Modern work laptops are sleek and portable, but most models don't do much to support legacy hardware and software. That's what helps Toshiba's Tecra A40 stand out; it offers a VGA port to connect to monitors and projectors, and its built-in optical DVD drive makes installing older software a snap.
You also get a roomy 14-inch display and solid performance in an affordably priced package that will cost you just $807. But for all of the Tecra A40's high points, the system's short battery life, a low screen resolution and an uncomfortable keyboard hold it back.
Commuters and frequent travelers may lament the fact that the Tecra A40 is heftier than its closest competitors, tipping the scales at 4 lbs. That's heavier than Lenovo's 3-lb. ThinkPad T460s, HP's 3.4-lb. EliteBook 745 G3, and Dell's 3.8-lb. Latitude E5470.
On the other hand, a little extra weight is understandable when the system includes features that the other notebooks lack, particularly its optical DVD drive. Regardless, the Tecra A40 is probably a poor choice if you need to lug your laptop between home and the office.
The Tecra A40's plastic design feels a bit cheap compared with rival systems like the Thinkpad T460s and the Latitude E5470, both of which offer carbon-fiber-reinforced shells. On the bright side, the Tecra A40's lid and keyboard deck have a faux-brushed-metal finish that looks stylish – even if they're both fingerprint magnets.
You won't have to pick up any adapters to get the Tecra A40 to work with the equipment in your office, since the system has just about every port a worker could want. The left edge includes an SD card for expanding the system's internal storage, a USB 3.0 port for connecting accessories, and a DVD drive, which will come in handy for installing and running legacy software.
The right edge, meanwhile, adds two additional USB 3.0 ports; VGA and HDMI out ports for linking the notebook to a monitor or projector; and an Ethernet jack for connecting to wired internet or secure office networks.
While the Tecra A40 feels sturdy, it lacks the business-class toughness of rival systems. Both the Lenovo ThinkPad T560s and the Dell Latitude E5470 offer military-grade durability, and were tested to withstand drops, dings, dust, high temperatures and altitudes, and other harsh conditions. The Tecra A40, meanwhile, offers no durability guarantees that you wouldn't get from a typical consumer laptop, save one: Toshiba says it has a spill-resistant keyboard.
That doesn't mean the system is impervious to spills, though. If you accidentally spill a glass of water into the keyboard, Toshiba says that users should have enough time to save their work and shut the system down before the internal circuitry is damaged. Other laptops offer even better spill-resistance, though; for example, most new Lenovo ThinkPad models are actually able to divert spills to a drainage hole on the bottom of the system.
The Tecra A40 offers good enough security options to please corporate IT managers, including a built-in fingerprint reader and hardware encryption.
The fingerprint reader is located just to the right of the Tecra A40's touchpad, along the front edge of the system. Unfortunately, it's an older swipe-based reader, which requires you to slowly slide your finger down over the sensor. When it worked, it promptly whisked me away to my desktop so I could get working, but it often failed to recognize my print the first time. Single-touch sensors, like the one on the ThinkPad T60s, are more reliable.
Our review unit also included a Trusted Platform Module (TPM) chip, which enables hardware-based encryption. It's a big perk for workers since it helps ensure that thieves and hackers can't access your private work data.
The Tecra A40's biggest weakness as a work machine might be its disappointing display, which is dim and not nearly sharp enough considering its size. The 14-inch panel has a middling resolution of 1366 x 768 pixels, which makes split-screen multitasking on the machine feel really cramped. Rival systems, including the ThinkPad T460s and the Latitude E5470, let you upgrade to a full-HD (1080p) display at checkout. The higher-res screens are more expensive, but crucial for screen-intensive productivity work.
Topping out at 188 nits of brightness, the Tecra A40's display is also pretty dim, making it harder to view outdoors or in sunny rooms. It's easily outshined by the E5470 (278 nits) and the ThinkPad T460s (240 nits).
My first impression of the Tecra A40's keyboard was good, since the system offers a generous 1.6 millimeters of key travel on each stroke. That's above the 1.5mm we typically look for in a laptop. Deeper keys provide a more comfortable, desktop-like typing experience. Plus, I liked that the keyboard offers backlighting for low-light typing (shown below.)
Unfortunately, I found myself committing uncharacteristic typos once I actually starting typing on the Tecra A40. I think that's because the keys are undersized, measuring a shorter distance from top to bottom than is standard. That gives the whole keyboard a slightly cramped feeling, and occasionally led me to strike the wrong key.
I do like the extra row of keys that Toshiba added to the right of the standard QWERTY keyboard layout, which are handy for navigating up and down documents and web pages.
The 3.9 x 2.2-inch touchpad, meanwhile, felt responsive for basic cursor navigation. The pad itself clicks in for left and right clicks, but it feels quite stiff and shallow. There's also a blue pointing nub, located between the G, H and B keys, which let me accurately position the mouse cursor without moving my hands from home row on the keyboard.
I had no complaints while multitasking on the Tecra A40, which came equipped with a Core i5-6500U processor with 8GB of RAM and a 500GB hard drive. The notebook zipped along nicely, without a hint of lag while I edited a large spreadsheet with about a dozen tabs open in my Firefox web browser, even with HD video streaming in the background.
The system racked up a respectable score of 5,846 on the Geekbench 3 test, which measures overall performance. That's solid, even if it slightly trails the thin-and-light notebook average of 6,271. The discrepancy probably comes from the Tecra A40's sluggish 7,200rpm hard drive; most competing notebooks are equipped with speedy solid-state storage drives.
On the bright side, the Tecra did pretty well on our spreadsheet test, matching 20,000 names to their addresses in just 4 minutes and 30 seconds. That easily beats the notebook category average of 5 and a half minutes, even if the ThinkPad T460s and the Latitude E5470 finished slightly quicker.
The Tecra A40's disappointing battery might not last through a long business flight. The system ran for just 6 hours and 44 minutes on our battery test, which simulates continuous web browsing over Wi-Fi. That's lot shorter than the thin-and-light laptop average of 8 hours and 6 minutes. And the Tecra A40 was also outlasted by its closest rivals, including the ThinkPad T460s (7:21) and the Latitude E5470 (7:16).
At least Toshiba's notebook ran longer the HP EliteBook 745 G3, which died after a paltry 5 hours and 54 minutes on the same battery test.
Toshiba sells the Tecra A40 in just a single hardware configuration, which comes with an Intel Core i5-6500U processor with 8GB of RAM and a 500GB hard drive. That's unfortunate, since the option to upgrade the display to a full-HD (1080p) panel would go a long way toward improving the system's viability as a productivity machine.
If you can't get by without a DVD burner, or you desperately need a VGA port for connecting your laptop to an older projector, then Toshiba's Tecra A40 isn't a bad option. In addition to its good legacy hardware and software support, the system offers solid performance and strong security at a very affordable $807.
If you don't mind paying $100-200 more, there are simply better options. Dell's Latitude E5470 and Lenovo's ThinkPad T460s are both very well-rounded notebooks, and each offers a comfier keyboard, longer battery life and tougher durability credentials than the Tecra A40. They also give you the option to upgrade to a higher-res display, which I consider a must-have for workers.
For the price, though, the Tecra A40 is a solid work laptop with a couple of key advantages.