Review: Toshiba Tecra A50-C

Introduction

The Toshiba Tecra A50-C is the laptop you don’t have to worry about. Throw it into your suitcase. Drink your lidless latte over it. Knock it off your desk (accidentally, of course.)

Just don’t play games on it.

With its budget-friendly price (starts at $599, £798, AU$1,298) the Tecra A50-C definitely thinks of itself as an all work, no play, grunt of a laptop. The problem is it doesn’t always live up to its own expectations. Yes, it’s got every port under the sun, but a lackluster screen, poorly executed keyboard, and multi-touch so slow you can drink your entire lidless latte before it scrolls keeps it from realizing its full potential.

Comparable workbooks like the HP Envy 15 ($549, £799, AU$1,499), the Dell Inspiron 15 5000 ($349, £319, AU$999) and the Lenovo ThinkPad E555 ($424, £299, not available in Australia) are all flawed too – as is the case with inexpensive machines. Laptops in this price range have all made compromises. But where the Tecra A50-C has not compromised is in toughness, and port diversity.

Toshiba Tecra A50-C

Design

Rather than the aluminum space age look you see on so many of its competitors’ laptops, Toshiba has opted for a more down-to-earth impression with its Tecra A50-C.

Its matte black exterior is grooved with fine parallel lines that are reminiscent of wood grain. Toshiba calls the exterior “graphite black” but dark walnut or ebony may be a more fitting description. Its design matches an executive’s desk better than any of its silvery competitors.

Its screen lies tight against its base when closed, which gives the Tecra A50-C a surprisingly slim profile. Its exterior edges are glossy, plastic and embedded with multiple ports that contrast nicely against the “wood grain.”

This “wood grain” motif continues inside with the palm rest and the areas around the chiclet-style keys and two-button touchpad. In accordance with the Tecra A50-C’s small-to-medium sized business (SMB) orientation, the keyboard features a full number pad and – as you’d expect from a full keyboard – the touchpad sits left of center.

Toshiba Tecra A50-C

Big but balanced

At 14.9 inches (378 mm) long and 10.2 inches (259 mm) wide, the Tecra A50-C has a significant footprint, even amongst its competitors. It’s over an inch longer than the ThinkPad E555 and the Inspiron 15 5000, but the Envy 15 has the Tecra’s footprint beat by a quarter of an inch. And while all three have similar height profiles (about an inch or 25 mm), the Tecra A50-C’s compact design makes it seem smaller than the rest.

At 5 pounds (2.27 kg) the Tecra A50-C is no MacBook Air, but because its weight is evenly balanced over its whole frame it handles like a lighter laptop. Its similarly weighted competitors (the Envy 15 is 5.2 pounds or 2.35 kg and the ThinkPad E555 is 5.18 pounds or 2.34kg; the Dell Inspiron 15 5000 is 4.4 pounds or 2 kg) aren’t as easy to grab and toss in a bag.

The Tecra A50-C maintains its balance even when open. Shifting laps and wobbly desks do not perturb it: tilt its screen all the way back and its strong hinges will prevent any flopping or tipping. The superb balance and hinge strength were some of our favorite aspects of this laptop.

Multi-touch lacks the “multi”

The touchpad could use more surface area – its small size makes scrolling tedious. On the other hand, because the touchpad occupies so little real estate, you won’t have to worry about “palming” it while typing. Its size aside, the touchpad is responsive with very clicky buttons that provide great feedback.

Multi-touch, however, is not responsive at all. Two-finger scrolling is temperamental. When it’s in the mood to help it’s either laggy or it misreads your intentions. More often than not I saw my website shoot off in the wrong direction because of the poor scroll detection.

Pinch-to-zoom works a little more often, but its imprecision ultimately makes it impractical. After much experimentation, we gave up on multi-touch and stuck with the traditional side screen scroll bar.

Toshiba Tecra A50-C

Squishy keys

Unfortunately the only positive thing we can say about the keyboard (other than the number pad) is that they keys are well spaced. It’s lacking in nearly every other way.

The keyboard is not backlit, all its keys have short travel, and all the non-letter keys (the spacebar and enter keys in particular) suffer from a sponginess that makes typing unsatisfying. This relegates the A50-C to mundane work like email writing and web browsing. Writing intensive tasks, while not out of the question, will be difficult.

Tough as nails

The Tecra A50-C’s claim to fame is its durability and indeed, it is one solidly built piece of computing. Its base is firm and compact – it doesn’t feel hollow or chintzy the way many budget laptops do. And while the keyboard may not be well-designed, it is at least spill-resistant. We wouldn’t recommend dipping the Tecra A50-C in the bathtub, but if you knock your open water bottle onto it you’ll have time to save your files before the water wipes out your work.

The Tecra A50-C’s hard plastic edges are made to absorb the kind of dings and knocks that occur during travel. The only part of the laptop that feels flimsy is the screen, though this may be an intentional design decision. We repeatedly stepped on the laptop (when closed) to test its durability and the screen exterior’s flexibility prevented any cracking or splitting.

Displayed out

The 1,366 x 768 resolution screen of my review unit is underwhelming, to say the least. The colors are flat and its backlight puts out minimal brightness. Thumbnails appear grainy and out of focus. Text does not pop. Viewing angles are limited and background glare completely washes out the screen. Don’t even try to work on a Tecra A50-C outside on a sunny day – enjoy the weather because you won’t see enough of the screen to get any work done.

And Windows 10 users who love its touchscreen functionality are out of luck here. Pressing the A50-C’s matte screen will only produce thumbprints.

Lucky for Toshiba its competitors struggle with screen quality as well. Neither the Inspiron 15, the Envy 15 nor the ThinkPad E555 have great displays. If you’re going with a Tecra A50-C, we recommend spending the $100 to upgrade its screen to 1,920 x 1,080, 300nit, not only for the increased resolution, but for the enhanced brightness as well.

Specs and performance

Here is the Toshiba Tecra A50-C’s configuration sent to techradar for review:

Spec Sheet

  • CPU: 2.2 GHz Intel Core i5-5200U (dual-core, 3MB cache, up to 2.7GHz with Turbo Boost)
  • Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 4600
  • RAM: 8 GB DDR3L1600 MHz
  • Screen: 15.6-inch, 1,366 x 768 HD TFT LED Backlit Display
  • Storage: 500GB Serial ATA
  • Optical drive: DVD SuperMulti drive supporting 11 formats
  • Ports: 2x USB 2.0, 2 x USB 3.0, Memory Card Reader, VGA, HDMI, Ethernet, Headphone/microphone combo jack
  • Connectivity: Intel Dual-Band Wireless-AC 3165 plus Bluetooth, Bluetooth 4.0
  • Camera: FHD webcam
  • Weight: 5 pounds
  • Size: 14.9 x 10.2 x 0.95 inches (W x D x H)

The Tecra A50-C shines in one particular area: ports offered. The SMB user will find everything they need here, including a thought-to-be extinct VGA port and Ethernet jack. Thanks also to four USB ports and an optical drive, the Tecra is a laptop ready to couple – with any device or medium: modems, finicky projectors, even burnt CD-ROMs.

This port diversity is what sets the A50-C apart from its competitors. While the HP Envy 15 and the Dell Inspiron 15 5000 each have a decent array of ports (the Envy 15 also has 4 USB ports), neither have a VGA. The Lenovo ThinkPad E555 has as many types of ports as the Tecra A50-C, but fewer of them. And none of its competitors possesses an Ethernet jack.

Toshiba Tecra A50-C

Performance

Here’s how the Toshiba Tecra A50-C performed in our suite of benchmark tests:

  • 3DMark: Cloud Gate: 4,622; Sky Diver: 2,556; Fire Strike: 621
  • Cinebench CPU: 169 cb; Graphics: 23 fps
  • GeekBench: 2,405 (single-core); 4,660 (multi-core)
  • PCMark 8 (Home Test): 2,368 points
  • PCMark 8 Battery Life: 4 hours

Its Cinebench and 3DMark scores reinforce what was already suspected: the Tecra is not a gaming laptop (unless Solitaire counts.) For its cost though, the Tecra provides decent performance. Note it’s PCMark 8 Home Test score: the Tecra A50-C is not all that bad at multitasking, though it’s lack of a solid state hard drive makes opening applications a sluggish affair.

As far as its competition goes, the A50-C easily outpaces the Lenovo ThinkPad E555 in all tests, but does not do as well as the HP Envy 15 or Dell Inspiron 15 5000 in the graphics tests. The Inspiron 15’s PCMark 8 score is also 700 points higher than the Tecra A50-C’s, while the HP Envy 15’s is about 300 points lower.

All in all, Toshiba’s laptop sits in the middle of the pack – as is expected. Its Intel Broadwell CPU is designed to reduce heat and improve battery efficiency, not provide a cutting edge gaming experience.

Toshiba Tecra A50-C

Battery life

Thanks to that aforementioned Broadwell chip, battery life is another strong suit of the Tecra A50-C when compared to its rivals. In our PCMark 8 test, the battery lasted 4 hours, nearly an hour more than the Lenovo ThinkPad E555, and 40 minutes more than the Dell Inspiron 15 5000. Only the HP Envy matched the Tecra A50-C in battery charge.

The Tecra A50-C’s battery was even more impressive in our movie test. We played a full-screen 720p movie continuously on 50% brightness until the battery gave out. Under these conditions, the battery lasted a very respectable 5 hours and 36 minutes.

The Tecra A50-C’s battery is also hot swappable. Travelers who worry about outlet scarcity can pop in a fresh battery without having to shut down their Tecra first.

It’s also worth noting that the Tecra A50-C runs very quietly and maintains a consistently cool temperature. In our experience, the palm rest never rose above room temperature and the undercarriage only warmed to “tepid” on the right side. This warming wasn’t uncomfortable, but frequent lap users may notice it.

Verdict

Toshiba’s latest SMB-friendly offering occupies an awkward middle ground. Its poor usability may turn off power multi-taskers and it’s just-not-cheap-enough price tag may drive away the basic email and PowerPoint work crowd. Ultimately, only those users in need of port diversity may find the Tecra A50-C to be a good value for its cost.

We liked

For a budget machine, the Tecra A50-C looks and feels like a high-end laptop. In a world of chunky profiles and creaky bases, the Tecra A50-C’s clean lines, wood grain-like finish and solid construction stand out. This is a laptop you’d be proud to open up in a client meeting.

Yet despite its expensive looks, the Tecra isn’t a laptop you have to treat with kid gloves. It’ll weather a fall out of your backpack. It’ll socket up with any device, old or new. And it’ll run unplugged throughout your whole presentation.

We disliked

Unfortunately the Tecra A50-C’s keyboard does not pass the business-grade test. It lacks feedback, a backlight and a thumbprint reader, all of which are nearly standard laptop fare.

And while its poor display is forgivable, its non-existent multi-touch – in today’s iPhone dominated world – is not. The Tecra A50-C could use a little more function and a little less form.

Final verdict

The Toshiba Tecra A50-C can handle most physical challenges. Certainly that is a strong selling point. However, many users don’t need a tough laptop. They just need one that works – and works cheaply.

Users who value a great external build and port diversity will love the Tecra A50-C and its budget price. But those who don’t will find that there are more budget-friendly options available.

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