Toshiba S50-B-14P review

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Sensible business laptops are Toshiba’s bread and butter, so we had high expectations for the Satellite S50-B-14P. We’ve previously reviewed the Toshiba S50T-B-10H, and we were pleased with its looks and performance but very disappointed with its non-Full HD touch screen. For the S50-B-14P, Toshiba has swapped out the touch-sensitive panel, equipped the laptop with a Full HD screen and dropped the Intel Core i7 processor for an i5 chip. All this results in a laptop costing nearly £200 less but looking much more attractive on paper.

Unlike many desktop replacement laptops on the market, the Satellite S50-B-14P is both thin and relatively light. This does come at the expense of an optical drive, but if you’re not a heavy DVD or CD user this shouldn’t be too much of an issue. At just 2.08kg it’s one of the lighter desktop replacements we’ve tested, and at just 2cm tall it’s more than a third thinner than most of the bulky machines we’ve had on test. In other words, this desktop replacement can easily double up as a portable machine if you want to pick it up and take it out.

It’s made from brushed aluminium-style plastic, which looks great from a distance but does feel slightly cheap: the lid in particular is surprisingly flexible. The wrist rest and keyboard tray feel a little more solid, and the keys are satisfying to use despite their lack of travel and bounce. They’re quiet, grippy and comfortable and we found it very easy to build up to quick typing speeds, with no missed key presses. The touchpad is nice and responsive, too, making the Satellite S50-B-14P a effective laptop for working on while on the move. We were concerned by a rather large and unsightly gap that appeared between the chassis and the touchpad, as well as a very loose panel between the two screen hinges. These, plus the flexible lid, make us wonder whether this laptop can survive the rigors of life being shoved into bags and dropped onto desks.

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A Gigabit Ethernet port and a USB2 port are on the left edge of the chassis while two USB3 connectors, a 3.5mm headset port and a full-size HDMI output can be found on the right. There’s also a card reader set into the curve under the front of the chassis. Inside, there’s a 128GB SSD instead of the 1TB mechanical hard disk seen in the S50T-B-10H. For some this may be problem because once it’s been partitioned and had Windows 8.1 installed on it, there’s just under 60GB of space remaining. We’d have liked to have seen a mechanical hard disk, for storage, as well.

The speakers aren’t up to much, despite their Harman Kardon branding. Music and speech sound messy, with the built-in audio “enhancements” constantly messing with the sound balance, trying to bring out speech, then bass, the midtones seemingly at random. It makes for a confusing and unsatisfying experience.

The Full HD screen on this laptop is good for the money. We measured the screen as able to display 81.5% of the sRGB colour gamut. High contrast levels of 1034:1 and decent black levels of 0.31cd/m2 make for reasonably vibrant and detailed images. The glossy screen won’t be to everyone’s taste, and we found it rather difficult to find a position where our bright office lights didn’t cause problems with viewing images and text on the screen.

The dual-core, 1.7GHz Intel Core i5-4210U is built for power and thermal efficiency, but it can still perform admirably when demand requires it, turbo boosting to a clock speed of 2.7GHz. It’s capable of whizzing through Windows and web pages in a flash, and more complex multimedia tasks are helped along by the presence of an entry-level AMD Radeon R7 M260 graphics chip with 2GB of memory. In our multimedia benchmarking tests the laptop managed a perhaps slightly disappointing overall score of 49. Its performance peaked in the image-rendering test, in which it scored 70. Tasks needing faster multi core performance brought the average down, though, with scores of 46 and 43 for the video conversion and multitasking tests respectively. They’re not terrible scores by any means, but you will find yourself waiting around longer if you’re going to be performing more complex tasks on this laptop.

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The AMD Radeon R7 M260 graphics card in this machine is included more as a performance boost for multimedia tasks than as a gaming tool. In the Dirt Showdown benchmark test at 1,280×720 pixel resolution and High detail the S50-B-14P managed a just-playable frame rate of 30.8fps. At Full HD resolution and Ultra detail, 15fps was all it could muster. You’ll definitely be able to play basic games such as Minecraft on this laptop, but more advanced games will be beyond its reach.

The battery lasted for 5h 17m in our our battery benchmark test. For a powerful laptop, this is fine, but considering its weight and thinness, it would have been nice to be able to take this laptop out for a full day without having to worry about battery life.

Overall, we’re happy with the Toshiba Satellite S50-B-14P. The Full HD screen is well worth the price of swapping out the i7 processor for the i5, although some may be upset by the lack of high capacity storage. Our main gripe with this laptop is build quality, which we feel should be much better at this price. There’s no excuse for gaps between panels and loose pieces of plastic, especially in a laptop that’s inevitably going to be taken out and about. At this price, the Asus N551JK is a better choice, although it is heavier.

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