While most modern-day business laptops can't read optical discs, the 15-inch Toshiba Tecra A50 provides an optical drive for those who need one. In addition to its legacy media support, this $813 system provides solid Core i5 performance, a comfortable keyboard and above-average battery life. However, a dim display and lack of durability testing hold the Tecra A50 back.
The black plastic Toshiba Tecra A50 gets a small dash of style from its textured lid and deck, but glossy sides give the laptop a less-than-premium feel overall. On the plus side, this is one of the rare laptops with a removable battery, a feature we're always pleased to find.
Weighing 4.8 pounds, the Toshiba Tecra A50 (0.95 inches) is heavier than the 14-inch Lenovo ThinkPad T460 (3.8 pounds, with 3-cell battery and 4.2 pounds with 6-cell battery), but lighter than the 15.6-inch Dell Latitude E5570 (5.6 pounds). At 14.94 x 10.13 x 0.95 inches, it's about as thick as the Latitude E5570 (0.9 inches) and ThinkPad T460 (0.83 inches).
Toshiba has given the Tecra A50 a dim display that doesn't render colors well.
When I watched a Suicide Squad trailer on the 15.6-inch, 1376 x 768 panel, I was distracted by the visual noise that permeated the entire clip. What should have been green grass on the White House lawn appeared as if it had suffered through a drought, and the Joker's skin looked even more sickly than intended.
While a 1368 x 768 screen may cut it on a smaller, 11-inch notebook, putting a low-resolution panel onto a 15.6-inch display places a harsher spotlight on visual blemishes like digital artifacts. The Latitude E5570 and ThinkPad T460 also start with low-res displays, but both can be configured with 1080p screens, while the A50 cannot.
According to our colorimeter, the Tecra A50's display produces only 64 percent of the sRGB spectrum. That's lower than the average mainstream notebook (87 percent) and Dell Latitude E5570 (107 percent), but close to the Lenovo ThinkPad T460 (67 percent).
The Tecra A50 fares just as poorly in the Delta-E accuracy test (where zero is perfect), earning a 4.5. That's worse than the Latitude E5570 (0.7) and ThinkPad T460 (0.5).
The Tecra A50's screen emits a low 172 nits of brightness, which makes it dimmer than the Latitude E5570 (242 nits), ThinkPad T460 (239 nits) and average mainstream notebook (249 nits). The low brightness explains why colors washed out at viewing angles greater than just 35 degrees to the left or right.
Ports and Webcam
With the Tecra A50's Ethernet port, optical drive, and HD and SD video outputs, users will have no trouble connecting this laptop to the hardware in practically any office.
Toshiba placed two USB 3.0 ports, an Ethernet jack, a DVD SuperMulti Drive, a metallic, reinforced security lock slot and a headphone jack on the Tecra A50's left side.
Another pair of USB 3.0 ports and an SD memory reader sit next to HDMI and VGA ports on the notebook's right side. The system's fingerprint reader sits below the touchpad.
The Tecra A50's 2-megapixel webcam did a good job reproducing our red Purch wall and my grey shirt, but the image was noisy.
Most business notebooks are built to survive challenging conditions, but not the Tecra A50 (or other Toshiba machines we've reviewed). Unlike the ThinkPad T460 and Latitude E5470, Toshiba's laptop was not tested against MIL-SPEC durability standards for extreme temperatures, shocks and vibrations. However, the spill-resistant keyboard can protect the laptop from a little water.
While many laptops come with security lock slots, Toshiba claims the Tecra A50's metallic, reinforced slot was tested to withstand 55 pounds of force. So the lock might actually be tougher than the rest of the laptop.
Designed to protect the mechanical hard drive, the Tecra A50's vibration-protection software will stop the spindle and send a notification alert each and every time the notebook is moved. These notifications are unnecessary, and we've got step-by-step instructions for how to disable them here.
The Tecra A50 has the TPM encryption that many corporate IT departments want, but lacks the Intel vPro manageability they need. The laptop does feature a fingerprint reader, which you can use to add a biometric layer of protection.
Keyboard, Touchpad and Touchpoint
In a surprising turn of events, Toshiba gave the Tecra A50 a keyboard that I'm not going to complain about. Most of the Toshiba notebooks I've reviewed in the last year have had small, 10 x 10-millimeter keys that made it hard for me to type accurately, but the Tecra A50's 15 x 15-mm, backlit keys enabled fast and precise touch-typing.
When I tested the Tecra A50's keyboard out on the 10fastfingers.com typing test, I hit an average of 80 words per minute, a mark that ties my overall average. The laptop's keys have a relatively deep 1.6 millimeters of travel, which is within the range we hope to find (1.5 to 2 mm).
The notebook's clickable 3.9 x 2.2-inch touchpad accurately tracked my swipes and scrolls, though it was slow to recognize three-finger gestures. Its left- and right-click buttons offered a reliable click, but were slightly too shallow for my taste.
The Tecra A50's blue Accupoint nub has a gritty, grippable texture and a concave shape that makes it easier to push than the Latitude E5570's pit-like pointing stick. Users looking for something less bristly may prefer the ThinkPad T460's TrackPoint or the Latitude E5570's pointing stick.
Armed with a Core i5-6200U processor, 8GB of RAM and a 500GB, 7,200rpm hard drive, the Tecra A50 provides solid performance for multitasking. The system was speedy and responsive as I split my screen between a streaming video and a dozen Chrome tabs, including Google Docs and TweetDeck.
The Tecra A50 scored a 5,865 on the Geekbench 3 overall performance benchmark, which is a worse showing than the average mainstream laptop (8,044), Core i7-6820HQ-powered Latitude E5570 (12,148) and Core i5-6300U-powered ThinkPad T460 (6,708).
While most users demand zippy and reliable solid-state drives (SSDs), you can only get the A50 with a 7,200 rpm hard drive. This hard disk copied 4.97GB of files in 3 minutes and 5 seconds, for a rate of 30.47 MBps. The pricier Dell Latitude and ThinkPad T460 hit above 150 MBps.
The notebook fared slightly better in our OpenOffice test, which matches 20,000 names to addresses. The Toshiba took 4 minutes and 30 seconds, which is shorter than the category average (5:14), but longer than the times of the Latitude E5570 (3:29) and ThinkPad T460 (4:13).
Featuring integrated Intel HD 520 graphics, the Toshiba Tecra A50 is capable of playing only casual titles, like the racer Asphalt 8: Airborne. The notebook also earned a low score of 5,865 in the 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited test, which is below the scores of the average mainstream notebook (8,044), Latitude E5570 (12,148) and ThinkPad T460 (6,708).
The Tecra A50's speaker could barely fill a small-sized conference room with a mediocre rendition of DJ Shadow and Run The Jewels' "Nobody Speak." While guitar strumming sounded clear, the laptop muffled El-P and Killer Mike's rhymes and softened the track's bass.
I tried to fix the sound quality with the preloaded Dolby DTS Studio Sound audio-adjustment utility, which comes with Volume Max, Surround and Bass Boost settings enabled. The Tecra A50's output weakened when I disabled the presets and experimented with different combinations.
The Toshiba Tecra A50 can get a little warm, but not enough to become an issue. After the notebook streamed 15 minutes of HD video, our heat gun recorded cool temperatures on the laptop's touchpad (79 degrees Fahrenheit) and between the G and H keys (81.5 degrees). The machine's underside (95 degrees) met our 95-degree comfort threshold.
For a 15.6-inch notebook, the Toshiba Tecra A50 lasts long on a single charge. The machine lasted nearly 6 hours on the Laptop Mag Battery Test, which involves continuous web surfing over Wi-Fi. This run time beats the 5:47 category average, but the Latitude E5570 (7:17) and ThinkPad T460 (6:40 with a 3-cell battery and 13:12 with a 6-cell battery) offer even more endurance.
Software and Warranty
Toshiba ships the Tecra A50 with a mostly clean installation of Windows 10, with a few useful first-party apps preloaded. Fingerprint Utility allows you to lock your passwords behind your fingerprints, and Eco Utility shows you how much power you're consuming and offers controls to lower your impact.
The Tecra A50 comes with Toshiba's one-year standard limited warranty, and the company will replace the notebook for free if it fails due to a defect in its hard drive, memory, system board and any other component that Toshiba regards as a "major hardware component." Customers are responsible for shipping the notebook back to Toshiba. Check out our Tech Support Showdown and Best and Worst Brands report to see how Toshiba fared.
Toshiba sells the Tecra A50 only in the $812.99 configuration that comes with a Core i5 CPU, 8GB of RAM and a 500GB, 7,200 rpm hard drive.
The Toshiba Tecra A50 offers average performance, slightly better than average battery life for its size and a pretty comfy keyboard. Some business users will definitely appreciate the optical drive. However, this laptop's dim, low-res display and mediocre storage drive make it a less-than-stellar choice.
You can get a similarly spec'd Dell Latitude E5570 for $90 less, and that notebook offers an even better keyboard and more powerful audio. If 6 hours of battery life isn't enough, and you're willing to spend another $135, the Core i5 model of the Lenovo ThinkPad T460 can be configured with a high-capacity rear battery that provides over 13 hours of use on a single charge. However, if you absolutely have to read or write DVDs, without attaching an external drive, the Tecra A50 is worth considering.