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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  • ScottHavens - Monday, June 6, 2011 - link

    I stopped reading when I saw 15.6" and 1366x768. That resolution is borderline acceptable for a 12" screen; I'm typing this with a 1400x900 12" screen and still wouldn't mind it a bit higher res. Anything short of 1080p is laughable for a screen that size and an immediate won't-buy.
  • kmmatney - Monday, June 6, 2011 - link

    I would say that 1280 x 800 is the minimum for a 15" screen. Having only 766 vertical pixels is a crap, especially with all this ribbon-menu nonsense.
  • TrackSmart - Monday, June 6, 2011 - link

    I agree with everyone about the screen resolution and quality. Have you seen these 15.6" laptops? They are huge. Much wider than older 15" models (e.g. before 16:9 displays). Manufacturers should be going for 1680x1050 or similar resolutions and offer a higher quality screen as an upgrade for those who care. Part of the problem is that retail stores hide the screen resolution specifications. And forget about measures of screen quality. No information = no way for the non-tech savvy user to compare products. And that means no incentive for companies to give you something better.
  • Shinobi_III - Monday, June 6, 2011 - link

    My experience with Toshiba laptops has always been that while the chassis might feel real crappy, and has no "titanium trim" or branded speakers (that still sound bad)
    They always spent that lull money on the hardware quality, maybe not specs, but durability.

    All kinds of laptops stream through my work (I fix them for a living) and Toshibas virtually never have hardware failures, unless they've been pounded on..
  • Guspaz - Monday, June 6, 2011 - link

    I'm an r700 owner, and a friend recently purchased an r830, so I've kept up a bit on Toshiba's latest offerings. From my experience, and this review, it seems that there are a few flaws that Toshiba should fix (and should have fixed) with these second-gen laptops:

    1) The fingerprint reader. It's annoying that it's between the two trackpad buttons. It would be nice if it were on the palm rest on the side like other vendors do. I use the trackpad a lot, I use the fingerprint reader occasionally. Why does it need to be right on the trackpad?

    2) Quad-core CPU option on larger sizes. I understand not putting a quad-core in the 830 or 840, but the 850 has no excuse. Quad-core parts don't significantly impact battery life, and the 850 clearly has thermal budget to spare. It'd be a nice upgrade if it were offered, but for some reason, it isn't.

    3) The discrete graphics in the r850 are a joke. If the discrete graphics are slower than the CPU's iGPU, what the heck is the point of the discrete graphics? At least Toshiba does give you the option here to not get the ATI chip.

    4) The screens. For the r700 and r830, the 1366x768 resolution isn't a huge issue. A bit low, but on a 13.3", it's still somewhat acceptable. But on a 14" or 15.6" notebook, it's really not. The review already largely touched on this, but shipping a 1366x768 15.6" display in these price ranges are not acceptable. A friend of mine was recently in the market for a ~15" dockable business notebook, and he did not purchase the r850 specifically because of the low screen resolution; his 15" Dell Latitude came with a 1680x1050 display instead, and much better quality to boot.

    The unfortunate thing is that the r800 series was Toshiba's chance to fix some of the flaws from the r700 series, and it looks like they decided not to.
  • DaveGirard - Monday, June 6, 2011 - link

    it'd be nice if you could include the MacBook Pros with discrete AMD instead of onboard graphics.
  • Nimiz99 - Monday, June 6, 2011 - link

    I just wanted to mention that for a business-class notebook 3 screens is very nice...especially considering that for mine (DELL E6410), only two screens are possible. The problem is that one of the screens that "counts" towards the limit is the laptop screen itself. Ideally i'd like to have two 23" lcd's next to each other with the laptop screen serving for email/media. The fact that the Toshiba can do that is a huge plus.

    On an aside, I don't think I'd spend the money on a business class notebook, where external displays, where processor speed (for all those programs and Office), and where the build quality for 50%-90% travel will make much more of a difference, when I can buy a gaming-centric note-book that delivers on the GPU and screen quality that i'd demand for that SPECIFIC usage scenario.
  • HangFire - Monday, June 6, 2011 - link

    1366x768... sigh. I don't pay US$900 or more for 1366x768.

    All 15.6" laptops are big, and why not use the space for a number pad. I have no problem with that. But with the low screen resolution and poor gaming performance, you might as well buy the C655 HD3000 i3 version, which MicroCenter had on sale for Memorial Day weekend for $399.
  • Mxlasm - Monday, June 6, 2011 - link

    I would at least mention Lenovo Thinkpads as a possible competitor. Not sure about their latest T5xx line, but in the past their business laptops always were of very high build quality, with very good keyboard and relatively light (and admittedly with a so-so scrren as well). Also usually configurable and lately reasonably priced as well.
  • Belard - Tuesday, June 7, 2011 - link

    These Toshibas don't compare to a ThinkPad T series, I'd even put them subpar to the L-Series (low-end) or even the Edge which is the "hip" modernized looking ThinkPad with island-type keyboard. But the Edge models are lower cost without the horse power.

    The only "feature" Toshiba has, is a numeric keypad... with a crappy keyboard.

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