TOSHIBA LOOKS as eager as anyone to be part of the Intel Skylake rush. Unlike the new HP Spectre x360 or the Dell XPS 15, however, the Tecra A50-C isn't just a straight refresh of a previous product; it ditches the bulky case of the Tecra A50-A for a sleeker look and a lighter weight, and takes its processors from both the Skylake and Broadwell families.
In any case, this is business notebook through and through, and so the Tecra A50-C comes loaded with the kinds of enterprise-focused features one might need during a hard day's work. Although this latest Tecra won't be out to buy until early 2016, and pricing has yet to be revealed, we got a sneak preview.
While the Tecra A50-C is no ultrabook - it measures 379x258x23.3 mm and weighs 2.0kg - it's quite manageable for a 15.6in laptop. It's certainly more suited to being lugged around than the Tecra A50-A, which started at 2.6kg. Being over 2cm thick also allows it to cram in a good range of ports and slots, including two USB 3.0 ports, two USB 2.0 ports, one full-size HDMI and VGA connector apiece, one SD card reader and an Ethernet port. Our test model also featured a DVD R/W drive, which is optional - as is the integrated fingerprint scanner, which sits a few inches below the keyboard.
This is one well-equipped laptop overall, and the build quality isn't too bad either, with premium-looking steel encasing the keyboard and lid. However, this is paired with some cheap-looking grey plastic, which forms an unattractive sizeable bezel around the display.
At least it matches the keyboard, which packs a full number pad as well as the standard keys. These aren't hugely satisfying to type on, but are spaced a good distance apart, which allowed us to type cleanly and accurately. The trackpad is very generously-sized as well, as you'd expect for a device of these proportions.
The Tecra A50-C's 15.6in display can be set at 1366x768 or 1920x1080 resolution. We don't recommend dropping below the Full HD option, though; this was how our test unit was configured, and it was only just about sharp enough to display pictures and text without clearly softened edges. The FHD option's 141ppi will suffice for basic tasks, but we don't have much faith that 15.6 inches of screen and a 1366x768 resolution will make a particularly enjoyable combination.
We do, however, appreciate the anti-glare coating, which thwarts reflectivity without adding the nasty grainy effect that some low-quality coatings can. Colour balance is pretty good as well, as we didn't spot any shades that were overly saturated or unduly dull.
Operating system and software
Don't be fooled by the photos showing Windows 8.1; Toshiba merely added the now-outdated OS as some kind of demonstrative routine. In reality, the Tecra A50-C will launch running either Windows 10 Pro, or Windows 7 Pro with upgrade DVDs for Windows 10 Pro in the box.
Which choice proves superior will likely vary on a user-by-user basis. It'll be easier to slip the Tecra A50-C into an IT environment that continues to be based on Windows 7, and the increased data-harvesting habits of Windows 10 aren't exactly endearing. However, those who can live with their telemetry info being hoovered up can benefit from a better, less tablet-focused UI, a nifty Action Centre menu and more frequent updates if they plump for the newer Windows 10 Pro.
There are quite a few added programmes, but with several of them, Toshiba has taken the unusual step of making them actually useful. HDD Protection, for instance, automatically moves the HDD head to a safe position if it senses the device being knocked around, reducing the chances of an accidental drop ruining all your files.
The optional fingerprint scanner, which allows for swift, single-swipe authentication, is only the most visible example of the Tecra A50-C's security tools. Windows 7 Pro and Windows 10 Pro both provide built-in hardware encryption, and an optional Trusted Platform Module (TPM) can be added to the CPU in order lock down the system if any hardware tampering is detected.
It's true that without splashing out on add-ons, the Tecra A50-C relies entirely on its operating system for protection, but then they are relatively small additions that could make it a far more secure device than the majority of consumer laptops on the market.
Another bizarre choice on Toshiba's part was to demo the Tecra A50-C with a Broadwell-era Intel Core i7-5500U, rather than one of the new Skylake chips it will launch with. Both 5th-gen and 6th-gen Intel processors can be chosen from, up to a 6th-gen Core i7 vPro, so this wasn't technically misrepresentation, but it's a weird way to show off a Skylake-focused product nonetheless.
In defence of the Core i7-5500U, it made for some very nimble performance, helped in part by the considerable 8GB of RAM. We couldn't find a task that slowed the laptop down or made it stutter, and applications could be opened, closed or switched between pretty much instantaneously. Skylake chips aren't a huge step up from Broadwell chips in terms of on-paper power, but both architectures should cope well with professional usage.
Battery and storage
We prefer our business machines to last for a full eight-hour day, and wouldn't you know it, Toshiba estimates that the Tecra A50-C has a battery life of up to eight hours. Official estimates are rarely reliable, though, and we wouldn't be surprised if it fell short - especially when subjected to juice-sapping tasks like web browsing.
That said, even six or seven hours would be okay for a traditional notebook, and those who stay on the road for such long periods would probably be better off with an ultrabook or 2-in-1 anyway.
As for storage, both hard drives and SSDs will be available options. The latter go up to 256GB, which is dwarfed by the maximum 1TB HDD. Go for that if you're planning to work with images or videos.
We hesitate to draw conclusions on a device we tested with the wrong OS and a CPU which misses the point of Skylake adoption, but the Tecra A50-C does have the hallmarks of a decent everyday workhorse. For enterprise use in particular, what's a low pixel density compared to oodles of ports, solid security features and - if you're luckier than we were - one of Intel's latest and greatest processors? µ