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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  • JasonInofuentes - Monday, June 6, 2011 - link

    How much of an affect did it really have, I mean could you tell if you put an average screen side by side?
  • TrackSmart - Monday, June 6, 2011 - link

    As an owner of a Toshiba R705, which has similarly low contrast, I can tell you that the screen is noticeably more washed out than on a 3 year old Dell Inspiron sitting next to it. And it's noticeably worse than the acer netbook we have on hand. And compared to a decent desktop monitor, it becomes obvious that a huge swath of the color spectrum is missing. When I first got it, I kept tilting the screen forward and back, thinking it was washed out because of a less than optimal viewing angle. Nope. Just terrible contrast. At least the screen is plenty bright. That's the only good thing I can say about it.
  • Belard - Monday, June 6, 2011 - link

    Crappy keyboard, gloss... cheap screen, "business machine".

    Why bother with this? A ThinkPad has a real keyboard, no gloss. A better screen with optional higher rez display that is well worth the extra $50.

    T-Series starts at $800.
  • JarredWalton - Monday, June 6, 2011 - link

    While I won't disagree with the general idea, the T520 with similar specs to the review system comes to $2019, but Lenovo has a sale right now that brings the price down to just $1357. At that price, yes, I'd definitely go with the T520. I'd also take advantage of the option to upgrade to a 1080p LCD (and if you need a better than HD 3000 GPU, grab the Quadro NVS 4200M for another $150 added to the cost).

    However, the T520 dimensions are 14.68" x 9.65" x1.25-1.40" and weight is 5.57 lbs. So the Toshiba Tecra is slightly wider but .2 to .4" thinner and .3 lbs. lighter.

    I'd still lean towards the Lenovo; shame they won't send us anything for review these days.
  • Penti - Monday, June 6, 2011 - link

    The L-series should compete well with this model though! On the low end. Lacking the dedicated graphics then though. But this can also be had without. They also even support docking stations. With their low starting prices. So they should make some sense in business scenarios. Add $50 on the Lenovo L-520 and you also get the 1600x900 screen. Add another $50 if you like the 9-cell battery. However the Toshiba stands pretty well in this regard. So does Dell and HP. A 14" E5420 can be had for the same price with 3 year basic warranty and the 1600x900 screen. Where the Toshiba falls, is for my taste the screen. If you just want a 15" model with NVS 4200M you could grab the Dell E6520 for about 1200 dollars. For about same as this with 1080 screen. So you shouldn't need any special deals to match this. A T-520 or E6520 and HP 8560p matches just fine, but with the added bonus of coming with higher res screens.

    The 8560p even comes with a comparable GPU, the HD6470M, preconfigured option with 4GB DDR3, 2.5GHz Core i5-2520M, 320GB 7200, 15.6" 1600x900 anti-glare and HD6470M is $1299. Or about $1200 from resellers such as pcmall. Then with the i5-2540M. And the i7-2620M model is $1339.99 at newegg. So they are not the only game in town.
  • Penti - Monday, June 6, 2011 - link

    And of course if you just like a semi-gaming (or laptop with discrete graphics) but don't need any business features, there is lots of others. Even if you like higher res screens. You get quad-core notebooks with GT540 or there about for around 1000 dollars if you can handle the lousy 1080 screens.
  • Belard - Tuesday, June 7, 2011 - link

    I'd choose the L (Lame) Series over this Toshiba... The L-Series still has a good keyboard with a more generic layout... which is not as good as the oldschool ThinkPad layout that is found in the T series.

    Features quality of the L are not up to the level T and are priced about $200~300 cheaper.

    Anyways... JarredWalkton. Lenovo is always having some sort of sale. I bumped up the T520 with camera, 500GB HD and top end wireless package. and of course went with the 1600x900 screen. The price is $1444, which is $95 cheaper than the T-520 I configured against the Toshiba in this review.

    The Toshiba includes a 3yr warranty. Its a $100 more on the ThinkPad for a 3-year ONSITE parts and labor package which is a bargain.

    The current T520 doesn't have USB3.0 yet. (The 420s does)

    So for $95 more, get a serious NVIDIA NVS 4200M graphics (I like AMD).
    - Killer keyboard - I don't think anyone else is making normal keysboards.
    - Higher rez graphics and better screen
    - Spill resistant keyboard (has 2-3 channels to drain your beer)
    - Crash cage frame (take a ThinkPad apart, you'll see it - * L and Edges are not included)

    Looking at the photos of the Toshiba 850... its rather, generic looking... The HP Elite or Dell Latitudes are much better looking ThinkPad clones...
    (When Dell, HP and Toshiba add a tracking stick to their business notebooks and using heavy duty hinges - they are making ThinkPad-like notebooks)
  • wvh - Monday, June 6, 2011 - link

    Toshiba seems to be headed in the right direction, but 1366x768 on a 15-inch laptop? This is not a consumer-oriented netbook. I would never buy anything with a 1366x768 resolution, and it's hard to imagine my needs would be far different than those of any other serious geek. I'm not a fan, but it seems that so far only Apple can get the bare basics of screen/keyboard/trackpad right... If you screw one of those elementary in/out interfaces up and handicap basic usability, it really doesn't matter anymore what sort of i-something, amount of memory or usb666 ports you put in it.
  • Mumrik - Tuesday, June 7, 2011 - link

    "15.6-inch LED Matte 16:9 1366x768"

    That is disgusting...

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