There's nothing wrong with the mainstream Toshiba Tecra A5 laptop. It offers a fairly light though largely nondescript case, lots of unremarkable components, such as a Celeron M processor and a DVD-ROM/CD-RW drive, average performance and battery life, and a decent price of £660. Unfortunately, none of these mundane attributes makes the Tecra A5 just so perfect you have to have it. For an especially cheap business-oriented portable, find an identically configured Dell Latitude D510; for a more expensive and full-featured package, go with the ThinkPad R52.
Where size and weight are concerned, the Tecra A5 resides on the wider yet lighter side of the business/mainstream divide. It weighs 2.4kg and measures 343mm wide, 241mm deep and 38mm thick. In contrast, the Dell Latitude D510 and the ThinkPad R52 have narrower cases but weigh nearly 500g more than the Tecra A5. The Tecra A5's heavy AC adaptor adds around 450g to your total travel weight.
The staid silver-and-black, corporate-looking Tecra A5 is a stripped-down version of the system's more colourful, more expensive consumer counterpart, the Satellite M55. Though both laptops feature an identical keyboard layout, the Tecra A5's clattery board feels cheap compared to the sturdy, extraquiet one on the Satellite M55. Both portables feature small mouse buttons, but their touch pads are large and comfortable to use. Like the Satellite M50, the Tecra A5 offers a wide-aspect, 14-inch display with a 1,280x768-pixel native resolution, but this business-focused portable lacks the multimedia controls and the Harman Kardon speakers found on its consumer-oriented cousin. The Tecra A5 does feature two programmable application buttons next to the keyboard, and its front edge has a handy Wi-Fi on/off switch and a volume wheel.
The Tecra A5 incorporates a complete set of connectors that will suit the needs of most business employees. First and foremost, it offers four USB 2.0 ports -- one more than you'll usually find on a mainstream portable. The list also includes S-video out, four-pin FireWire and VGA ports, modem, Ethernet, microphone and headphone jacks, one Type II PC Card slot and a 5-in-1 flash-card slot that accepts Memory Stick/Memory Stick Pro, Secure Digital, MultiMediaCard and xD-Picture media. As you would expect with such a low-priced laptop, the Tecra A5 lacks such heavy-duty security features as a Trusted Platform Module or a fingerprint reader.
Due to its business bent, the Tecra A5 ships with the Windows XP Professional operating system. Like most other business-laptop manufacturers, Toshiba doesn't bundle an expensive productivity suite with the system, but it does throw in a copy of the Microsoft Works 8.0 minisuite for businesses that are still in need of the basics. Otherwise, the Tecra A5 includes the usual software suspects: Sonic RecordNow and DLA (Drive Letter Access) to help with disc-burning tasks; InterVideo WinDVD 5.0 for assistance with watching videos; and Toshiba's convenient ConfigFree utility for programming the system's application buttons, configuring wireless settings and performing other maintenance tasks on the laptop.
Though our Tecra A5 test model is available only from retail stores and online resellers, and Toshiba's Web site provides details of retailers near your postcode. The Tecra A5 we tested comes in at £700 (RRP as of September 2005), which is an appropriate price for its commonplace components: an economical 1.5GHz Celeron M 370 processor; a scant 256MB of middling 333MHz SDRAM (we recommend at least 512MB for any business system); a small 40GB, 5,400rpm hard drive; a cost-cutting Intel 915GM chipset, which steals 128MB of video memory from the main RAM; an adequate but uninspiring DVD-ROM/CD-RW drive; and a baseline Atheros 802.11b/g Wi-Fi card. A Dell Latitude D510 configured with nearly all the same parts (save a slightly slower 1.4GHz Celeron M processor and a cheaper 1,024x768-pixel native screen resolution) costs more than £50 less than the Tecra A5.