Toshiba debuts first Bluetooth/Wi-Fi notebooks

Toshiba Corp. offers wireless fans the best of both worlds – integrated WiFi and Bluetooth in two notebooks it plans to begin shipping Thursday.

The company’s new Tecra 9000 and Portege 4000 notebooks each will include Wi-Fi (the trademarked name for products using the 802.11b wireless standard) and Bluetooth antennas embedded in their lids. According to Toshiba, the two notebooks are the first to offer the dual integration. The company launched its Tecra 8200 with integrated 802.11B early this year, but it required an additional PC Card to also access Bluetooth.

“Wireless has really changed the way people use their notebooks,” says Marc Tanguay, director of marketing at Toshiba America. But until now, access to both standards could mean lugging around extra hardware, he says.

Toshiba sees Wi-Fi and Bluetooth as complimentary, not competing, wireless standards. The Wi-Fi standard offers a wireless, high-speed connection to local area networks, whereas Bluetooth serves a cable replacement technology, he says.

Bluetooth On, 802.11B Off

For now, users will have to settle for using either the Bluetooth or the WiFi – they won’t be able to use both at once, Tanguay says. It’s not a technical issue, but one involving FCC regulations.

A toggle switch on the notebook lets you decide which standard to engage, he says. Toshiba and the two standards’ support organizations (the Bluetooth SIG and the Wireless Ethernet Compatibility Alliance are actively lobbying the FCC to allow the two standards to operate concurrently from one notebook, he says.

Tanguay declined to estimate when such a decision might come down from the FCC, but he notes that people who buy the current systems will be able to upgrade their notebooks to run both at the same time via a software download.

In the unhappy event that you can’t access either wireless standard from your current location, both new notebooks also include built-in V.90 modems and Ethernet ports, he says.

New Designs, Too

The dual wireless connectivity may draw the most attention, but Tanguay says he’s also excited about the overall design improvements of both new notebooks.

The Tecra 9000, geared toward corporate mainstream users, sports a redesigned chassis that includes a sleak-looking silver-powdered coating. Weighing in at about 5.3 pounds with a 14-inch display, the unit includes a Slim SelectBay that accommodates a DVD drive or any of six extra modules from Toshiba, from an extra battery to a CD-RW drive.

Available starting later this week, the Tecra 9000 comes configured to order. Toshiba does offer three featured configurations. The entry-level product sells for US$2424 and includes a 933-MHz Mobile Pentium III Processor M, 128MB of memory, 16MB of video memory, a 10GB hard drive, and a 24X CD-ROM drive.

A mid-level Tecra 9000 sells for $2729 and includes a 1-GHz Mobile PIII M, 256MB of memory, 16MB of video memory, a 20GB hard drive, and an 8X DVD-ROM drive. The high-end featured model includes the 1.13-GHz Mobile PIII M, 256MB of memory, 16MB of video memory, a 30GB hard drive, and multifunction DVD/CDR drive that offers 24X CD-DROM, 4X CD-R and CD-RW, and 8X DVD.

The new Portege 4000 also offers a leap forward for mobile users, offering a two-drive design in the Portege’s classic lightweight chassis–weighing in at less than 4.5 pounds with a 12.5-inch display.

Featured configurations of the Portege 4000, also available later this week, start with an entry-level unit for $2199 that includes Intel’s 750-MHz low-voltage Pentium III processor, 128MB of memory, 16MB of video memory, a 20GB hard drive, and an 8X DVD-ROM drive. For $2429 you get the same processor, video memory, and optical drive, but 256MB of memory and a 30GB hard drive.

Integrated SD

In addition to the dual integrated wireless standards, both the Tecra 9000 and the Portege 4000 notebooks offer another first from Toshiba: an integrated Secure Digital (SD) Media slot.

While other portable products offer integrated SD slots (including MP3 players, cameras, printers, and Palm’s M500 model)–the new Toshibas are the first notebook to offer a built-in slot. That means owners will be able to easily exchange secure information from those other products with their notebook, he says.

Right now, the SD slot is primarily for moving data to special SD media – current cards offer 128MB of storage; 256MB is coming soon, and by late next year they’ll hold up to 1GB, he says. However, SD slots will go beyond storage in the near future, offering GPS and other capabilities, he says.