The Toshiba Tecra A6 is a well-designed business laptop that delivers good performance for the money and a host of business-friendly security features, but its glossy display will prove to be a deal breaker for many.
The 14-inch Toshiba Tecra A6 strikes a nice balance between usability and portability--as well as price and performance. We reviewed the Tecra A6-EZ6411 model, one of three preconfigured models available; Toshiba also sells a configurable model (starting at $859) direct from its site, but it's important to note that the A6-EZ6411 is the only Tecra A6 model at the time of this writing that offers Windows Vista. The Tecra A6-EZ6411 comes with Vista Business Edition and can be found online for roughly $1,200. While cheaper laptops such as the Gateway NX270S will likely suffice for basic business use, the Tecra A6-EZ6411 delivers more powerful mainstream specs that will help it better stand the test of time. Despite the presence of some business-minded security features such as a fingerprint reader and hard drive protection, the glossy, reflective wide-screen display may turn off many would-be business buyers.
Weighing 5.5 pounds and featuring a 14.1-inch wide-screen display, the Tecra A6 resides smack in the middle of Toshiba's Tecra business laptop lineup. It's larger than any of the three Tecra M series models and smaller than the other two Tecra A series models, both of which feature 15-inch screens and surpass the 6-pound mark and push into desktop replacement territory. At 5.5 pounds, the Tecra A6 is firmly rooted in the thin-and-light category.
Particularly for a business laptop, the Tecra A6 boasts an up-to-date appearance with its rounded corners and black-and-silver color scheme. True to its business focus, it doesn't supply any multimedia shortcut keys, though there is a handy volume dial on the front edge. Other than the power button, the only buttons above the keyboard are a button that calls up a Toshiba Assist window (to aid you in configuring, protecting, and repairing the laptop) and another that brings up the Windows Mobility Center, which lets you switch to an external monitor and adjust the display brightness and volume, among other settings.
The display itself is vibrant and bright and features a 1280x800 native resolution, but it's got two strikes against it in many business users' eyes. First, it's a wide-screen, which is good for watching movies but not so good for viewing big Excel sheets and scrolling through long Word docs. We do feel cramped on smaller wide-screen displays, but this 14.1-inch screen provides enough space from top to bottom that we don't feel like we're constantly reaching for the down arrow key. Strike two is the glossy screen coating that comes by way of Toshiba's TruBrite technology. Whatever benefits you receive in terms of brightness are more than offset by the distracting glare it produces in almost any setting other than a pitch black, windowless room. So, unless your business takes you to underground bunkers, you're probably better off with a display with a matte finish. Though the Tecra A6-EZ6411 is a fixed configuration, retail model, the customizable Tecra A6 model on Toshiba's Web site lets you opt out of the TruBrite screen (you'll save $25, too). But the configurable model doesn't offer Vista yet; we suggest waiting until Toshiba updates it with Vista before purchasing it with the standard, matte-finish screen.
A side benefit to having a wide-screen display is the room it affords the keyboard. The Tecra A6's keyboard is spacious and comfortable and none of the keys are shortened or wedged in an odd spot. The trackpad is responsive and provides vertical and horizontal scroll areas. The two mouse buttons are located along the sloped from edge of the laptop, which provides a very natural feel.
The Tecra A6 features a number of security features, including a TPM chip. It also uses a magnesium alloy chassis that is strong and light, and what Toshiba calls EasyGuard adds reinforcement and cushioning around the hard drive along with a monitoring system that can detect when the notebook is falling and prepare the drive for the impending impact. Underneath the spill-resistant keyboard is a cover that will keep spilled lattes from reaching the laptop's circuitry. Lastly, the fingerprint reader helps keep your log-in secure and is also a handy tool for managing your various passwords.
The laptop provides the standard allotment of ports, including four USB 2.0 ports, one 4-pin FireWire port, a media card reader, a PC card slot, and S-video and VGA connections. The USB ports are sprinkled about the laptop--two on the right side, one on the left, and one in back--which helps keep wire clutter to a minimum. Headphone and microphone jacks sit next to the volume dial on the front edge along with an always appreciated Wi-Fi on/off switch. The Intel wireless card provides 802.11a/b/g wireless networking, and the Ethernet jack supplies 10/100/1000 wired networking.
The Tecra A6-EX6411 delivers good value for the money. Its Core 2 Duo T5600 processor, 1GB of 667MHz DDDR2 memory, and 80GB 5,400rpm hard drive are standard-issue mainstream specs, but what gives the Tecra A6 a leg up on many business laptops is its 128MB Nvidia Quadro NVS 110M graphics card. We priced out a similarly configured 14-inch Lenovo ThinkPad Z series model and surpassed the $1,200 mark without including a dedicated graphics card (Lenovo doesn't offer one on its Z series models). The Tecra A6-EZ6411 compares well with price leader Dell; you can spec out a nearly identical Dell Latitude D620 with the same Quadro card for the roughly same price.
On CNET Labs' benchmarks, the Tecra A6-EZ6411 turned in very strong application performance. On both multitasking and Office productivity tests, the Tecra A6 kept pace with the pricier $1,899 Tecra M5, which features a faster processor and twice the RAM. The M5's added memory helped it speed through our Photoshop test nearly 30 percent more quickly than the A6, however, and the M5's faster processor allowed it to more quickly complete our iTunes test, which almost exclusively exercises a laptop's CPU capabilities. That the A6 finished closer to the Tecra A8 on Photoshop than any of the other three systems--each of which features 2GB of memory--leads us to believe that for most business users, you'd be better off configuring a laptop with 2GB of memory and integrated graphics than halving the memory and putting those funds toward a $100 Quadro card. Only those business users engaged in 3D modeling or other graphics-intensive apps (including after hours 3D gaming) will reap the rewards of a dedicated video card such as the Quadro.
The Tecra A6 uses a common six-cell battery and turned in an average score of 1 hour and 50 minutes on our demanding DVD drain test. You can expect longer life during typical Windows use, but we would have liked to see the Tecra A6 hold out for at least 2 hours on our DVD drain test.
Though business laptops are sometimes backed with a standard three-year warranty, the Tecra A6-6411's warranty covers parts and labor for just one year. Support is accessible through a 24/7 toll-free phone line, an online knowledge base, and both a carry- and mail-in repair service.
Dell Inspiron E1505 Windows Vista Home Premium; 2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7200; 2,048MB DDR2 SDRAM 667MHz; 256MB ATI Mobility Radeon x1400; 100GB Hitachi 7,200rpm SATA/150
Lenovo ThinkPad X60 Tablet Windows Vista Business Edition; 1.83GHz Intel Core Duo L2500; 2,048MB DDR2 SDRAM 667MHz; 128MB Intel Mobile Express 945GM; 100GB Hitachi 5,400rpm SATA/150
Toshiba Tecra A6-EZ6411 Windows Vista Business Edition; 1.83GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T5600; 1,024MB DDR2 SDRAM 667MHz; 128MB Nvidia Quadro NVS110M; 80GB Hitachi 5,400rpm SATA/150
Toshiba Tecra A8-EZ8512 Windows Vista Business Edition; 1.66GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T5500; 1,024MB DDR2 SDRAM 667MHz; 224MB Mobile Intel Express 945GM; 80GB Fujitsu 5,400rpm SATA/150
Toshiba Tecra M5-S4333 Windows Vista Business Edition; 2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7200; 2,048MB DDR2 SDRAM 667MHz; 128MB Nvidia Quadro NVS110M; 120GB Toshiba 5400rpm SATA/150