Toshiba continues to roll out business laptops that are big on speed without making you carry extra bulk. The 15-inch Tecra R850 offers a second-generation Intel Core i7 processor, AMD Radeon graphics, and USB 3.0 connectivity. With a $1,349 price tag (starting at $879), is the Tecra R850 a solid investment? Keep on reading.
Keeping in step with the 14-inch Tecra R840, the R850 has a black graphite chassis with a ridged pattern on the lid and palm rests, which has a nice feel and resists fingerprints. While the casing may feel like plastic, it's actually made of a magnesium alloy that's reinforced with fiberglass, which helps protect against inevitable bumps and bruises. The latest Dell Latitude and HP EliteBook notebooks are even sturdier, but they weigh more. The only flair on the R850 are the hinges, which are done up in a chrome plastic.
At 14.9 x 9.9 x 0.8-1.2 inches, the R850 understandably has a larger footprint than the 14-inch Lenovo ThinkPad L420 (13.5 x 9.2 x 1.3-1.4 inches), but the R850 is slightly thinner and only a hair heavier (5.4 pounds vs. 5.2 pounds). While 15-inch notebooks aren't designed to be moved around too much, the R850 is relatively portable for its size.
Similar to the Tecra R840, the R850 features an island-style keyboard layout with generous spacing between the keys along with a full number pad. Despite the glossy finish, our fingers didn't slip while typing, and the keys provided a nice amount of feedback. That said, we still prefer the slightly concave keys of Lenovo ThinkPads. For added keyboard stability, pillar supports are located underneath the panel. Buttons for presentation and eco Utility modes sit adjacent to the power button at the top left of the keyboard.
In terms of navigation, the R850 has two options: a touchpad and the blue AccuPoint located between the G and H keys. The AccuPoint was quick and responsive, but a bit oversensitive. Fortunately, this can be adjusted via the control panel. The rough texture was also mildly irritating to our finger. Again, Lenovo's Trackpoint remains the gold standard.
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The 3.4 x 1.9-inch touchpad provides a large surface for cursor control, and it supports gestures. With the Alps Electronics touchpad, pinch-to-zoom and two-finger scrolling and rotating gestures were easy to use, but we found circular scrolling to be more of a hassle, as we had to perform the gesture a few times to get it to register. The four corners of the touchpad can also be programmed with specific commands such as Go to Homepage, Find, and Refresh.
The metallic mouse buttons were sturdy and had a satisfying click. Nestled between the mouse buttons is a fingerprint reader for secure logins.
Display and Audio
The R850 has a 15.6-inch matte display with a native resolution of 1366 x 768 pixels. The screen looks crisp and bright if you're sitting directly in front of it. However, vertical viewing angles are quite narrow. When watching the HD trailer for The Green Lantern, we noticed that colors looked a bit muted, and we saw pixelation in night and space scenes.
The two speakers located above the keyboard produced loud but tinny audio when we listened to Guns N' Roses on Pandora. However, dialogue from an ABC news report sounded rich and clear.
Ports and Webcam
The right side of the R850 features a DVD burner, USB 2.0 slot, USB/eSATA port, headphone/audio jack, and an Ethernet jack. The right side hinge also features a reinforced Kensington lock slot. Along with the power jack, the left side of the R850 has a VGA port, USB 3.0 slot, an Express Card/34 slot, and a 6-in-1 card reader. A docking connector is located on the bottom of the laptop. The USB/eSATA port is equipped with Toshiba's USB Sleep and Charge, which allows to plug in a peripheral device (mp3 player, cell phone, or mobile device) for a charge even when the computer is in sleep mode or turned off.
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The R850 includes a mediocre 0.3-megapixel webcam. Video taken under florescent lights was grainy with washed-out color when shooting at 640 x 480 pixels. We achieved better results in darker settings after making adjustments in Toshiba's Web Camera Application, but images and video retained their grainy quality. The webcam controls are located in a box in the top left corner of the screen that pops out when the cursor moves over it; we disabled this feature.
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The microphone performed well during our Skype calls. Callers had no trouble hearing us, and while the R850 did picked up background noise, it wasn't loud enough to disturb the call.
The Tecra R850 does a great job of staying cool under pressure. After 15 minutes of streaming a movie from Hulu at full screen, the touchpad registered at 88 degrees Fahrenheit, as did the space between the G and H keys, well below our threshold of uncomfortable heat (95 degrees). The underside was only slightly warmer, at 89 degrees. At 98 degrees, the vent located on the bottom left of the laptop was the hottest point. With the notebook on our lap, heat from that vent got slightly uncomfortable after an hour of streaming content.
The Tecra R850 delivers solid performance thanks to its 2.7-GHz Intel Core i7-2620M CPU, 4GB of RAM, and a 320GB, 7,200-rpm hard drive. The R850 scored 7,414 on PCMark Vantage, well above the 15-inch laptop category average of 5,178 and slightly faster than the Lenovo ThinkPad L420 (Intel Core-i5-2520M), which got 7,354. The Dell Latitude E6420 (2.6-GHz Intel Core i5-2540M) scored significantly higher: 8,242.
Booting up the 64-bit version of Windows 7 Professional took 46 seconds, which is 20 seconds faster than the average 15-inch notebook. An internal file transfer of 5GB of multimedia took 3 minutes and 35 seconds for a rate of 22.6 MBps. This is slightly below the category average of 25.9 MBps, as well as the Lenovo L420 (31.6 MBps) and the Dell E6420 (34.6 MBps).
The R850 converted 114MB MP4 video file to AVI format in a speedy 37 seconds using Oxelon Media Encoder, far surpassing the category average of 1 minute and 15 seconds. This time also edged out the Dell E6420 (40 seconds) and the Lenovo L420 (41 seconds).
The Tecra R850's AMD Radeon HD 6450M graphics and 1GB of video memory registered a solid score of 4,411 on 3DMark06, beating out the 3,583 category average. While this was enough to best the Lenovo L420's score of 3,779, it's well behind the Dell E6420's 5,060 score.
When it came time for real-world testing, the R850's performance was on a par with the competition. While playing World of Warcraft with effects set to Good, the laptop gave us a playable rate of 42 frames per second at its native 1366 x 768, which dropped to a sluggish 22 fps when we upped the ante to maximum. While well below the mainstream average (69/27 fps), those scores are comparable to the Dell E6420p (41/20 fps), and a bit better than the Lenovo L420 (32/17 fps).
When we played the more demanding Far Cry 2, the Tecra R850 notched a brisk 55 fps on autodetect (1024 x 768), but it registered only 18 fps at native resolution.
Battery Life and Wireless
The R850's six-cell lithium-ion battery fared well in the LAPTOP Battery Test (web-surfing over Wi-Fi), lasting 6 hours and 18 minutes, more than two hours longer than the mainstream average (4:14) and slightly better than the Lenovo L420's 6:14. The Dell E6420 posted a much longer 8:59, but that was with a nine-cell battery.
Both the Tecra R840 and R850 use the Intel Centrino Advanced N-6230 a/g/n wireless radio. On our tests, the R850 averaged 37.3 Mbps 15 feet away from the router. At 50 feet the average dropped to 17.3 Mbps. The first rate is above the category average (34.2 Mbps), but the 50-foot number is below average (21.9 Mbps).
The Tecra R850 is being sold in four configurations. The unit we tested was the most powerful and the most expensive. Priced at $1,349, the Tecra R850 (S8540) comes equipped with a second generation Core i7-2620M processor, an AMD Radeon HD 6450M graphics card, a 320GB, 7,200-rpm hard drive, 4GB of RAM, 1GB of video memory, and a choice of Windows Professional 7 32- or 64-bit.
The S8530 ($1,229) has all the same features of the S8540 but a Core i5-2520M processor. The S8520 ($1,129) also uses a Core i5-2520M processor but comes equipped with Intel HD integrated graphics. The entry-level model of the R850 series, the S8510 ($879), has a Core i3-2520M processor, 3GB of RAM, and Intel HD integrated graphics.
Software and warranty
Business utilities on the R850 include TPM software for encrypting documents and files in a secure drive location; a free 30-day trial of Toshiba Online Backup (25GB); Toshiba Media Recovery for backing up hard drive images to DVD; and Toshiba Laptop Checkup for fixing performance issues, malware, and viruses. As an added security measure, customers can use Toshiba's Face Recognition software with the R840's webcam to help lock and unlock the notebook. Third-party software includes Adobe Reader, Microsoft Office Starter, and Skype.
Toshiba has also included consumer-focused apps: Reeltime keeps track of all recently opened documents, video, and images used and places them in a dock for quick access. Bulletin Board lets users create a to-do board from notes and images saved in Evernote. The Blio-powered Toshiba Book Place eReader gives users access to one million books. In addition to keeping the book entries in their original layout, readers can also highlight, take notes, and link to specific passages.
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There is also Toshiba App Place, a store where users can purchase a variety of apps including Small Biz Builder, which features three tools to help budding entrepreneurs get their businesses off the ground (Benchmark Email, DocStac, and Yola). Most apps have a 30-day free trial after which a monthly subscription fee is charged.
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Other software includes eco Utility, which allows users to manage their laptop's power consumption; Media Controller for sharing files with other devices via Wi-Fi; and Intel Wireless Display for sharing your laptop display with a connected television in full 1080 HD.
The Tecra R850 comes with a standard three-year warranty which includes limited coverage when traveling outside of the United States.
Like the smaller Tecra R840, the 15-inch Toshiba Tecra R850 is a stylish business notebook. It has a slim, yet sturdy, chassis and offers strong performance and very good endurance. However, the speakers don't impress, and $1,349 is a little on the high side. Those looking for a business laptop that they can easily take to meetings and that can last most of the workday on a charge will really like the Tecra R850.
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