Build Quality: Thin is In

Probably one of the most refreshing things about the Toshiba Tecra R850 is the fact that it's frankly svelte for a 15.6" notebook. While the recently released Dell XPS 15z is a bold challenger, the R850 is a quarter of a pound lighter...and a business-class notebook backed by a business-class warranty.

Not messing with a good thing, Toshiba has opted for black matte plastic across virtually the entire chassis, with texturing on the lid and palm rest and silver glossy accents on the hinges, touchpad buttons, and the logo on the lid. Inheriting a lot of its design DNA from the Portege R700/R800, the build is incredibly slender, with a thickness that maxes out at just 1.19" and it really does feel very light in the hand.

Opening the lid, you're greeted with a matte plastic bezel and a matte screen. The interior surfaces are all similar and kept clear of excess shortcut buttons. In fact, Toshiba includes only two: a button which switches the power plan to their "eco" power-saving mode, and a button which toggles the monitor output. Everything else is handled through Fn key shortcuts. In fact, the only color you're really going to see are in the green/orange indicator lights and the blue trackpoint nub.

For better or worse, the Tecra R850 inherits the keyboard style of the Portege R700/R800, and this is probably the one bone I really have to pick with the design. The keyboard itself has a smart and easy to use layout that's really among the better ones I've seen, but the keys are a slightly glossy plastic that aren't particularly comfortable to use. There are worse things to deal with, but the keyboard isn't great, and the surfaces of the keys feel too smooth, the travel too shallow. On the plus side, there's virtually no flex in the keyboard to speak of.

Likewise, the touchpad below the keyboard is comfortable to use. I do get frustrated whenever I see the touchpad as part of the same piece of plastic as the palm rest because it looks chintzy, but the difference in texture is at least welcome and again this is an issue that's more about look than feel. The touchpad buttons also have the right amount of travel, and there's a toggle to enable or disable the touchpad just above the trackpoint buttons.

As a whole, I'm mostly impressed with how well-built and slender the R850 is. It's proof that 15.6" notebooks need not be bulky, overweight monstrosities, and that you can still have a sizable screen and keyboard without having to pack so much weight behind it. And despite being so thin, the body doesn't really bend and the screen and lid have minimal flex.

Introducing the Toshiba Tecra R850 Application and Futuremark Performance
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  • GotThumbs - Monday, June 6, 2011 - link

    I look forward to the day when SSD drives will be more of a mainstream option.

    Nice Review as always.
  • dananski - Monday, June 6, 2011 - link

    I've been thinking the same thing recently since I looked for a laptop for a friend on Dell's website and found she couldn't have an SSD without spending nearly £1000 (~$1650) for an Alienware gaming laptop she doesn't need (she has a desktop for gaming). Even then, Dell's only "SSD" option for non-business customers is actually a hybrid drive.

    A decent SSD makes even a low end system much more usable. It's not a feature that should be limited to the high end.
  • Stuka87 - Monday, June 6, 2011 - link

    You can get SSD's on Latitudes, which cost less than an alienware box.

    The issue is Dell SSD's suck. So its far better to go with a base HD, and then buy an SSD from NewEgg or something. Its both MUCH cheaper, and you get a better drive.
  • Shinobi_III - Monday, June 6, 2011 - link

    SSD would be more mainstream if general people understood why they would buy a laptop with 64gb instead of THREE THOUSAND!!!

    People are dumb, never underestimate the general public... :(
  • chrnochime - Monday, June 6, 2011 - link

    I might be behind on the latest status of SSDs but last time I checked they still die much faster than HDs do with repeated read/writes, because of them being NAND(or NOR) cells and not discs. I'd jump on SSD if that's not the case anymore.
  • JarredWalton - Monday, June 6, 2011 - link

    General use with current wear leveling algorithms means the NAND should last upwards of 10 years on all current drives. The bigger problem is something else going wrong (i.e. faulty firmware, or some other glitch), so if you have critical data stored on an SSD I'd recommend a real backup strategy rather than just hoping for the best. If an HDD dies and you really need the data, you can pay data recovery firms a couple thousand dollars and usually get everything back. If you SSD dies, you're pretty much SOL.
  • Roland00 - Monday, June 6, 2011 - link

    13.3 inch
    i5 2410m
    Nvidia Geforce GT540m with Nvidia Optimus (it uses 2gb of ddr3 though instead of gddr5)
    It gets rid of the crappy acer island keyboard, but keeps the glossy screen and has the resolution at 1366x768.
    No Optical Drive.
    4lbs 1 ounce.

    It is $779 at frys, I don't know what the other places are going to have since this is a new product and hasn't made much news yet.
  • warisz00r - Monday, June 6, 2011 - link

    the also-new ASUS U41SV? It has pretty much the similar specs as the Acer above except it comes with a 14.1 inch screen, an optical drive, about 1" thick and comes in at about 2kg with an 8-cell batt. I'm hoping to get one of these as my new laptop.
  • ppeterka - Monday, June 6, 2011 - link

    Agreed with both of you! 15.6" AND HD resolution, AND business class? Oh my god, when will this end?

    And there is the absolutely redundant, never used keypad. Why?

    Acers have a bad reputation regarding build quality (Me, and ym colleagues were having display problems in the Penryn era 57xxG notebooks), but I wouldn't buy this over the Acer 3830 series even if I was forced to. Big. Crap. And not THAT cheap! Even here in Hungary, Acer prices are quite reasonable, and they pack quite a punch for the money.
  • aylafan - Monday, June 6, 2011 - link

    I just saw your title and it is incorrect. Make sure you are buying the 3830TG and not the 3830T.

    3830T = ONLY has Intel Integrated Graphics
    3830TG = NVIDIA GeForce GT540M with Optimus Technology

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