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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  • madmilk - Saturday, May 11, 2013 - link

    Yes, but one option is legal, and the other isn't. While you may not care, real businesses with real legal departments buying laptops do.

    Also, the common complaint of Boot Camp is that Windows doesn't really run well. A Hackintosh is even worse, in that 90% of the time there is some piece of hardware that just isn't supported. Which leads to the obvious conclusion: If you want to use Windows, get a Windows laptop, and if you want to use OS X, get a Mac.
  • ananduser - Thursday, May 9, 2013 - link

    Windows8 Pro is 200$ worth of software that needs to be added to the cost of the macbook. Also the bundled Adobe software isn't exactly cheap either. Add those to the bottom line also. All in all the mac will end up costing more while performing worse.
  • Sm0kes - Thursday, May 9, 2013 - link

    Umm... a Windows 8 Pro license can be had for much less than $200. Also, factoring in bundled software (that may or may not be used) can't just be added to the bottom line dollar for dollar. Sure it may increase the value proposition for those interested in it, but I suspect the vast majority could care less.
  • robinthakur - Monday, May 13, 2013 - link

    WTF??? You can run Windows in bootcamp on a Mac, better than you can on a dedicated PC. Can you say the same for this laptop? Can you run OSX even in Hackintosh? Doubtful. I run OSX these days having stopped building my own pc's a while back running dedicated windows, and have no trouble with "Apps". I have Windows Server 2012 environment running in a vm for my SharePoint development and otherwise just use OSX which is reassuringly familiar and stable.

    I certainly wouldn't spend this sort of money for something as written in the review with a flexing cover, dubious build and no dual band, and with resale value which will be wiped out when the next revision hits. It's simple economics really.
  • Zink - Thursday, May 9, 2013 - link

    Awesome. It would be nice to have an option at 3.5 lbs with a bigger battery though. 4-5 hours isn't enough for many days.
  • Dustin Sklavos - Thursday, May 9, 2013 - link

    Remember that our battery testing is particularly strenuous. You can probably eke out another hour or so just dropping the brightness by 100 nits.
  • Voldenuit - Thursday, May 9, 2013 - link

    Magnesium alloy can have a plasticky appearance, especially after being treated with corrosion resistant finishes. For instance, the mag-alloy shift paddles on my steering wheel look like plastic, but I am definitely glad they're not aluminum on hot sunny days (when my aluminum shift knob burns my hands but the mag paddles are comfortable to the touch).
  • bji - Thursday, May 9, 2013 - link

    I can confirm this. The Panasonic Y2 that I had for 7 years before getting my rMBP had a magnesium alloy case and there were times I was sure that Panasonic had lied and that it was really plastic. But after I didn't need the laptop anymore I disassembled it and found that the body panels bent like metal after all.
  • Silma - Thursday, May 9, 2013 - link

    Wishing for an update soon with decent Wifi + Haswell
  • Silma - Thursday, May 9, 2013 - link

    "You can make something that's ostensibly better than an Apple product, but if it's running Windows, you need to charge less for it". Fanboyism at its best.
    Why should you charge less with a Windows laptop when you get a vastly greater software choice, that there are very very few interesting software available on the Mac that isn't available on the PC, that you get tremendously better device support and touch as well if you so desire.

    The real lesson pc manufacturers have so tough a time to learn is: stop putting crap on your notebooks sur as 1368x768 1:200 contrast ratio screen, 2.4 GHz wifi, 20 Wh excuses-of-a-battery or I-suck-aplenty-3200rmp HD.

    Where Apple is unfortunately - for wintel notebook users - vastly Superior to notebook manufacturers is that Mac laptop are generally much more coherent. It is rare to get a crappy component on a Mac whereas it is the sad norm on pc notebooks. It seems Apple is goal oriented (let's have 6h battery life even if this means bigger 70Wh batteries) whereas the pc notebook manufacturers are crap-orientated (let's see how much crap I can hide in my notebook and let's pray consumers don't notice it). But consumers do notice and vote with their wallet. The industry, instead of mending its ways is putting the onus behind Windows 8's supposedly lack of success but they really should clean their own house and drop the blinders.

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