Introduction and features
Toshiba has become one of the biggest names in business laptops thanks to its wide range of effective, no-nonsense office systems, and its latest attempt to nail the ideal corporate portable comes from the Satellite Pro R50-B-12U.
This system includes a Core i5 processor inside a slim body for just $832 (about £532, AU$987) – a keen price that brings the R50 into line with some tempting competition. HP’s Envy 15 x360 costs $1,015 (about £649, AU$1,175) and can function as a laptop and a tablet, and the Dell Inspiron 15 7000 is a little more expensive – it’ll set you back $1,149 (about £672, AU$1,223) – but it’s a high-quality notebook with a 1080p screen and a Core i7 processor.
The R50 is cheaper than both rivals, and its 0.94-inch (24mm) body still competes: that’s the same thickness as HP’s hybrid, and not far off the 0.8-inch (20mm) frame of the Dell laptop. The Toshiba’s 5.07 pound (2.3kg) weight is reasonable, too; a mite less than the HP, and lighter than the 5.73 pound (2.6kg) Inspiron. These are important factors when using this machine on the road, as it won’t take up too much room in a bag – and it won’t weigh it down unnecessarily, either.
Build quality hasn’t suffered despite those dimensions. The underside and wrist-rest barely budged despite presses and prods, and the screen didn’t twist much. It’s a better bet than the inconsistent HP, and it’s as sturdy as the Dell. The strong chassis is enhanced by good connectivity, with two USB 3 ports, an SD card reader and a DVD writer around its edges – with the latter a feature not found on either of the R50′s rivals.
It’s good ergonomically, too. The keyboard is sensibly laid out with large keys and a numberpad, and the typing action is comfortable thanks to a consistent, light action and a solid base – we were quickly up to speed and using the Toshiba to type out long reports. The trackpad offers similar quality, with a smooth surface and a pair of snappy buttons.
Toshiba has spent money making the R50 slim and sturdy, but it’s not spent much cash on design. The black plastic is decorated with barely-visible straight lines across the wrist-rest and lid, the keyboard is black, and the only bit of gleaming metal comes from a small Toshiba logo on the lid.
The Satellite Pro comes with two operating systems: Windows 7 Professional 64-bit is installed out of the box, and Windows 8.1 Pro 64-bit is included on a DVD. It’s a generous extra, but the rest of the software is a mixed bag. McAfee’s security suite produced numerous irritating pop-ups, and Internet Explorer is hampered by bookmarking tool Symbaloo. Elsewhere, Evernote, Spotify and Winzip could prove more useful.
It’s worth bearing in mind that removing these added applications could improve performance: with the bloatware uninstalled, the R50′s boot time improved from 47s to 27s.
On the Inside
The mid-range R50 doesn’t have the most exciting specification. Its Core i5-4210U processor is clocked to 1.7GHz, and it’s the same chip used inside HP’s hybrid. It’s one step behind the Dell, which deploys a Core i7-4500U chip.
Elsewhere, you’ll have to rely on Intel’s middling integrated graphics, and the chip is paired with 4GB of single-channel RAM and a sluggish 500GB, 5,400rpm hard disk.
Connectivity includes Gigabit Ethernet, dual-band 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0 – the standard selection we now expect on notebooks.
- PCMark 8 Home: 2,167
- PCMark 8 Home battery life balanced 50% screen: 3hr 43mins
- PCMark 8 Home battery life power saver 25% screen: 4hrs 46mins
- PC Mark 8 Home High Performance 100% screen battery life: 3hrs 2mins
- 3DMark: Ice Storm: 33,030; Cloud Gate: 3,943; Fire Strike: 489
- Cinebench R11.5: CPU: 2.55; Graphics: 14.84fps
- Cinebench R15: CPU: 231cb; Graphics: 18.76fps
The unfussy specification returned a middling set of benchmark results. In PC Mark 8′s Home test the R50 scored 2,167 points – a little behind the HP Envy 15 x360, which scored 2,322 points with the same processor – a lead that’s likely caused by the HP’s 8GB of RAM. The Dell Inspiron 15 7000, with its Core i7 silicon, outpaced both systems with a result of 2,493.
The Toshiba settled into third place in the Cinebench R15 CPU test, too. It scored 231cb, which was six points behind the HP but further behind the Inspiron, which scored 255cb.
This is no gaming laptop, either. Intel’s integrated graphics core stumbled to a result of 33,030 in the 3D Mark Ice Storm test – more than 4,000 points behind the HP laptop, and almost 15,000 points behind the Dell and its discrete Nvidia graphics core.
The 5,400rpm hard disk didn’t help matters in any of our benchmarks. Its sequential read and write speeds of 95MB/s and 82MB/s are slow, even for platter-based hardware.
The middling specification had one upside: no thermal problems. The R50 stayed cool and quiet in every benchmark, and none of its added heat was transferred to the chassis during stress-tests.
Battery life wasn’t bad, either. In PC Mark 8′s Home battery benchmark the R50 lasted for 3hrs 43mins, which was ten minutes longer than the Dell but ten minutes less than the HP.
The R50 has a non-touch screen with a resolution of 1,366 x 768. That’s standard for this class of machine, but it’s restrictive for both work and play. The lack of pixels mean that it’s tricky to work with multiple windows or large applications, and the sub-HD resolution means 1080p movies can’t play at their full fidelity.
The 233cd/m2 brightness is good, but the R50 faltered elsewhere. Colour accuracy is no good thanks to a wayward Delta E of 8.18 and a cold colour temperature of 6,931. The latter figure means that colours lack vibrancy, while the former result means this panel is no good for colour-dependant work.
The 1.01cd/m2 measured black level is far too high, and it contributes to a poor contrast ratio of 231:1. The high black level means that the darkest shades appear as underwhelming greys rather than anything deeper, and the poor contrast hinders depth and distinction of colours across the entire range.
The low resolution and poor quality mean this screen is only suitable for web browsing, word processing and other less intensive tasks. The HP’s screen suffers from similar problems – a low resolution and a lack of quality – while the Dell streaks ahead with a Full HD resolution, touch control and better quality.
Toshiba’s system concentrates on good ergonomic design, which is why it’s got a good keyboard and trackpad built inside a sturdy frame. That will help this system excel as a work laptop, and the Core i5 processor will help with general office software, too, even if it lacks the grunt to take on more demanding applications.
In other departments, though, this system disappoints. The screen quality is poor, battery life is middling, and its all-black chassis doesn’t exactly set the pulse racing.
Toshiba knows the business market, so it’s no surprise that it’s concentrated on the practical aspects of the R50′s design. Build quality is consistently good, and the keyboard and trackpad both have the quality required to get serious work done.
The R50 is slim and light, too, although it’s design isn’t much cop – this isn’t a laptop for turning heads, and both of its rivals are better-looking.
Performance isn’t anything to shout about, either, but the Core i5 processor provides enough grunt to get modest jobs done.
The R50′s modest budget means this is a dull-looking laptop, but that’s not the only area that’s suffered.
The screen lacks the colour accuracy, contrast and resolution for any sort of serious work, which means that the Dell is the easy winner in this category. Battery life is fine but no outstanding, and the Core i5 processor is only capable of handling mid-range work tasks – for anything more demanding the Dell Inspiron 15 7000‘s Core i7 would be a better bet.
The Toshiba’s good ergonomics, reasonable build quality and Core i5 processor make it a solid business notebook, but the R50 does little to stand out. The display is poor, battery life is average, and that Core i5 chip won’t handle applications in the same way as the Dell’s Core i7. That Dell is a better option if you’ve got more cash to spend, and the HP Envy 15 x360 is better-looking. Only buy the R50 if you need a mid-range machine and you’re content without it turning heads.