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
SHP5108
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
HDMI
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
1.35kg
Extras HD Webcam
SSD
Bluetooth
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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  • augustofretes - Sunday, May 12, 2013 - link

    You should really go on and review the Chromebook Pixel, especially with I/O around the corner. Reply
  • Sabresiberian - Sunday, May 12, 2013 - link

    Kudos to Toshiba for stepping up the quality of the screen, but frankly I'm not buying a screen that small that is 16:9. The smallest acceptable size for that dimension, for me, is a 27".

    Apple still wins. I'm sorry, I'm not an Apple guy, I'm a PC guy, but I wouldn't shoot myself in the proverbial foot by buying one of these over an Apple MacBook just because I prefer the OS. OS X just isn't that bad - it's actually good, it's just not as good, imo, as Windows. And, there is no "price premium" downside here, either, in buying the MacBook. (Regardless of what you think about Apple's prices, their support for consumer level products is second to none. Of course, considering their profit margins, it should be.)
    Reply
  • crinosil - Monday, May 13, 2013 - link

    What I don't get is why be excited about this...I'm a longtime PC user (writing this on my home gown Windows 8 Pro tower PC as a matter of fact)... but I just bought a Macbook Pro 13 Retina for $1799.00 ... It included an i7 CPU running at 2.9/3.6mhz, 8GB DD3 1600 RAM, 512GB SSD, etc, etc....and only about half a pound heavier.... and by the way....I installed Parallels on it and am running Windows 7 on it in a virtual machine. Could have dual booted into Windows with Boot Camp but I find I actually like OSX.... So with this available... from an American company (yes I know they all build them in China)...why would anyone buy this this Toshiba?? Reply
  • ShieTar - Tuesday, May 14, 2013 - link

    Did you know that 96% of the worlds population, owning 85% of the worlds money, are not American and thus do not care at all if a product was designed by an American company? And that even of the 4% who live in the US, a large percentage is not actually affected by that kind of nationalist concepts?

    The 1599$ is a proposed price, the market will quickly figure out what the majority of customers consider to be the worth of the unit. As Dustin wrote in the article, you can expect to see it sell for 100$-200$ less than the Toshiba proposal if you just look around a bit. Add to that the fact, that the Toshiba already includes the Windows-License, which you need to buy separately if you want to dual-boot or parallel Windows on the Mac, and the Toshiba is a very credible and reasonably priced competitor for everybody who wants to use Windows.
    Reply
  • crinosil - Tuesday, May 14, 2013 - link

    But $1599 is for the lowest spec-ed version... to get closer to my Mac Pro they'll want $1999 and that's we a slower CPU and 256GB SSD... and single band WiFi.... the Window's Licence is a valid point...however, I had about 6 of them lying around so not an issue for me.... Still I also found Windows 7 Home Premium on Ebay for about $65-$75 dollars from reputable sellers.... Still not sure the value here.... and as to world not caring about American designed products....the queues outside the various stores around the world every time Apple releases some nick nack would seem to counter that opinion... Reply
  • ShieTar - Wednesday, May 15, 2013 - link

    Nah, I've lived in 5 different cities over the last 20 years and visited about 30 more, and never seen an Apple-Shop anywhere (except on TV). I'm not entirely convinced they exist anywhere outside the US and France. Almost everybody around here buys his electronics either through the Net or from the big markets like Media Markt or Saturn. And Apple is striving to get to half the market shares it holds in the US and France.

    Made in America is just not considered a positive aspect on consumer electronics by anybody in Europe. It's not nearly as negative as it is for cars, it just doesn't matter to anybody if a phone or PC is American, European, Japanese or Korean.
    Reply
  • sxr7171 - Sunday, May 19, 2013 - link

    This one has one hardware feature that Apple does not have. It has Macbook Air weight packing a Macbook Pro Retina quality display. Apple hasn't done that yet. Maybe the new 2013 Macbook Air machines will have 2560x1440 displays.

    But long story short there are people who would find in this something Apple doesn't yet offer.
    Reply
  • relativityboy - Monday, May 13, 2013 - link

    As soon as an updated Kirabook (Haswell) comes out I hope you guys do a performance review. Reply
  • sxr7171 - Sunday, May 19, 2013 - link

    Having recently switched back to Windows for hardware reasons (Nec Lavie Z - lighter than any Macbook), I agree simply based on that touchpad. Apple touch technology is miles ahead of anything Ive used on Windows. I'm still playing with these synaptics settings and I'm not anywhere close to the "out of the box" feel of a Mac's touchpad feel. I really like the Thinkpad trackpoint on Windows but no touchpad can compare to the Apple touchpad.

    Also this OS is confused. Does it belong a laptop or tablet, I can't figure it out. It generally sends you back to the old Windows settings screen for any major settings changes. Apps launch off the start screen into desktop mode anyway. The RT mode has the same apps optimized for touch input.

    Also Windows still hasn't improved the overall amount of effort it takes set the machine up the way that one likes. A Mac out of the box takes about an hour to get to how I like it. A Windows machine takes 6-8 hours if not more. Some things are terrible like setting up a Wi-Fi priority list requires you to get into terminal. The time needed to research and implement things is much higher on Windows. I've had to run some Google Searches for Mac also but far fewer and the it rarely if ever necessitates going into Terminal.

    All in all I couldn't agree more that competitors of Apple have to undercut Apple on price. The only exception would be if they have very compelling hardware features that Apple doesn't have and those are few and far between.
    Reply

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