Introducing the Toshiba KIRAbook

As a notebook and now ultrabook manufacturer, Toshiba has always had an odd streak. I mean that in the most affectionate way possible; while their budget notebooks have been generally solid offerings for a good price (and typically preferable to similar kit from backsliding leaders like HP and Dell), their middle and high end kit has shown a willingness to experiment that includes pre-ultrabook notebooks like the Portege R700, ultra-widescreen kit like the Satellite U845W, and if you're willing to go back far enough, their now defunct Libretto line.

What we've been missing, though, is a genuinely high end, flagship ultrabook from Toshiba. HP has their Folio line, Dell has their XPS ultrabooks, ASUS has their Zenbooks, and even Acer has a pretty broad range of ultrabooks to serve everyone from the most cash-strapped customer to the user looking for a premium computing experience. Toshiba did well with their Portege Z835 in the first wave of ultrabooks, but that had more to do with the low entrance price. To satisfy premium customers, Toshiba is launching a premium line of ultrabooks, and they start with today's KIRAbook.

KIRAbook isn't just the name of this notebook, it's the start of a new brand within Toshiba, and it's a brand they've desperately needed. Satellite serves mainstream customers, Tecra serves business, Qosmio serves gamers, and Portege serves the ultraportable market, but none of these brands outside of maybe the Qosmio line is really "premium." With the KIRAbook and the KIRA branding, Toshiba's actually opening an entire wing of business just dedicated to supporting notebooks under this brand. The KIRAbook comes with a 2-year "platinum warranty" standard; KIRAbook owners don't go through Toshiba's primary customer support channels but instead have access to their own 24/7 help line along with rapid repair service and other perks.

None of that would matter if the product itself isn't worth the expense and effort, though, and while I don't feel like Toshiba has a homerun on their hands, they do have a pretty strong start. The real fly in the ointment is the impending launch of Haswell; I suspect the KIRAbook launching with Ivy Bridge hardware on the eve of Intel's next generation is akin to Dell's launch of the XPS 13 shortly before Ivy Bridge became available. I think Toshiba is getting their foot in the door with this brand and at the same time decoupling it from Intel's cadence out of the gate.

Toshiba KIRAbook Specifications
Processor Intel Core i7-3537U
(2x2GHz + HTT, Turbo to 3.1GHz, 22nm, 4MB L3, 17W)
Chipset Intel HM76
Memory 2x4GB integrated DDR3-1600
Graphics Intel HD 4000 Graphics
(16 EUs, up to 1.2GHz)
Display 13.3" LED Glossy 16:9 2560x1440 IPS Touchscreen
Hard Drive(s) 256GB Toshiba THNSNF mSATA 6Gbps SSD
Optical Drive -
Networking Intel Centrino Wireless-N 2230 802.11b/g/n 2x2
Bluetooth 4.0
Audio Conexant CX20751/2 HD Audio
Stereo speakers
Single combination mic/headphone jack
Battery 4-Cell, 52Wh (integrated)
Front Side -
Right Side SD card reader
Mic/headphone combo jack
USB 3.0
Left Side AC adaptor
USB 3.0
Back Side -
Operating System Windows 8 Pro 64-bit
Dimensions 12.44" x 0.7" x 8.5" (WxHxD)
316mm x 18mm x 216mm
Weight 2.97 lbs
Extras HD Webcam
Backlit keyboard
harman/kardon speakers
Corning Concore Glass touchscreen
Adobe Premiere and Photoshop Elements 11 included
Norton Online Backup, Internet Security, and Anti-Theft 24-month subscription included
2560x1440 IPS display
Warranty 2-year limited "Platinum Service"
Pricing Starts at $1,599
As configured: $1,999

The starting price of $1,599 stings mightily, but at least that model is likely to be the preferable one. That "entry level" KIRAbook has an Intel Core i5-3337U (1.8GHz) which has lower turbo frequencies and a 200MHz lower nominal clock speed than the top-end model, but the only other sacrifices are the touchscreen and the Windows 8 Pro license. Everything else is the same as the spec table above, and it's at least a lot more palatable, especially when you take into account that Toshiba notebooks routinely sell for $100-$200 cheaper when they hit retail channels.

For your money, though, you do get an awful lot of notebook. The star of the show is going to be the 2560x1440 13.3" IPS display, which is essentially the highest resolution display currently available in a Windows notebook. The 16:9 aspect ratio means you lose 160 pixels of vertical resolution compared to Apple's 13" Retina MacBook Pro, but it's tough to complain too much when most of the Windows notebook market is still stuck in the 1366x768 stone age.

Backing up the beautiful display is a fairly snappy 256GB Toshiba SSD; I'm having a hard time discerning if it's using a third-party controller or one of Toshiba's own, but either way, it's fast enough to get the job done. It has to be, since nothing in the KIRAbook is user-serviceable, including the 8GB of RAM and the battery. Where Toshiba fails and fails hard is the wireless card, which is bargain basement Intel and doesn't feature 5GHz connectivity. In 2013, and especially in a premium-class notebook, this is inexcusable.

Toshiba has also gone the distance with the included software. While the boatload of Toshiba software included is on the bloated side, everything else actually makes sense. Full versions, not trials, are included of Adobe Premiere Elements 11 and Photoshop Elements 11, while the subscriptions to Norton Online Backup, Internet Security, and Anti-Theft basically cover the warranty length of the KIRAbook. The only trial software included is one month of Office 365.

In and Around the Toshiba KIRAbook
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  • madmilk - Saturday, May 11, 2013 - link

    Yes, but one option is legal, and the other isn't. While you may not care, real businesses with real legal departments buying laptops do.

    Also, the common complaint of Boot Camp is that Windows doesn't really run well. A Hackintosh is even worse, in that 90% of the time there is some piece of hardware that just isn't supported. Which leads to the obvious conclusion: If you want to use Windows, get a Windows laptop, and if you want to use OS X, get a Mac.
  • ananduser - Thursday, May 9, 2013 - link

    Windows8 Pro is 200$ worth of software that needs to be added to the cost of the macbook. Also the bundled Adobe software isn't exactly cheap either. Add those to the bottom line also. All in all the mac will end up costing more while performing worse.
  • Sm0kes - Thursday, May 9, 2013 - link

    Umm... a Windows 8 Pro license can be had for much less than $200. Also, factoring in bundled software (that may or may not be used) can't just be added to the bottom line dollar for dollar. Sure it may increase the value proposition for those interested in it, but I suspect the vast majority could care less.
  • robinthakur - Monday, May 13, 2013 - link

    WTF??? You can run Windows in bootcamp on a Mac, better than you can on a dedicated PC. Can you say the same for this laptop? Can you run OSX even in Hackintosh? Doubtful. I run OSX these days having stopped building my own pc's a while back running dedicated windows, and have no trouble with "Apps". I have Windows Server 2012 environment running in a vm for my SharePoint development and otherwise just use OSX which is reassuringly familiar and stable.

    I certainly wouldn't spend this sort of money for something as written in the review with a flexing cover, dubious build and no dual band, and with resale value which will be wiped out when the next revision hits. It's simple economics really.
  • Zink - Thursday, May 9, 2013 - link

    Awesome. It would be nice to have an option at 3.5 lbs with a bigger battery though. 4-5 hours isn't enough for many days.
  • Dustin Sklavos - Thursday, May 9, 2013 - link

    Remember that our battery testing is particularly strenuous. You can probably eke out another hour or so just dropping the brightness by 100 nits.
  • Voldenuit - Thursday, May 9, 2013 - link

    Magnesium alloy can have a plasticky appearance, especially after being treated with corrosion resistant finishes. For instance, the mag-alloy shift paddles on my steering wheel look like plastic, but I am definitely glad they're not aluminum on hot sunny days (when my aluminum shift knob burns my hands but the mag paddles are comfortable to the touch).
  • bji - Thursday, May 9, 2013 - link

    I can confirm this. The Panasonic Y2 that I had for 7 years before getting my rMBP had a magnesium alloy case and there were times I was sure that Panasonic had lied and that it was really plastic. But after I didn't need the laptop anymore I disassembled it and found that the body panels bent like metal after all.
  • Silma - Thursday, May 9, 2013 - link

    Wishing for an update soon with decent Wifi + Haswell
  • Silma - Thursday, May 9, 2013 - link

    "You can make something that's ostensibly better than an Apple product, but if it's running Windows, you need to charge less for it". Fanboyism at its best.
    Why should you charge less with a Windows laptop when you get a vastly greater software choice, that there are very very few interesting software available on the Mac that isn't available on the PC, that you get tremendously better device support and touch as well if you so desire.

    The real lesson pc manufacturers have so tough a time to learn is: stop putting crap on your notebooks sur as 1368x768 1:200 contrast ratio screen, 2.4 GHz wifi, 20 Wh excuses-of-a-battery or I-suck-aplenty-3200rmp HD.

    Where Apple is unfortunately - for wintel notebook users - vastly Superior to notebook manufacturers is that Mac laptop are generally much more coherent. It is rare to get a crappy component on a Mac whereas it is the sad norm on pc notebooks. It seems Apple is goal oriented (let's have 6h battery life even if this means bigger 70Wh batteries) whereas the pc notebook manufacturers are crap-orientated (let's see how much crap I can hide in my notebook and let's pray consumers don't notice it). But consumers do notice and vote with their wallet. The industry, instead of mending its ways is putting the onus behind Windows 8's supposedly lack of success but they really should clean their own house and drop the blinders.

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