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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  • l_d_allan - Thursday, May 09, 2013 - link

    Valuable review, but I'd find it helpful to also see "corrected De2k after calibration". Or did I miss that spec? Reply
  • wendoman - Thursday, May 09, 2013 - link

    > if it's running Windows, you need to charge less for it

    WTF??? Apple OS X has no apps!
    Reply
  • VivekGowri - Thursday, May 09, 2013 - link

    Yeah, but from a "what sells" perspective, consumers at large seem hesitant to drop MacBook Pro money on any PC notebook unless it's an Alienware or similar. PCs have inherently less brand value, and so PC manufacturers can't charge equal (or in this case, more) money to a comparable Mac and hope to have a sales success. The PC industry destroyed that part of itself in the race to the bottom, and now nobody wants to pay more than $700 for a general purpose notebook. While it may not be fair, PC manufacturers cannot use Apple's price points and hope to win unless they ship a significantly more compelling product (see Zenbook Prime vs MacBook Air). Reply
  • mayankleoboy1 - Thursday, May 09, 2013 - link

    "The PC industry destroyed that part of itself in the race to the bottom, and now nobody wants to pay more than $700 for a general purpose notebook"

    Very good point.
    Reply
  • ananduser - Thursday, May 09, 2013 - link

    Vivek...why should be pay more than 700$ for a general purpose notebook. Why shouldn't tech be a commodity ? Are we supposed to pay premiums on looks only(as Dustin said) ? We should care about the unit as it is and not that "it doesn't look as posh" crap that Dustin highlighted.

    I doubt that consumers that agree to pay more on macs are the same that are pondering a pc. Generally speaking macusers and pcusers are mutually exclusive. A macuser buys a mac for OSX that is exclusive to Apple. A pc user feels constrained about Apple's spartan choices and one size fits all solutions.

    The main issue OEMs have is this. Ultrabooks are a more expensive choice within any OEM's lineup. In Apple's case you do not have a lower priced choice at all. The lineup starts with the MBA so if you want the entry level access to Apple's world you have to buy an ultrabook whether you like it or not. Thus it seems that people are validating ultrabooks when in fact they are aiming for the cheapest Apple unit and not the chipset type.
    Reply
  • Hrel - Thursday, May 09, 2013 - link

    "Posh" is such a fantastic word Reply
  • p_giguere1 - Thursday, May 09, 2013 - link

    They are.
    Apple has a philosophy of "Trust us to make sure every detail is perfect so you don't have to".

    Your average consumer feels comfortable blindly buying any Apple product without reading this sort of comprehensive review or getting explained what a chipset or an ultrabook are. I can't blame them, that's exactly what Apple is trying to do and they are successful at it: delivering constant quality in order to gain trust and fidelity.

    Any ultrabook that would have the exact same price and specs as a MacBook Air would sell much less than it. Would it be strictly because of Windows vs OS X, proving OS X is more popular at the same price point? I don't think so. It would be because the Mac would be pretty much guaranteed to have no major flaw and deliver decent and constant quality across all components, even the small ones people don't usually consider or are even aware exist until they have trouble with it. Apple cares about details and people are willing to pay more for this peace of mind.

    On the other hand, ultrabooks, while costing more and offering better specs than you average $500 laptop, aren't guaranteed to be flawless and very well though-out computers. Some are, some aren't, and trying to figure out which one are is a pain in the ass a lot of consumers don't want to deal with. Somebody who doesn't already follow tech websites doesn't have the time and knowledge to start reading (and understanding) tens or hundreds of laptop reviews.

    Bottom line: Time and peace of mind are worth something and reputation matters to people. People are willing to pay more for Apple's reputation of constant quality alone and it's perfectly normal.
    Reply
  • bji - Thursday, May 09, 2013 - link

    A well-thought out and logical post concerning Apple value vs. PC value in the Anandtech comments section? Is this even possible? Did Hell just freeze over or something? I am so confused! Reply
  • ananduser - Thursday, May 09, 2013 - link

    This site is not about the average customers that blindly purchases macs. Furthermore time and peace or mind are not guaranteed with macs as are not guaranteed with any PC.

    Regardless of the willingness of the average Joe to spend whatever he wishes on macs, this site should not refrain, for example, from calling the vanilla mbp13" a poor choice(to say the least).
    Reply
  • zepi - Thursday, May 09, 2013 - link

    Imo Anand should grade their laptops over couple of axes, like "portability, performance, display quality and ergonomics". Price shouldn't even be mentioned or at most the MSRP could mentioned somewhere somewhere in small pring.

    As a customer I can sometimes find deals that are way under the MSRP if sales have been underwhelming and sometimes MSRP can be way too low considering the amount of units manufacturer can deliver.
    Reply

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