Toshiba Tecra A8 Review

I’ve got a history with Toshiba laptops, my first laptop was a Toshiba Satellite 1800-100. Back then, laptops were rather depressing affairs, unless you remortaged your house for a nice IBM ThinkPad the alternatives were built like toys, had dodgy screens that made it look like you were on drugs if didn’t look at them straight on and keyboards that made mobile phones seem a joy to type on. Not a great experience, especially as you could get a desktop that was infinitely better for half the price.

The Satellite was the first affordable laptop I found with a good keyboard. In fact, it was more than good — I preferred it to a desktop keyboard and even the acclaimed IBM ThinkPad keyboard. Once I wiped Windows ME, upgraded the RAM to 256MB and installed Windows 2000, it was quite a useable little laptop and very capable of running Visual Basic 6 and Office.

My second Toshiba laptop was a Tecra M1, a fantastic machine that was intelligently designed and built well. I eventually gave up laptop computing when I really started gaming, and I’ve been using desktops ever since.

Until last year that is, when I got my MacBook – the first Mac I’ve had that really started to replace my desktop Windows machines. Since then I use my MacBook lots more than my desktop machine, which has been relegated to gaming.

So when TalkToshiba asked if I wanted to review one of their laptops, I jumped at the chance.

Tecra A8

Toshiba Tecra A8

The Tecra A8 is the bottom of the line Tecra model in the range, but still possess a very good specification, including a 2GHz Core 2 Duo processor. The review model sent to me is an old model which came with Windows XP. An up-to date model with Vista Business can be had for around £900.

Exterior

Being a business orientated laptop, it has quite a smart appearance. Its gun metal grey lid gives the appearance of being metallic, but is just plastic. And its quite weak plastic too, as the screen visibly bends if I apply pressure to the back of it.

There are a generous three USB ports on the back side, and even a serial, PS/2 and modem port. I can’t help but think that the space would’ve been better utilised with FireWire and USB ports though, although the serial port is incredibly useful for people with legacy devices that don’t work with USB to serial adaptors.

Build

My old Tecra M1 was a fantastic machine that was built well and looked great for its time. Unfortunately, the A8 doesn’t inherit the M1’s superior build, magnesium alloy casing or sharp looks.

Although the specifications claim its 2mm thinner, it feels thicker than the old Tecra because of its clunkier design. It also feels heavier than its 2.9KG state weight, which is a shame as the plastics used are quite thin. Overall I was expecting much better from Toshiba, although this is their bottom of the line Tecra, maybe the higher end models are better, but the build is on-par with a £500 laptop, not a £900 one.

Keyboard

The Tecra A8 keeps the tradition with a great keyboard. It has a resounding click that gives just the right amount of feedback. Being a 15.4 inch widescreen laptop, there is a lot of width for the keyboard, unfortunately not all of it is utilised and is rather cramped which makes touch typing on it more error-prone. Toshiba should take a lesson from Apple here and give its keys more breathing room.

Its good to see dedicated Page Up, Page Down, Home and End buttons, something I miss on my MacBook. The Function (Fn) key and Control are in the right order too, which is Control on the left and Function on the right, something else my MacBook muffed up.

Trackpad

Unfortunately, the track-pad leaves much to be desired. Its far too small which either makes it difficult to move the cursor across the screen if you set the speed slow, or makes it difficult to control the cursor accurately if the speed is set too fast. It also confuses tap-to-click with drag very often, which is frustrating. You can use the right and bottom area of the touch pad to scroll, which would’ve been far more useful if the touch pad was bigger. Such a big laptop and such a small touch pad, its just a waste of space.

The mouse buttons also give rather tacky feedback and feel horrible to press. There isn’t a physical difference between the left and right mouse button, which makes it easy to press the wrong one.

It would’ve been nice to have a touch point as well, although this is present on the more expensive Tecra A9 series.

Performance

I don’t have much to say here, other than the 2GHz Core 2 Duo processor is more than enough for most people and seemed very quick in use. It could do with another 1GB of RAM though, especially if you plan on using Vista with it.

I ran Super Pi and Prime95 simultaneously to saturate both cores, and the Tecra only got mildly warm on its bottom side. In this respect its much better than the MacBook or MacBook Pro.

When idling, its very loud in comparison to the majority of laptops I’ve used. There is a definite humming sound from the fan that doesn’t seem to stop. Under load, it manages to keep the noise levels fairly reasonable although the pitch of the fan is quite high.

Software

The included software included with the Tecra is, sadly, a joke.

Tecra WLAN Configuration Screenshot

The wireless configuration utility is impossible to use, it visualises your computer as the nucleus of an atom and the wireless networks in rage as the electrons orbiting it. You have to hover over an “electron” to see the details about the network, all of which will fly over the head of those not familiar with WLAN terminology. Clicking on an electron doesn’t give the expected result of joining that network — it does nothing. There are other buttons with images that give no idea of what they do, so I gave up on this and used the perfectly good built-in Windows WLAN configuration tool.

I had a quick look over the other included configuration software, none of which seem to offer more than another interface over what Windows already has, and 99% of the time its harder to use.

The £900 Question

So would I buy one for £900? No, there are far better laptops at that price point. Apple offers a better specified MacBook thats lighter, better looking and better built for less money, and there are even far better laptops in Toshiba’s consumer Satellite range.

To truly compete, the value of the laptop would have to drop to £500 or under, and even then I’d probably still buy a cheap Lenovo or HP that are a little slower, but much better built and better looking.

Better luck next time Toshiba.

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