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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  • l_d_allan - Thursday, May 9, 2013 - link

    Valuable review, but I'd find it helpful to also see "corrected De2k after calibration". Or did I miss that spec?
  • wendoman - Thursday, May 9, 2013 - link

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

    WTF??? Apple OS X has no apps!
  • VivekGowri - Thursday, May 9, 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).
  • mayankleoboy1 - Thursday, May 9, 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.
  • ananduser - Thursday, May 9, 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.
  • Hrel - Thursday, May 9, 2013 - link

    "Posh" is such a fantastic word
  • p_giguere1 - Thursday, May 9, 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.
  • bji - Thursday, May 9, 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!
  • ananduser - Thursday, May 9, 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).
  • zepi - Thursday, May 9, 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.

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