In and Around the Toshiba KIRAbook

I'm of two minds when it comes to the design of the Toshiba KIRAbook. On the one hand, it's definitely an attractive ultrabook, manufactured primarily out of pressed magnesium alloy that Toshiba claims is stronger than the aluminum alloy used for the MacBook Air. On the other hand, while the KIRAbook certainly photographs well for Toshiba's site and there was clearly attention paid to the fit and finish, there's still something weirdly chintzy about the build quality.

First, the good parts: while the display uses a glossy coating, it's still very beautiful and the hinge is extremely sturdy. That at least allows you to use the KIRAbook's touchscreen without being too dainty or delicate about it and worrying about tipping the notebook over. The body of the KIRAbook is also borderline flexproof, and there's no flex in the keyboard. The white LED backlighting for the keyboard is also attractive, and the keyboard action is about as good as you're likely to find on a sub-14" ultrabook. I think I still ever so slightly prefer Dell's XPS 13 keys, but the KIRAbook has a much smarter keyboard layout.

So why am I not completely on board with the KIRAbook? Because for $1,599 and up, there shouldn't be any flex in the screen or lid, especially not this much, and my thumbs shouldn't be able to bow the bottom panel of the notebook. The clickpad is serviceable, but it absolutely pales in comparison to the clickpads used on HP's EliteBooks. Finally, the silver and black with chrome trim has been kind of done to death. This was one place where I feel like Dell really nailed it with their XPS line by going almost entirely black. What about gunmetal? What about bronze? What about even going back to white? There are other aesthetics to work with, and Toshiba does the KIRAbook a disservice with such a conservative look.

Thankfully the overall experience of using the KIRAbook is a positive one. I don't ordinarily point out audio branding in the spec table because it's almost never actually relevant; notebook speakers generally suck, and no amount of Beats Audio or harman/kardon branding does much to change that. Yet the KIRAbook does appear to actually have specially designed speakers, and I bring this up because audio resonates from it loudly and surprisingly clearly. The low end is always going to suffer, but these really are subjectively the best speakers I've ever heard in anything short of a 17" notebook. Though they're down-firing, they actually produce more body and sound better on a flat surface than they do when they're clear, and I can only assume they were engineered that way.

I'm also not sold on touch in notebooks (and even less so on Windows 8's Modern UI in general), but the implementation in the KIRAbook feels like a solid one, owing at least partially to that well-designed screen hinge. The problems with the user experience of the KIRAbook, at least where Windows is concerned, have virtually nothing to do with the quality of the hardware and display and more with the pitfalls of Windows itself. Modern UI is productivity hell, yet it demands a touchscreen. Meanwhile, the traditional desktop is well suited to productivity, but touch is a total disaster there. The high resolution display also looks spectacular, but third party applications have always interacted horribly with Windows scaling, resulting in a series of compromises. None of this can be blamed on Toshiba; they're giving us what we've been asking for in the first place.

Introducing the Toshiba KIRAbook System Performance
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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.
  • 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.)
  • 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??
  • 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.
  • 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...
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • relativityboy - Monday, May 13, 2013 - link

    As soon as an updated Kirabook (Haswell) comes out I hope you guys do a performance review.
  • 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.
  • edithjensen - Saturday, April 4, 2020 - link

    Nice! I'm glad you posted a video like this cause I offen wonder which is the best to use. Thanks! 👍

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