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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  • ananduser - Thursday, May 9, 2013 - link

    Don't forget OSX. OSX only runs on macs. If you want or need OSX you have no choice but to get a mac. Windows compatibility ads to the desirability. Mac sales really "exploded" when they switched to Intel. If they were mutually exclusive with Windows I doubt they would've passed the 1-2 million/year volume.

    About crap ... the mbp 13". 1280x800 resolution(TN panel), 5400 rpm, integrated graphics. All for 1400$(in Europe). Ironically it is the most purchased item within Apple's line up.
  • solipsism - Thursday, May 9, 2013 - link

    » "Mac sales really "exploded" when they switched to Intel."

    That doesn't mesh with the time lines as Intel Mac sales jumped immediately but the ability to do dual boot or run a VM came later. Sure, people could have assumed this would soon be a viable option but that hardly seems like the primary reason to drop $2k for a notebook

    The MBP were a new design in a time when PPC had long sense drop the ball for mobile chips. The boost in performance per Watt and the anticipation was tremendous. Mac users knew these were coming, they just came much sooner than Apple had promised.

    » "If they were mutually exclusive with Windows I doubt they would've passed the 1-2 million/year volume."

    I'm not so sure. As Silma says, they are goal oriented. I think if they only sold Windows they would be the best Windows notebook vendor on the market.

    On top of that it doesn't really jibe with your previous comment that they only became popular because of Windows.
  • ananduser - Thursday, May 9, 2013 - link

    I always thought that if Apple would start pumping Windows only macs they would eat(at least in the States) Dell and HP's lunches.

    They are still "relatively" popular in the States alone(even there 11% or 12%); don't overdo it. Apple is after margins not share, so in absolute terms I believe I am right. Windows compatibility definitely made many people switch that were on the fence due to some win exclusive software. There isn't a single macuser without parallels/vmware and a Win license, metaphorically speaking ofc.
  • B3an - Friday, May 10, 2013 - link

    "Don't forget OSX. OSX only runs on macs. If you want or need OSX you have no choice but to get a mac."

    It's easy to get OSX running in a VM. Or theres always the hackintosh route. How can you not know this...
  • KPOM - Thursday, May 9, 2013 - link

    Macs also have better trackpads. Until the Chromebook Pixel, no non-Mac notebook came close to the Mac. It can't be that much more expensive to put in a decent trackpad.
  • andrewaggb - Thursday, May 9, 2013 - link

    yeah. My issue is nobody seems to make an end to end good computer. With desktops I could build my own and choose what I was willing to compromise on (if anything). But laptops you can't do that.

    At this point in my life I'm not interested in compromising on much of anything in my work computer. At least not if it's just cost related (like a wifi card and touchpad). Obviously there are heat/weight/performance tradeoff's that a little money can't fix, but otherwise I'd really like a premium machine start to finish. As a software developer/enthusiast/occasional gamer, ideally it would have an excellent screen, keyboard, touchpad, connectivity (network, audio/video,usb etc), graphics, fast encrypted storage, everything :-). I really don't think it's impossible or unreasonable, but nobody seems to have built a laptop that caters to me yet. Macbook pro's are close but I have extremely little interest in mac os. I have a mac mini for occasional mobile development and that's it. My most important apps are visual studio, eclipse, sql server, postgres, chrome, and internet explorer. Half of those are windows only.
  • bji - Thursday, May 9, 2013 - link

    As a software developer I greatly prefer OS X to Windows. It's probably because I come from a Unix background and my primary development environment for nearly 20 years was Linux. I find that OS X gives me nearly the same set of nice development tools (oriented towards my preferred development style) as Linux did, while also giving me a first class graphical environment and graphical development tools.

    Of the software that you listed, unless you are truly wedded to Visual Studio, there are equivalent or identical software choices available on Mac OS X and Linux. I know that a development environment can be a very personal thing and it's hard to switch, so if you have to have Visual Studio, I guess you're stuck on Windows. If you can handle a different IDE then nothing that you listed sounds like a reason to stick with Windows.
  • andrewaggb - Thursday, May 9, 2013 - link

    My primary employment is enterprise .net apps running on microsoft sql server databases :-). To be honest, I really like Visual Studio and c# is my favorite programming language. Windows is ok. It would be nice if it had a bourne shell and gcc and great posix support, but virtualization is so easy these days it's not a big deal anymore. I write most of my linux applications (c/c++/ or mono .net) in visual studio as well. I certainly could use a different IDE for those but it's a workflow thing :-)
  • robinthakur - Monday, May 13, 2013 - link

    I just run server 2008r2 in a virtual environment on my MBP and it works great for Visual Studio Development. This is a handy setup for me because you need a Mac to run Xcode and iOS development.
  • ahamling27 - Saturday, May 11, 2013 - link

    About 4 years ago now, (wow I can't believe I'm still using this laptop) I was in this same predicament. But I found the Gateway P-7811FX and I'm still using it as my laptop of choice. Sure it's not an ultrabook (it's nowhere close) but it has a dual core 2.2 ghz proc, and that hasn't changed a whole lot anymore. It's a 17" screen which turns some people off, but it's 1920 x 1200 resolution is impossible to find today. Sure you can argue that a 1080p 17" screen is only 120 pixels less top to bottom, but you tend to still find more 768p monitors than anything, 4 years later.

    Plus it has 2 bays for hard drives. I don't have an SSD in it, because I threw in a couple 500 GB WD Blacks in raid 0, and I don't want to mess with that. But it's plenty snappy.

    Also the Nvidia 9800m GTS can play most games, just nothing like Crysis 3.

    Anyway, my point is, there was a time before "Ultrabooks" that they did try and make some great laptops for a great price, hell I only paid $999 for that Gateway. Now that they have a buzz word, I think it gives laptop manufactures a excuse to charge more for a laptop that really should be priced lower.

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