After the flurry of models in 2012 and early 2013, the Ultrabook had settled down into a formula, whilst hybrids began to steal the show instead. Now, however, we are starting to see new Ultrabook models with some interesting innovations. Toshiba's KIRA 101 does follow the general features of the format, with a 13.3in display and svelte 1.35kg body – but there are some key features that push the KIRA beyond the ordinary.
The most significant of these is the screen. Where the norm for 13.3in Ultrabooks is often still a 1,366 x 768 resolution, the KIRA boasts a Retina-like 2,560 x 1,440 pixels. The desktop fonts are set up so that text is not ridiculously small, but high-resolution images look beautifully detailed and clear. For example, we compared a photo of the wrinkles on an elephant's trunk with a desktop display sporting a 1,680 x 1,050 resolution and there was a very clear difference in definition and contrast. Pachyderm enthusiasts won't be disappointed.
This is a touchscreen as well, and although we're still unconvinced about the utility of a touchscreen on a notebook that has no facility to be used as a tablet, its inclusion has at least resulted in no obvious loss of brightness. The screen is a bit glossy, which mars visibility a little in bright lighting, but viewing angles are generally very good, so you can share the love of the many pixels with a group of friends. The KIRA comes with Windows 8.1, so the user experience on a standard notebook doesn't make a touchscreen quite so essential either.
The brushed metal finish is attractive and quite classy, albeit more understated compared to, for example, Samsung's Series 9 NP900X3D. The Chiclet-style keyboard's action is a little soft for our tastes, but still comfortable for extended typing sessions. The large trackpad has integrated buttons with only very subtle ridges to distinguish their locations. However, it's placed slightly to the left almost directly beneath the spacebar, which is optimal for avoiding accidental hand brushing whilst typing.
Powering the KIRA is a processor from Intel's latest and fourth Core i7 generation, codenamed Haswell. This is a Core i7 4500U, which is a dual-core CPU running at a nominal 1.8GHz, although neither of these specifications tell much of the real story. Hyper-Threading means that there are four virtual cores on offer, and Turbo Boost 2.0 ensures that the notebook will almost never be running at 1.8GHz. A single core can operate at 3GHz, and a dynamic increase in power from 15W to 25W allows both cores to operate at this speed. Alternatively, the CPU can drop to 11.5W and run at 800MHz for truly miserly consumption.
The processor has been partnered with 8GB of 1,600MHz DDR3 SDRAM, which is the standard allocation for the KIRA 101. This is double what was the norm a year or so ago, and should keep this notebook usable for a decent lifespan. Graphics acceleration is also supplied by the Intel processor, in the guise of Intel HD Graphics 4400. This has 25 per cent more execution units than the HD Graphics 4000 that partnered processors from Intel's Ivy Bridge generation, so it’s not a huge leap, but still welcome.
The 256GB Toshiba THSNJ256GMCT solid state disk is likewise twice the de facto size of Ultrabook storage a year ago, so will provide plenty of space for applications and multimedia content. It should also maximise the KIRA's performance and battery life. As per the standard for most Ultrabooks, there is no optical drive, so the SD card reader is the only option when it comes to removable storage.
The KIRA is reasonably endowed in terms of external connectivity. On the left, next to the power port is a full-sized HDMI connection plus a pair of USB 3.0 connections. The right is home to the SD card reader, plus a combined headphone and microphone minijack, as well as a further USB 3.0 port. One port that's missing is wired Ethernet, but most users probably won't miss this, particularly as the KIRA isn't particularly focused on the corporate user. There's no VGA either, even via an adapter, but again the chances of needing this are beginning to fade.
We ran our usual comprehensive suite of performance tests, with few surprises. The score of 2.93 in the Cinebench R11.5 rendering test is good for an Ultrabook, and in fact identical to the Asus Zenbook UX302L, which is no shock considering that the latter has an identical processor. The OpenGL result of 23.17 is also almost exactly the same. The KIRA scored 2290 in the Home portion and 3064 in the Work portion of Futuremark's PC Mark 8. Both are markedly behind Lenovo's ThinkPad Yoga, to pick out another example for comparison, but the KIRA should still be able to handle business software with considerable ease.
Although the Intel HD Graphics 4400 are an improvement on the previous generation, the result of 1043 in Futuremark 3DMark 11 is nothing to write home about, although it is on par with the Asus Zenbook UX302L. You don't tend to buy an Ultrabook for top-end gaming performance, but you do want it to last a healthy amount of time away from the power socket, and the KIRA delivers well in this department.
We switched to Toshiba's eco mode when it came to evaluating battery longevity, as Toshiba provides this option as standard to optimise duration on the go. In our gruelling Battery Eater test, the KIRA endured a very creditable 188 minutes, which is one of the better scores we have seen from an Ultrabook. This translated to a highly impressive 351 minutes in the PC Mark 8 battery test, running the Home workload. Lenovo's ThinkPad Yoga managed 10 minutes longer, but this still equates to the best part of six hours of mixed application work away from the power socket, which is pretty much what you want from an Ultrabook.
There is no doubt that the Toshiba KIRA 101 is an excellent Ultrabook. It has a class-leading display, great battery life, and adequately future-proofed memory and storage allocations. Unfortunately, the larger SSD and (most likely) the pin-sharp screen push its price up to £1,300 and into distinctly premium territory. This could make the KIRA 101 a notebook that is hard to afford, but you are likely to want one nonetheless.
Manufacturer and Model
Toshiba KIRA 101
1.8GHz Intel Core i7 4500U
8GB DDR3 SDRAM
Intel HD 4400
256GB Toshiba THSNJ256GMCT solid state disk
13.3in Toshiba PixelPure High Performance WQHD LED-backlit touch TFT with 2,560 x 1,440 pixels
802.11ac + a/b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0 +LE
3 x USB 3.0, HDMI, combo headphone / microphone, SD card reader
Width x Depth x Height
316 x 207 x 19.8mm
1 year European carry-in