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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  • wanderer000 - Sunday, May 26, 2013 - link

    Why does a laptop need to have things hanging out of it to achieve 5Ghz? It's all internal....... Reply
  • wanderer000 - Sunday, May 26, 2013 - link

    Whoops just ignore me, your comment confused me on first read. Reply
  • madmilk - Saturday, May 11, 2013 - link

    They're not the one manufacturer that finally made a laptop with a good screen. They're the second, following Apple, and in any case being first doesn't mean no other standards apply. For comparison: the $1500 rMBP comes with a dual-band, 3x3 802.11n adapter, and that really should be the norm for a laptop of that price. Reply
  • Dalamar6 - Monday, May 13, 2013 - link

    They aren't the 2nd to use a "good screen" by far. They're the second to use one this good that's higher res than 1920x1200.

    In any case, I do not see the point to using such a high res screen on less than a 20" notebook, or at the very least, 17". 1080p pixel pitch is TINY on 15.6" already.

    I wouldn't buy this... that much money's better spent on an IPS screen laptop elsewhere.
    Reply
  • ShieTar - Tuesday, May 14, 2013 - link

    Actually, the tiny resolution does make sense, because it makes texts and other fine details more readable if the software offers reasonable scaling. Which any office suite, web browser and a lot of other productive stuff do.

    When you view videos or play games, resolution becomes less relevant. Nevertheless, if the HD4000 is too weak to play the full resolution, it is nice to be able to use half resolution without major resampling artifacts. That actually works fine with the 1440p screen scaled to 720p, which is a design resolution for most modern games anyways, but you won't be able to scale anything modern to 960x540 and still enjoy it.

    Alternatively, you can try to play the full resolution an just switch of any kind of AA, as you basically get a biological AA due to the sub-visible pixel size.
    Reply
  • wanderer000 - Sunday, May 26, 2013 - link

    It is when it costs an arm and a leg. Reply
  • JoseAntinio - Friday, May 10, 2013 - link

    Hi I'm new here and would appreciate some advice.

    My understanding is that 2.4GHz Vs 5GHz have both plus and minuses and many believe that 2.4GHz is a better option for the home user.

    If I am right there are no speed issues, in fact as I understand it 2.4GHz can run quicker.

    Could it be that Toshiba have actually got it right for the target market?
    Reply
  • hp79 - Friday, May 10, 2013 - link

    Yup, both plus and minus. I use both at home. 2.4GHz is too crowded these days especially if you live in an apartment. That's when 5GHz does a great job.

    Wifi cards generally support only 2.4GHz, or both 2.4GHz&5GHz. It's very rare to find a card that only supports 5GHz. If you look at prices on ebay, intel 6300 wifi cards costs about $20 while the cheaper models costs about $15. There's not really that much price difference, so it's just crazy not to put a proper wifi card in a flagship device.

    My Galaxy Note1 also supports both 2 and 5GHz band, and my HTC One even supports 801.11ac (max 450mbps, 5GHz band). Toshiba should have put a card that supports 801.11ac since nothing is replaceable.
    Reply
  • CSMR - Sunday, May 12, 2013 - link

    Very few people will even know what this means, let alone notice the difference. Ultrabooks have clear compromises (e.g. 256GB total storage); this is an extremely minor point in comparison. Any wireless internet, regardless the speed or standard, will fill up 256GB in no time. Reply
  • jeffkibuule - Saturday, May 18, 2013 - link

    Umm... the problem with 2.4Ghz is that in an apartment complex that has 25 wireless networks around it, using that spectrum is bound to cause interference when there are only 3 non-overlapping transmit channels. That manifests itself in dropped packets. It has nothing to do with downloading data off the Internet. Reply

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