For many laptop users, finding the right screen size is paramount. While the vast majority of laptops used to fall into the 15-inch category, those are quickly being replaced by more manageable 13- and 14-inch models. Apple's hugely popular MacBook laptops have almost singlehandedly built a market for the 13.3-inch display, which we consider the sweet spot between midsize and ultraportable laptops. On the Windows side, Dell's recent XPS m1330 was a well-received 13-inch system, but it's out of many shoppers' price range. Toshiba's $1,324 Tecra M8 packs the latest Centrino Duo parts, plus extras such as a hard-drive accelerometer, into a 13-inch package that's short on flash but long on value.
|Price as reviewed/starting price||$1,324/$1,249|
|Processor||1.8GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7100|
|Memory||1GB of 667MHz DDR2|
|Hard drive||120GB at 4,200rpm|
|Graphics||Mobile Intel Express 965 (integrated)|
|Chipset||Intel GM965 Express|
|Operating system||Windows Vista Premium|
|Screen size (diagonal)||13.3 inches|
|System weight/weight with AC adapter||4.6/5.6 pounds|
Despite slightly rounded edges, the Tecra M8 has a decidedly boxy look, which while not particularly exciting, is certainly appropriate for the Tecra brand's target audience of business users. At 4.6 pounds, it sits squarely in the middle of the thin-and-light category; it weighs a little more than the Dell XPS m1330 but less than the Apple MacBook. The basic gray-and-black chassis is subdued, to say the least, but the body feels sturdy, especially its stiff lid.
Designed as a low-frills, mid-priced laptop for the business set, the Tecra M8 doesn't offer many extras. The system includes a 1.3 megapixel Webcam and a fingerprint reader, but aside from two quick launch buttons for Vista's Windows Mobility Center and a Toshiba-branded window with shortcuts to networking and diagnostic tools, the keyboard tray offers little except a standard keyboard and a basic touch pad. A 3D accelerometer is included, however, that will freeze your hard drive in the event of a fall or shock to the chassis.
The touch pad is embedded, somewhat strangely, a fraction of an inch below the wrist rest, yet the keyboard is still similar to the one of Toshiba's recent Portege R500, which we especially liked for having separate page-up and page-down keys, instead of shunting these off as alternate functions on other keys.
The 13.3-inch wide-screen LCD display offers a 1,280x800 native resolution, which is standard for a screen this size and the same as you'd find on a MacBook. This provides for text and icons that are highly readable, so it's a shame that so much of the desktop real estate is taken up with bloatware and advertising, including come-ons for eBay, CNN.com, Skype, and Microsoft's Office Live services. We don't like seeing these trial offers and advertising links on consumer systems, and it's especially egregious on a system built for business users.
|Toshiba Tecra M8||Average for thin-and-light category|
|Audio||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||Three USB 2.0 ports, a mini-FireWire, and a multiformat memory card reader||Three USB 2.0 ports, a mini-FireWire, and a multiformat memory card reader|
|Expansion||Type I/II PC Card slot||Type I/II PC Card or ExpressCard|
|Networking||Modem, Ethernet, 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi, optional Bluetooth||Modem, Ethernet, 802.11a/b/g Wi-Fi, optional Bluetooth, optional WWAN|
|Optical drive||DVD burner||DVD burner|
As the above chart illustrates, the ports and connections on the Tecra M8 are in line with what we'd expect to see on a 13-inch laptop. We're pleased that the system offers 802.11n, aka Draft N Wi-Fi technology.. Bluetooth is a $25 option, although it really should be standard equipment at this point.
Toshiba offers a handful of customization options on the Tecra M8. Our review unit had the baseline Intel Core 2 Duo T7100, but an extra $110 will get you a faster T7300, or even the high-end T7700 for an extra $550. Adding a second gigabyte of RAM runs $200. Our 120GB hard drive was a $75 add-on to the base 80GB model, and a 160GB drive is available for an additional $50.
Performance-wise, the Tecra M8 can't compare to the more expensive 13-inch Dell XPS m1330, which is aided by a second gigabyte of RAM and a slightly faster Core 2 Duo T7300 CPU, nor the current Apple MacBook, which has a 2.2GHz T7400. Still, it easily beat the recent crop of ultralow voltage systems, including Toshiba's own Portege R500 and the Sony VAIO TZ150, which trade performance for longer battery life and lower operating temperatures. As we'd expect from any modern laptop, the Tecra M8 performed well at general multitasking, including Web surfing, basic productivity use, and media playback.
The Toshiba Tecra M8 ran for 2 hours, 36 minutes on our DVD battery drain test, using its default battery. That's better than the XPS m1330, and in general decent battery life for a laptop of this size, although not as good as the MacBook which ran for an additional 60 minutes on the same test. But bear in mind that our DVD battery drain test is especially grueling, so you can expect longer life from casual Web surfing and office use.
Toshiba includes an industry-standard, one-year, mail-in parts-and-labor warranty with the Tecra M8, with a $100 option to extend the warranty to three years. Support is accessible through a 24-7 toll-free phone line, and an online knowledge base with driver downloads--although the otherwise helpful support site is fronted by a bizarre, dot-com throwback cartoon character named Iris (Instant Response Information Service, get it?)