The Toshiba KIRAbook is a high-end Ultrabook cut from the same cloth as the Apple MacBook Pro Retina Display and the Google Chromebook Pixel. All of these are ultraportable laptops with higher than 1080p resolution screens – and more of these super-resolution notebooks are on the way, such as Samsung’s Ativ Book 9 Plus.
The KIRAbook’s screen certainly gives you visual fireworks, and this laptop is thin and light, too. That said, the KIRAbook is really pricey for an Ultrabook, and while the screen and other features will wow you, the price tag puts a serious dampener on things. It's a really nice laptop, but this top-end model isn’t necessarily $2,000 (£1,300) worth of nice.
The KIRAbook is a slim and svelte Ultrabook that measures about 320 x 210 x 18mm (WxDxH), and weighs 1.25kg. Granted, that’s measurably thicker than the 12mm thick Acer Aspire S7, but the KIRAbook is lighter than the S7 to the tune of 50 grams (though it’s not a difference you’ll likely notice, of course). At any rate, the KIRAbook will fit into most travel bags easily, and with its magnesium alloy exterior and Corning Concore glass screen, you won't have to worry about the occasional drop while it's in that bag.
The top lid has a brushed metal finish, while the bottom lid is matt. The keyboard deck has a matching brushed metal finish to it, with a wide one-piece trackpad ringed by a chrome insert. Toshiba has gone minimal with the KIRAbook, since the only visible embellishments are the LED ring around the power button and the adjacent single LED to tell you that Wi-Fi is on. There's a charging indicator LED on the left side of the system as well.
The sides of the system house the KIRAbook's three USB 3.0 ports (two left, one right), HDMI-out port, SD card reader, and headset jack. The USB ports are black instead of the more common blue, but that’s okay since there aren't any USB 2.0 ports to confuse the user. This is where the KIRAbook's extra girth comes in handy: You won't need an adapter to use the full-sized HDMI port, unlike the micro-HDMI port on the slimmer Acer Aspire S7.
The KIRAbook has a backlit keyboard. The row of function keys above the numbers defaults to their more useful functions (volume, play, fast-forward, etc.) rather than F1-F12, which makes more sense for most users. There are a few keys which are smaller than standard, like Page Up and Down, but on the whole the keyboard is comfortable, even with its slightly shallow keystroke.
The KIRAbook's 13.3in screen is its centrepiece, coming in at a brilliant 2,560 x 1,440 resolution. This is 221 pixels per inch (ppi), about the same as the 220 ppi Apple MacBook Pro 15in Retina Display, but a smidge lower than the 239 ppi Google ChromeBook Pixel. The screen looked great when we played 4k QFHD (3,840 x 2,160) videos streamed from the Internet, though it's notable that these videos took quite some time to buffer, even over a 40Mbit FIOS connection.
Viewing 1080p streaming videos from Netflix looked fine as well, though of course without the eye-popping detail that you get in 4k. The strength of the 2,560 x 1,440 display comes into play when you use the system for editing photos and videos, since you can concentrate on large swaths of a 12-megapixel image without having to zoom in too far. You can also edit a 1080p HD video at full resolution even if you surround your workspace screen with a plethora of toolbars. To this end, Toshiba has included a copy of both Adobe Photoshop Elements and Premiere Elements. The KIRAbook's screen has 10-point touch, which is a must for a Windows 8 laptop at this price.
Toshiba also includes quite a few other preloaded apps, including Skype, Vimeo, Netflix, Amazon, eBay, Toshiba Book Place, and Norton Internet Security. The copy of Norton Internet Security is notable because it includes a two-year subscription, which is excellent and almost unheard of today, when month long trials are the norm. The KIRAbook also includes two years of technical support on a specialised Platinum support plan that promises a direct line to support techs including callback service.
The top of the line i7 system we reviewed came with a 256GB SSD, which is plenty of space for many users. All three configurations of KIRAbook come with 256GB of storage, and if you need more, it's easy to hook up a USB 3.0 drive.
There are a few drawbacks to the compact design. Although the touchscreen has enough friction to avoid bouncing when you touch it, the sides of the screen have very small bezels. While this makes the system look slimmer than other touchscreen systems, it also means that swipes from off screen (like the ones used by the Charm bar under Windows 8) can be awkward.
The KIRAbook also lacks 802.11ac or 5GHz Wi-Fi, being strictly limited to 2.4GHz 802.11 b/g/n. This isn't a huge deal for most, but if you live in a crowded neighbourhood, you’ll want 5GHz Wi-Fi to avoid the traffic of your neighbours’ wireless routers. Also note that while the screen is brilliant, you may have to fiddle with zoom and screen resolution settings on older games and programs: They may not display correctly scaled up to 2,560 x 1,440.
Performance on the KIRAbook was a mixed bag, but mostly good. The Intel Core i7-3537U processor, 8GB of memory, and 256GB SSD combined to give us an excellent 5,229 score on PCMark7, which measures day-to-day performance. The KIRAbook was also very good on the multimedia tests (Handbrake and Photoshop CS6).
The big performance issue for the KIRAbook is its lack of discrete graphics. In order to shrink down to Ultrabook standards, the KIRAbook utilises integrated Intel HD Graphics 4000. While HD Graphics 4000 is fine for casual and browser-based games, it can't hold a candle to a discrete solution, such as the Nvidia GeForce GT 650M graphics in Apple’s MacBook Pro 15in. While they may not miss the GPU for its 3D gaming prowess, graphic artists and videographers will prefer to have a GPU helping them out with professional graphics apps like the full CS6 versions of Photoshop and Premiere.
The KIRAbook managed a passable 5 hours and 50 minutes on our battery rundown test. However, the MacBook Pro Retina Display laptops last over 7 hours, so the KIRAbook is good, but not the best.
If you want to spend $2,000 (£1,300) on a high-end ultraportable, the MacBook Pro 13in gives you a higher-than-HD resolution screen, dual-band Wi-Fi, full-size HDMI, 8GB of memory, 256GB of flash storage, and similar performance with a Core i5 processor – all for $300 (£190) less. The MacBook Pro also has more battery life and forward-looking I/O ports like Thunderbolt.
The KIRAbook is lighter, thinner, and comes with the two-year service and support, but that’s not nearly as compelling as what the MacBook offers. So while the Toshiba KIRAbook is a really good notebook, it isn’t the best value for money by any means.
Manufacturer and Model
Toshiba KIRAbook i7 Touch
Intel Core i7-3537U
Microsoft Windows 8