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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  • robinthakur - Monday, May 13, 2013 - link

    I couldn't agree more, having prepared to disagree with you over your opening salvo! On paper, Windows has many more applications available, and perhaps in a business context this would be important. I thought I would have to compromise a little when I went over to Mac but have not found I have to so far. He only thing is visual studio for SharePoint development and I run this environment in a VM with no issues. The touchpad and gestures on a MBP are so fantastic I could never go back to a PC laptop ever again, regardless of whether it is running Microsoft's latest attempt at an OS. I am used to the admiring oohs and aahs when I show them the natural momentum scrolling and the gestures , Exposé etc. and several have purchased Mac's since I got one in the team.

    I can't fault MS's advertising trying to make Windows 8 seem less threatening to consumers, they are blanketing adverts across all media I consume. They must be one of the few companies that this strategy does not work for, which leads me to think that there is something wrong in between users deciding to take a look at the Windows 8 machines available and the final decision to buy. Perhaps bad feedback from friends and trusted sources, bad battery life, lack of apps or unfamiliarity are causing this to not translate into sales, or even the fact that MS have been so absent from the tablet market that all they remember is their previous attempts at convertible tablets which failed, as did their smartphones.
  • 8steve8 - Thursday, May 9, 2013 - link

    I don't agree with the conclusion that a better laptop must be cheaper if it runs windows... the problem is more that none of the non-apple laptops are better (with the possible exception of the chromebook pixel)... they all seem to miss something here or there... usually touchpad, often keyboard or screen.. For example the power connector on apple laptops are amazing, so much better than any non-apple power connector i've seen... and actually it's pretty important since we are all constantly plugging and unplugging the device.

    I would pay the same amount for an apple quality laptop running windows, maybe more.

    but 5Ghz wifi is pretty important to me, and I cirtainly wouldn't consider a high end laptop that couldn't use it.
  • ananduser - Thursday, May 9, 2013 - link

    The Zenbook and the Sammy Series 9 are both better than the MBA in every aspect. In fact the only excellent mac Apple sells is the 15" rmbp(and even that is pretty closely matched in all areas except panel). All others are surpassed by PC laptops.
  • repoman27 - Thursday, May 9, 2013 - link

    I get that you're just trolling, but with the 13-inch MBA, for the same or less money you can get a faster processor (Core i7 3667U), larger SSD option (512 GB), more RAM (8 GB), DisplayPort, Thunderbolt (can drive two 2560x1600 external displays), better trackpad, etc. The only specs where the MBA loses are the number of horizontal pixels (1600 vs. 1440) and the number of MP for the camera (where Asus bothers to mention a number). And then of course there's all the usual places where OEMs try to hide the crap in the spec sheet and save a few pennies: does the SDXC card reader support UHS-I, what type of controller does the SSD use, how well is the display calibrated at the factory, does the WiFi solution support 3x3:3 MIMO on both 2.4 and 5 Ghz?
  • ananduser - Thursday, May 9, 2013 - link

    The devil is in the details and I admit I haven't researched all aspects that you demand. Can't answer and won't bother searching. But off the bat I will say that(to me at least) TB and Displayport mean jack. I'd rather have ethernet instead of TB and spare myself the adapter cost. I'd also demand a W8 pro license included with the MBA for the same price... oh and a touchscreen just because.
  • mhampton - Thursday, May 9, 2013 - link

    Wow, that's not even close to true. I've bought both, and the Zenbook is a nightmare to configure right (mainly the trackpad) compared to a mac laptop.
  • sweenish - Thursday, May 9, 2013 - link

    It's a statement driven by sales numbers. It's stupid consumer logic. Consumers buy cheap Windows laptops that suck, get frustrated, and then spend three times as much on a macbook. They never consider spending more on a windows laptop, because in their heads, all windows laptops are the same, regardless of price.

    My wife is a rockstar at work with her Zenbook Touch. It just never enters peoples' heads that they could also spend more money on a Windows laptop.
  • Jon Tseng - Thursday, May 9, 2013 - link

    Nice, but somewhat familiar design... KIRFabook? lol
  • heelo - Thursday, May 9, 2013 - link

    When a product has a certain amount of success it can get to the point where it defines the category, and that's what's happened to Apple with the Macbooks and the iPhone (pre-Galaxy S3).

    Apple spent a lot of time and money selling people on the idea that glass clickpads and island-style back-lit keyboards are the best, and that aluminum unibody construction was the strongest, most attractive housing available. But they did such a good job of convincing everybody, that the natural result is that their competitors were forced to adopt those features in order to compete at/near the high end. That's just the price of success.

    And while I'm somewhat sympathetic to the idea that Apple should get to "own" the look that it invented, I simply can't overlook the fact that their notebooks haven't undergone a significant design change in more than half a decade.
  • Mikhail - Thursday, May 9, 2013 - link

    Stop. Where is DisplayPort here? Premium laptop'2013 without DP? I'm dissapointed.

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