Toshiba's Tecra line of laptops has long offered a selection of reliable, if unexciting, business notebooks.
The new Tecra A40-C, then, could probably have gotten away with being more of the same. However, with a feature-packed, enterprise-friendly design and a new Intel Skylake processor, this machine - a rare addition to Toshiba's under-represented 14in lineup - was quick to grab our attention. 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.
Besides some chunky bezels around the screen, we're quite fond of the Tecra A40-C's looks. It measures 340x244x23.8mm and weighs 1.8kg, which for a traditional notebook isn't too bad at all. Plus, despite being thick enough to accommodate an optional DVD R/W drive, it's surprisingly sleek, and there's a lovely matte black finish throughout. This is all on top of a sturdy, rigid build quality, particularly around the lower keyboard segment.
Speaking of the keyboard, it's more than capable for full-time typing. The keys are a bit shallow but spaced well apart, allowing for accurate but quick strokes, and there's enough room for extra Delete, Home, Page Up, Page Down and End keys in a column along the far right.
There are plenty of connection options as well: three USB 3.0 ports, an SD card reader, VGA and HDMI connectors and an Ethernet port. That's a good range for a device of this size, with more than enough space for multiple peripherals or removable storage while allowing for an external display to hook up.
Like Lenovo's ThinkPad series, the Tecra A40-C also includes a little textured mouse nub in the keyboard's centre as an alternative to the trackpad. While it does enable cursor control without moving hands away from the keyboard, it's quite unwieldy without practice, and can be safely ignored if so desired. A much more enticing inclusion is the fingerprint scanner, which sits near the bottom of the chassis, just below and to the right of the trackpad.
We didn't get a chance to test battery life but it's commendable that the Tecra A14 includes a removeable battery while staying reasonably slim; many lightweight notebook keep their batteries integrated, making them impossible to quickly replace if they run dry. The Tecra A14, on the other hand, can be kept going with a spare pack.
The 14in display runs at 1920x1080, with a pixel density of 162ppi. That means decent, if unspectacular, clarity - there can be fuzziness around small text and images, but we had to actively search for it before noticing.
Colours, on the other hand, are spot-on; balanced without looking dull, vibrant without looking garish. They aren't compromised by the anti-glare coating, either. Some devices, like the HP ProBook 455 Ubuntu, use coatings which add a mildly distorting, grainy effect to the display, but the Tecra A14 successfully avoids this while minimises reflectivity.
Operating system and software
The Tecra A40-C will launch with Windows 10 Pro pre-installed, or with Windows 7 Pro pre-installed plus upgrade media for Windows 10 Pro included in the box.
Our particular demo model was running Windows 10 Pro, which, if at all possible to fit into existing IT environments, we'd sooner recommend. Besides being due for more frequent content, security and performance updates than previous Windows editions, Windows 10 Pro includes useful tools like BitLocker encryption, Universal Apps and the Action Centre - an extremely convenient combination of notifications tray and quick settings menu. Windows 7 Pro, as long and illustrious as its service has been, has none of these things.
Toshiba has added over a dozen proprietary applications, which is bad news for anyone who likes their Windows clean, but other than a redundant video player, these do lean towards utility rather than frivolity. A good example is HDD Protection, which employs a built-in sensor to detect if the laptop has taken a jolt. If so, it automatically moves the HDD head to a safe position, reducing the risk of it taking damage. Opting for an SSD instead of an HDD makes this addition moot, but it could potentially save a lot of data.
We're seeing more and more enterprise notebooks with integrated fingerprint scanners, including the Tecra A40-C, and that's entirely a good thing. Biometric systems are both more time-efficient and less prone to theft than conventional passwords, making them ideal for business use.
We're also glad that Toshiba opted for the Pro versions of both Windows 7 and Windows 10, which boast additional security features over their Home equivalents. Windows 7 Pro, for instance, supports native filesystem-level encryption and the ability to create, though not enforce, AppLocker policies to determine which applications can and can't run on a company network. Windows 10 Pro, meanwhile, adds the aforementioned BitLocker drive encryption and the Group Policy Management console for IT managers.
We tested a mid-range configuration of the Tecra A40-C, comprised of a 2.4GHz dual-core Intel Core i5-6300U processor from Intel's latest Skylake family and 8GB of RAM. Models with beefier Core i7 chips will also be available.
That i5 still produced some nimble performance, though, with the generous RAM allowance maintaining responsiveness when multitasking. We didn't get the chance to run benchmarks or try truly punishing tasks like photo or video editing, but the speed with which the Tecra A40-C opened programmes and ran straightforward tasks like text editing gave us confidence in its general office work capabilities.
Battery and storage
Toshiba claims that the Tecra A40-C will last for up to eight hours off a single charge. Since manufacturer estimates are almost always on the optimistic side, that means it probably won't last a full work day without charging, which is a shame - though to be fair, we've used notebooks which conk out before half a day, let alone a whole one.
The choice of storage options is pretty good as well. SSDs max out at 256GB, but forgoing their speeds in favour of a larger HDD allows for up to 1TB of internal storage.
It's clear that Toshiba has built a highly respectable, well-featured business laptop, and one which is especially suitable for users who prefer larger screens but don't necessarily want to deal with the bulk of a 15in or 17in device.
Being able to squeeze multiple ports, a removeable battery and even a DVD drive into this form factor is impressive, and we're hoping that the Tecra A40-C's performance and battery life do the design justice in everyday use.
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