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.
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.
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.
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.
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.