). Its built-in 3G (HSDPA) modem, which can connect to Testra's Next G network at a good speed, means you can go online while you're on location without having to look for a wireless hotspot. We achieved throughput of 90KBps when downloading and 22KBps when uploading in Sydney's eastern suburbs. Depending on your area, your speeds will differ, but even at slower speeds you can still use it to check e-mail and browse the Web while you're sipping a brew at your local coffee house or while you're at the airport waiting for your flight's boarding announcement to be made.
Having the 3G modem built-in means you won't have to use up your PC Card slot, nor have any dangly bits hanging off the sides of the laptop. The SIM card slot is located underneath the hard drive, which is 120GB and uses a parallel ATA interface, rather than a Serial ATA interface. This, along with the lack of an ExpressCard slot means that the 3G capability is the only modern connectivity feature of the laptop. Of course, you also get staples such as FireWire, D-Sub and a memory card slot, along with three USB 2.0 ports, which, unfortunately, don't support Toshiba's 'sleep and charge' technology. Thankfully, it does have 802.11 draft-n wireless networking and Gigabit Ethernet, which are great features, especially for the office.
The lack of some modern connectivity features is only a minor quibble though as the overall usefulness of the M9 is high. It has a built-in optical drive, its screen is bright and can be viewed fairly easily from the sides and in bright-light conditions, and it has two pointing methods: you get a touchpad and a trackpoint device. Both are responsive and can be used at any time. The keyboard is a joy to type on as the full-sized keys produce excellent travel and feedback, and unlike the Portege M800 (PPM80A-03H009), the keyboard doesn't bounce at all.
Speed for typical office applications isn't an issue either. With an Intel Core 2 Duo T8100 (2.1GHz) and 1GB of DDR2 RAM, the machine's score of 66 in our WorldBench 6 test is slightly low, but it can still run most applications comfortably — even photo editing suites — and it will be effective for multitasking. You might want to consider adding another gigabyte of RAM, as 1GB is too little, especially considering that the integrated Intel graphics card will share some of it. There is a free memory slot and the notebook will accept up to 4GB when both of its slots are filled with 2GB modules. In our iTunes MP3 encoding test, the Tecra M9 recorded a time of 1min 21sec, which is spot on for the 2.1GHz CPU.
For use while on the road, the laptop's 5100mAh (milliampere hours) battery will last just over two hours in a worst-case scenario (i.e., watching a DVD) and even longer if you employ a sensible power conservation plan. Its six-cell battery sits flush against the rear of the laptop's base, but there is an option for a bigger, longer-lasting nine-cell battery. It's also a relatively light unit. Even with a DVD burner, and with dimensions of 33x24x4cm (WxDxH), the laptop weighs only 2.3kg, which is not much heavier than the M800.
There are little things about this notebook that we also appreciate: a green light on the Caps Lock key illuminates when you press it, so you know straight away if you accidentally press it, and a green light also comes on to let you know when you've pressed the Fn key. We also think the rotary volume knob is useful and the gap between the Fn keys and the number keys means both sets of keys are easily distinguishable.
The unit's underbelly only got slightly warm during prolonged periods of basic use (running office and Web browsing applications) but not warm enough to become uncomfortable while using it on your lap. The extraction fan on the left-hand side of the notebook also did its job without making much noise at all; you can use this notebook in a quiet environment without going crazy from its background noise.