Toshiba’s Tecra laptops aren’t as well-known in US offices as, say, HP’s Elitebooks, Dell’s Latitudes, or Lenovo’s ThinkPads, but they do offer similar features as those other notebooks. The 14-inch Tecra Z40-A (model Z40-A1402) we’re looking at here also gets great battery life with a high-end Core i7 processor, while remaining surprisingly light at 3.24 pounds.
Is it a better business option than those other laptops or, for that matter, the recent MacBook Pro? To find that out, you’ll have to follow us as we wind our way through the Tecra’s finer (and lesser) points.
A nice matte magnesium shell
The Tecra Z40 looks, at first glance, like several other aluminum-clad laptops on the market. But when you touch it, you’ll notice a difference. Its magnesium alloy “Tough Body” shell isn’t as smooth as aluminum. That’s fine by us, as the Z40’s exterior seems to repel fingerprints like few other laptops we’ve seen lately. Combined with internal honeycomb reinforced structure, the laptop manages to stay quite light for a 14-inch business machine.
The Z40’s exterior seems to repel fingerprints like few other laptops we’ve seen lately.
Our only complaint about the exterior is that the lid has more flex than we’d like to see from a business notebook. The rest of the system feels rigid. But the lid, without any glass over the laptop’s screen (there’s no touch here), flexes easily, which isn’t something we appreciate in a system that costs (in our test configuration) $1,429. Still, the laptop is certainly more rigid than Sony’s premium VAIO Pro 13.
Ports are, of course, important in a business machine. Here you’ll get a lock slot, power jack, Ethernet, two USB 3.0 ports, and a headset jack on the right edge. And on the left, there’s a VGA port, another USB 3.0 port (with sleep-charge abilities), a full-size HDMI port, and a full-size SD card slot. And unlike recent MacBooks and many other thin laptops, the card slot actually accepts the whole card, so it won’t stick precariously out of the side of the laptop when it’s inserted.
Port selection here is pretty great. Our only issue is the power connector: It sticks a couple inches straight out of the right side of the laptop, which can be a pain if you’re working in cramped spaces (a frequent problem on the road). And the power plug feels a bit loose right out of the box, which doesn’t make us overly confident about the power socket or plug’s durability. We much prefer the MagSafe connector on MacBooks or the rectangular yellow power plugs on Lenovo’s laptops. Those connectors may be proprietary, but they also feel better built.
For those who want even more ports for a desktop-like experience, there’s a dock connector on the bottom of the Tecra Z40, which works with a $140 port replicator. The replicator adds six USB ports and four video connectors.
Input methods aplenty, but the competition does it better
The Tecra Z40’s backlit keyboard is pretty good, but we wouldn’t call it great, especially for an expensive business notebook. The keys are backlit and spill-resistant (a $20 premium over the base model, which seems well worth the money). And the keys are spaced well apart from one another for comfortable touch typing, but the standard letter keys feel a bit small for a 14-inch laptop. What’s more, the top row of Function keys, as well as the arrow keys on the bottom right, are half the size of the rest.
There’s also an Accupoint tracking stick for those IBM-era die-hards, with dedicated mouse buttons above the touchpad. Lenovo abandoned this kind of cluttered input design for a larger touchpad with their ThinkPad T4310 laptops earlier in 2013. Frankly, we think the Tecra would be better off moving in a similar design direction as well.
We much prefer the MagSafe connector on MacBooks or the rectangular yellow power plugs on Lenovo’s laptops. Those connectors seem better built.
The Tecra Z40’s touchpad is about 4.5 inches diagonally, but only about 2 inches tall. That feels cramped by today’s standards. However, if you stick with Windows 7, which ships installed on the system, rather than upgrading to Windows 8 (a disc comes in the box), you may not miss the larger touchpad.
As far as basic performance goes, the Tecra’s touchpad is okay, but not great. It gets the job done without too much frustration. But the clicking mechanism (there are no dedicated mouse buttons below the touchpad) feels a bit hollow and cheap for a pricey business laptop.
A fingerprint reader sits below the touchpad, although its silver metal finish looks out of place against the understated gray found in the rest of the laptop’s exterior. You can nix the reader if you don’t need the security, and shave $20 off the Z40’s price.
A matte screen, but we’d like more pixels (and a better panel)
Because the Tecra lacks a touchscreen, it’s also not reflective—which is great for productivity purposes if you have harsh overhead lights or an office with a window. At just 1,366 x 768, the screen’s resolution is pretty paltry for the price. You can step up to a 1,600 x 900 panel for $40 extra. But at this point, a higher-resolution screen should come standard on anything over $1,000. Heck, Lenovo’s Yoga 2 Pro has a crazy 3,200×1,800 screen and can be had for a bit under $1,000. And then of course there’s the Retina-display MacBook Pro, which starts at $1,299.
Resolution issues aside, the screen here is about what we’d expect from a budget system, not an expensive business laptop. On the plus side, color and brightness are quite uniform across the whole screen. But on the minus side is, well, just about everything else. In Datacolor’s Spyder4 tests, the Tecra’s screen delivered poor contrast and below-average brightness. And don’t plan on doing any serious image or video editing on this screen, as it was only able to reproduce 61 percent of the sRGB scale and 46 percent of Adobe’s RGB. Of laptop screens we’ve tested lately, only Lenovo’s Flex 14 was worse, and that’s a system with a fold-over hinge that starts at just $479.
Components & configuration options
As we’d expect with a business laptop, the Tecra Z40 is plenty configurable. It starts at $800 with 4GB of RAM, a Core i3 Haswell CPU, and the same 500GB of storage as the model we tested. The price rises pretty steeply when you step up to a Core i5 and 8GB of RAM ($1,229). And for a Core i7-4600U processor, 8GB of RAM, and a 7,200RPM hard drive (the model we tested), you’ll have to pay $1,429.
Interestingly, as we hinted at earlier, the pre-configured models come with Windows 7 installed and a Windows 8.1 Pro license and recovery discs in the box. We’re sure many business users would prefer a familiar Windows 7 environment over the drastically different Win 8, but if you don’t need the business-specific features of Windows Pro, you can opt for the standard version of Windows 8.1 and save yourself $100.
Running light tasks like email, Web, and Word docks, you should get about nine hours before having to reach for the Z40’s charger.
As we said, if you aren’t happy with the low-res display (which you shouldn’t be for this price), you can step up to a 1,600×900 panel for $40 more. Also, there are solid-state storage options, but you’ll have to pay extra for those as well. $30 extra will get you a 128GB SSD, or $155 more gets you a 256GB drive. The good news is you (or your IT person) should be able to also install a standard hard drive, as the SSDs Toshiba offers are mSATA drives, which don’t occupy the standard hard drive bay. It’s a bit odd that, as far as we can see, Toshiba doesn’t offer this as a configuration option.
As for how the Tecra’s price with these components stacks up to the competition, what Toshiba’s offering isn’t too bad. A similarly configured HP EliteBook 840 G1 costs a bit more, as does a similar Lenovo X1 Carbon. But with the Lenovo, at least, you’ll get a higher-resolution screen and a better keyboard if you pay a bit more.
Apple’s MacBook Pro offers some stiff competition, too, if you aren’t married to Windows. The 13-inch base model starts at just $1299. Granted, to get a similar CPU and 8GB of RAM, you’ll have to spend $1,699. But you’ll also get a super-fast PCI Express SSD for that price, exceedingly long battery life, and a Retina Display screen that is, well, everything that the Tecra’s screen isn’t.
Pretty good performance, but great battery life
As configured with its Haswell Core i7-4600U processor and 8GB of RAM, the Tecra Z40-A certainly is no slouch when it comes to performance. Because it has no solid-state storage and comes with Windows 7 rather than Win 8, though, it takes about 30 seconds to boot, which is slow for a laptop this pricey these days.
In PCMark 7, which measures a system’s overall performance abilities, the Tecra’s lack of solid-state storage hurt it as well. Its score of 2,664 is by no means bad. But Lenovo’s SSD-equipped Yoga 2 Pro did much better with a score of 4,722 on the same test.
When strictly measuring CPU performance, though, the Tecra looks better. In the 7-Zip Compression test, the Tecra turned in a score of 7,121, versus the Yoga Pro 2’s showing of 7,080 on the same test.
As for graphics performance, first keep in mind we’re dealing with Intel integrated graphics here, in the form of the HD 4400 chip with this model. In 3DMark’s mid-range Cloud Gate test, the Tecra scored 4,292—a bit better than the Yoga 2 Pro’s 3,889 on the same test. Bottom line: you should be able to play most games on the Tecra, and often at medium settings, thanks to its low-resolution screen. But it’s still a business laptop. If you want a good gaming experience at a similar price, you’ll probably want to consider something like the Origin EON13-S.
As for heat and noise, the Tecra Z40 isn’t much of an offender. It topped out at a bit under 93 degrees in our testing, and that’s on the top of the laptop, above the keyboard. The underside remained a degree or two cooler than that, even when pushing the processor or graphics heavily.
The Tecra Z40 vents out of the left side, and objectively, at least, it’s reasonably quiet. In our sound testing, it never got louder than 42.7dB, which isn’t all that much louder than our 40dB baseline office setting. But we did note that the fan’s pitch is high when the laptop is under heavy load, which makes it more noticeable—at least to our ears. But unless your work involves very heavy number crunching, or other tasks that max out the CPU or graphics, the laptop’s fan shouldn’t be overly annoying.
Battery life is where the Tecra excels the most. Running light productivity tasks like email, Web, and Word docks, you should get about nine hours before having to reach for the charger. Under heavy load in our Battery Eater test, it lasted 2 hours and 25 minutes, or about as long as Dells’ Inspiron 14 7000 Series (2:27), and longer than the Yoga 2 Pro (2:06). But in the less-demanding Reader’s test, the Tecra hung on for an impressive 10 hours and 36 minutes (Toshiba modestly claims up to 9 hours). By comparison, the Dell Inspiron lasted 8 hours and 10 minutes on this test, and the Yoga conked out in just 6 hours and 29 minutes, likely due to its super-high-resolution screen.
There’s just no getting around the fact that business laptops are pricey compared to standard consumer-focused devices. If you don’t need business-focused features like Intel’s vPro remote management and security hardware, the pricier Pro version of Windows, or a rugged, road-friendly shell, you can get a similarly equipped consumer laptop for a whole lot less than the $1,429 asking price of this configuration of the Tecra Z40-A. But Toshiba’s latest business line doesn’t seem overpriced compared to competing machines from Lenovo, Dell, or HP. And this model at least delivers impressive battery life.
Still, we’d at least suggest considering some alternative options that offer solid-state storage and a better, higher-resolution screen at this price. Lenovo’s ThinkPads definitely deliver better input devices, but those laptops also often have lackluster screens.
At the very least, you’re probably better off playing with Toshiba’s online configuration options rather than opting for this pre-configured high-end model. We were able to put together a Z40-A with a slightly lesser Core i5 processor, a stepped-up 1,600×900 screen, and a 128GB SSD for $1,224. For most business users, that’s a smarter selection of components at a significantly lower price.
- Surprisingly light, thanks to magnesium shell
- Great battery life
- Stays relatively cool under load
- No solid-state storage at this price
- Competing machines have better input devices
- Lid has more flex than we’d like from a business laptop
- Screen is low-res, considering price, otherwise isn’t great