Toshiba KIRAbook hands-on preview

Toshiba has launched an entirely new line of premium Ultrabooks, as we reported yesterday, bringing an eye-popping, high resolution display and touch capability to the slim dimensions of an Ultrabook. The Toshiba KIRAbook features a display on par with Apple's Retina, and combines high quality construction with an impressive list of features.

Three different configurations of the laptop have been announced in the US, but the UK launch date and pricing is still to be confirmed by Toshiba. It will go on pre-order in the States on 3 May (going on sale 12 May), and will hopefully make its way over here before too long.

The KIRAbook will start at $1,599.99 (£1,040) for an ultra-low-voltage Core i5 processor notebook with no touch capability. For $1,799.99 (£1,170) you get touch, while $1,999.99 (£1,300) provides an Intel Core i7-3537U processor, also with a touchscreen.

We had a chance to see and use the new KIRAbook, and Toshiba has pulled out all the stops to earn the KIRAbook's spot among premium systems, and to justify its high sticker price.

Display and touch

The standout feature of this laptop is its stunning display. Boasting a resolution of 2,560 x 1,440, the KIRAbook is set to be the first Windows notebook to ship with this quality of display. Toshiba's PixelPure high resolution display rivals the Retina display seen on the Apple MacBook Pro 13in, and the monster resolution screen of the Google Chromebook Pixel. There's also little need to worry about the high-res screen rendering text unreadably small or resizing windows in odd sizes thanks to an included utility for easily adjusting DPI, settings, text size, and the like.

Like the Chromebook Pixel, the KIRAbook also offers touch with 10-finger tracking, but adds edge-to-edge Corning Concore Glass to help resist scratching and damage. The KIRAbook is designed with an extra-wide, extra-firm hinge, so there's very little screen wobble when using the touch-enabled display. On the non-touch configuration, instead of edge-to-edge glass, there is the usual bezel surrounding the display, though the picture quality remains impeccable. In the above image, the non-touch model is on the left, and the touch-enabled display on the right (the non-touch bezel is also pictured below).

With touch or not, the display stands out. Throughout our hands-on time with the KIRAbook, it was hard to pull my eyes away from the screen, especially when the quality was demoed with eye-popping footage shot with a RED camera. With 221 pixels per inch, stars stand out as pinpricks of light, sharper than even 1080p can offer. Splashes and sprays of water can be examined right down to the individual droplets. It was impressive when Apple introduced the Retina display on the MacBook Pro, and the Chromebook Pixel's display was arresting, and the KIRAbook is no different. This is one premium feature that hasn't yet lost its magic.

Complementing the quality display is audio from Harman-Kardon, with two downward firing speakers concealed on the underside of the laptop. The sound from the downward firing speakers may vary in quality depending on the surface the KIRAbook rests upon – a solid wood desk or table will sound different to when the laptop is propped against a couch cushion or balanced on a user's knees – but what we heard was sharp and clear, with enough volume to fill a medium-sized room.

Design

Measuring 18mm thick and weighing only 1.2kg, the 13in KIRAbook has a smaller footprint than the MacBook Pro, and is lighter than the MacBook and the Chromebook Pixel.

The KIRAbook is slim, but it's definitely not flimsy, thanks to an all-metal chassis made from AZ-91 magnesium alloy, a light but strong metal used in numerous industrial applications.

The lid features pressed magnesium construction for added durability and resistance to scuffs and scratches, while the chassis and palmrest are die-cast with an internal honeycomb ribbed structure to make it stronger and lighter, greatly reducing the amount of give in the chassis. When picked up by the corner, there was almost no flexing felt.

Inside, Toshiba keeps everything cool with a high-torque cooling fan, and two cooling vents – one on the underside of the laptop and another concealed within the hinge. A smaller webcam allows for narrower bezels around the display, which in turn makes for a larger screen in smaller overall dimensions.

As a final touch, for added visibility and comfort, the keyboard has gotten special attention. The keyboard is designed with a slight curvature instead of the fully flat layout used on most Ultrabooks, which should make for a slightly more comfortable typing experience. Each key is also individually backlit, and we saw very little light leakage around the edges of the keys.

Specs

As we’ve already mentioned, the KIRAbook comes in three configurations, with either an Intel Core i5-3337U processor (available with or without touch) or an Intel Core i7-3537U. Aside from the differences in processor and touch capability, the KIRAbook comes with 8GB of RAM, and utilises Intel's integrated graphics. A 256GB solid-state drive offers speedy storage – more storage than either the Chromebook Pixel or the base model MacBook Pro with Retina. Port selection includes three USB 3.0 ports (all black, instead of the usual blue), a full-size HDMI output, an SD card reader, and headset jack with Toshiba's Sleep n' Music feature.

Software and services

Toshiba has also placed significant emphasis upon software and services, aiming for a premium "post-purchase experience." Preinstalled on the KIRAbook are Adobe Photoshop Elements and Adobe Premiere Elements, for taking full advantage of the high resolution screen. Toshiba also includes a two year subscription to the full Norton suite (Norton Internet Security, Norton Online Backup, and Norton Theft Protection), considerably more generous than the usual 1 or 2 month trial periods included on mainstream systems.

Toshiba takes the "post-purchase experience" further with a two year warranty and "Platinum Service and Support" package, including tech support through a dedicated call centre, and rapid service and repair, promising a turnaround of system repairs within four days.

All told, the new Toshiba KIRAbook line looks to be a welcome addition to the premium Ultrabook category, pushing forward consumer expectations for display quality and design. We can't make a clear determination about performance and value until we've had a chance to evaluate it more closely, but the Toshiba KIRAbook is definitely one of the premium Ultrabooks we're looking forward to getting into the labs for testing.