For those looking for a big 15-inch multimedia notebook to crunch numbers or edit photos and videos, Toshiba's Z50 ($1,599 as tested) might look like a pretty good candidate. It features a decently bright 15.6-inch full-HD display, a speedy Intel Core i7 CPU with vPro security and an Nvidia 930M graphics card. However, when compared to top-tier 15-inch systems from Dell and Asus, the Z50 seems overpriced.
The Z50 isn't ugly, but it's not attractive, either. The lid features a brushed-aluminum finish that's more gunmetal than the silver Toshiba says it is, while the boring and boxy plastic case looks like someone wearing a gray suit that's a couple of sizes too big. On the left side, there's a plastic insert covering a slot where an optical drive might have once gone, and on the hinge, there's a second shade of gray that isn't found anywhere else on the laptop.
Measuring 14.95 x 10.1 x 0.9 inches and weighing 4.96 pounds, the Z50 isn't as portable as other 15-inch systems, either. Dell's XPS 15 (14.06 x 9.27 x 0.66 inches and 4.4 pounds) and Samsung's Ativ Book 9 Pro (14.72 x 9.83 x 0.7 inches and 4.45 pounds) are noticeably smaller and lighter, and even the Asus ZenBook Pro UX501VW (15.1 x 10 x 0.8 inches and 5 pounds) holds a slight edge in thinness.
Security and Durability
For those who need corporate-level security, the Z50 features an Intel Core-i7 chip with vPro tech. This gives you features such as the hardware-enhanced Intel Authenticate Technology for identity protection, as well as better compatibility with Intel's Wireless Docking system. The Z50 also comes with a fingerprint reader, so you can enable secure two-factor authentication or log in without a password.
Unlike a lot of other business notebooks, however, the Z50 isn't designed to pass MIL-SPEC durability tests, such as those for extreme temperatures, shocks and vibrations.
Keyboard and Touchpad
With a travel distance of 1.48 millimeters, (1.5 to 2 mm is better), the Z50's keyboard is decent but unimpressive.
On 10fastfingers.com's typing test, I breezed my way to a score of 81 words per minute, which is on the high side of my typical range. There's also a handy 10-key number pad on the right, but with the Z50's limited real estate, Toshiba was forced to equip it with half-size keys.
Even users who like pointing sticks will find some drawbacks in the Z50's blue Accupoint nub. Though it has a better shape than the concave sticks from HP and Dell, the Accupoint's rough surface feels like it's covered in a material that's one part sandpaper and one part cat's tongue. Every time I touched it, I hoped it was the last.
On top of that, the pointing stick is a bit too short and stubby. So, even after you adjust the sensitivity, it still feels imprecise. Lenovo ThinkPads continue to offer the best pointing sticks in the industry.
Thankfully, I had no complaints about the touchpad, which, at 4 x 2.25 inches, has plenty of room to mouse around. It never confused simple clicks and more complicated gestures like pinch-to-zoom.
The Z50's 15.6-inch 1920 x 1080 display isn't quite as colorful as the supersaturated screen on an ultra-HD XPS 15, but there isn't much to complain about. When I watched the trailer for Marvel's Doctor Strange on this screen, the light blue on Benedict Cumberbatch's medical scrubs and his golden corporeal body looked bold.
At 288 nits of brightness, the Z50's display matched the output of competing systems, including the ultra-HD XPS 15 (285 nits) and the Asus ZenBook Pro (289 nits). However, the Samsung Ativ Book 9 Pro was significantly brighter, measuring an eye-popping 405 nits of brightness.
The Z50's screen also recreated a pretty wide range of colors, which we measured at 117.5 percent of the sRGB spectrum. However, Dell's ultra-HD XPS 15 was much better, with a score of 191.4 percent, and the Samsung Ativ Book 9 Pro's screen was slightly more colorful, at 129 percent. The Asus ZenBook Pro has a more limited color range of 110 percent.
With a Delta-E rating of 4.16 (0 is best), the Z50's color accuracy was about the same as the ZenBook Pro's (4.37). Both were much better than the Ativ Book 9 Pro (9.5) but worse than the XPS 15 (1.4).
When it comes to sound, the Z50 disappoints, with shallow-sounding speakers that do little to cover both high and low tones. Its overall volume is acceptable, but when I listened to DNCE's "Cake By the Ocean," I got almost no depth in Joe Jonas' falsetto over the song's catchy bass line.
One of the few upsides of the Z50's boxy body is that it has ample room to move air around and keep things cool. On the Laptop Mag Heat Test (15 minutes of streaming HD video), the hottest spot on the Z50 (the vent on the bottom) measured just 86 degrees. On top, the space between the Z50's G and H keys and its touchpad were even cooler, measuring 80 and 76 degrees, respectively.
Ports and Webcam
Another advantage of the Z50's size is that it has space for a lot of ports. The Z50's four USB 3.0 ports are one more than what you get on an XPS 15, although the XPS 15 does include one USB Type-C port with Thunderbolt 3. The Z50 also has an Ethernet jack, an HDMI port, an SD card reader, a combo headphone/mic jack and even a legacy VGA connector.
Up top, the Z50 features a 1920 x 1080 webcam for video chatting or live streaming. Unfortunately, the image quality is just OK.
Photos and videos are often underexposed; in a selfie I shot in our well-lit office, there was way more grain than there should have been.
As long as you're not diving into graphics-heavy workloads, the Z50 is more than enough machine for home or business. Thanks to the machine's 2.6-GHz Intel Core i7-6600U CPU, 8GB of RAM and 256GB SSD, I had no trouble streaming 1080p 60-frame-per-second video from YouTube, even with a few spreadsheets, Spotify and 20 Edge tabs open in the background.
However, on Geekbench 3, which measures overall system performance, the Z50 fell behind its competition, with a score of 6,843. The Dell XPS 15 (13,502), the Samsung Ativ Book 9 Pro (12,344) and the Asus ZenBook Pro UX501VW (11,472), all of which feature Intel Core-i7 6700HQ CPUs, finished with scores nearly twice as high.
When we duplicated a DVD's worth of media files using the Z50's 256GB SSD, the Toshiba busted out a transfer rate of 186.23 MBps. That's pretty good for a regular SSD, and a bit faster than the SSD in the ATIV Book 9 Pro (133.9 MBps). However, it's far slower than the speedier drives in the ZenBook Pro (462.66) and the XPS 15 (254 MBps).
At least when we matched 20,000 names and addresses in OpenOffice, the Z50 kept up with the other notebooks, posting a time of 3:42. In comparison, the XPS 15 and the Ativ Book 9 Pro both completed the task in 3:36, and the ZenBook took 3:41.
The biggest head-scratcher on the Z50 is its Nvidia 930M GPU. Even with 2GB of video RAM, its graphics card delivers performance that's only about twice as fast as systems with integrated GPUs that cost hundreds less. And when you compare the Z50 to similarly priced notebooks with much more powerful 950M and 960M GPUs, the Toshiba gets left in the dust.
On 3DMark's Fire Strike graphics test, the Z50 scored 1,360. In comparison, Dell's XPS 15 (3,949) and Asus' ZenBook Pro UX501 (4,308) with Nvidia 960M GPUs scored three times higher, while the Samsung Ativ Book 9 Pro and its Nvidia 950M scored 3,236.
The Z50's time of 7 hours and 18 minutes on the Laptop Mag Battery Test (continuous web surfing over Wi-Fi) is a solid 1.5 hours longer than the battery life on a typical mainstream notebook (5:45) and almost an hour longer than an ultra-HD Dell XPS 15.
However, when equipped with a similar 1920 x 1080 display, the Dell XPS 15 lasted an impressive 10 hours and 26 minutes, and the much more powerful ZenBook Pro UX501VW also lasted longer, with a time of 8 hours flat.
For those who don't want to spend $1,600, Toshiba offers a slightly cheaper and less powerful $1,449 Tecra Z50, which includes an Intel Core i7-4600U CPU; 8GB of RAM; a 500GB, 7,200-rpm HDD and no discrete graphics.
Software and Warranty
Aside from a few handy Toshiba apps and utilities, such as Toshiba Central and the PC Health Monitor, the Z50 features a clean installation of Windows 10. If you prefer an older OS, you can opt for Windows 7 using Microsoft's downgrade program.
Because the Z50 falls under Toshiba's business division, it comes with a three-year warranty as standard, instead of the one-year plans you get on prosumer notebooks like an XPS or ZenBook. The one caveat is that the Z50's battery is covered separately, and gets just a one-year warranty.
I think it's pretty telling that when I was looking for bright spots to highlight on the Z50, its low temperature was one of the first things that jumped to mind. The Z50 feels like the tech version of phoning it in, because even though it doesn't have a bunch of major flaws, it doesn't stand out in any way.
At $999, Dell's XPS 15 has a much lower starting price, more choices for customization, and a slick, lightweight design that you'll want to show off to others. Then, there's the Asus ZenBook Pro UX501VW, which has nearly double the graphics power, better looks and longer battery life, all for $100 less than you'll pay for the Z50.
So, if you're in the market for a powerful 15-inch multimedia machine, keep the XPS 15 and the ZenBook Pro in mind, and consider the Z50 only if your IT department forces you to.