Conclusion: So Very Close

Without having personally tested any of the ASUS Zenbooks, which at least around the "office" (disclaimer: there is not an office) are generally regarded as among the best ultrabooks on the market, I can't really speak too greatly on how the Toshiba KIRAbook measures up competitively. I can definitely tell you how the user experience measures up to the myriad non-ASUS ultrabooks I have tested, though.

The essential ingredients to any PC computing experience are the keyboard, the mouse/touchpad, the display, and responsiveness. Other factors only become relevant when they're extremes; an unusually fast GPU or CPU, or unusually high thermals or noise. When it comes to the user experience, Toshiba's KIRAbook offers one of the best you can have with an ultrabook. That needs to account for the slightly poorer keyboard quality stemming from the lack of thickness as well as the propensity for clickpads, both of which are compromises made when switching to an ultrabook. Yet Toshiba is able to eke halfway decent depth out of the keys, and the clickpad is serviceable if not mindblowing.

The big wins are the responsiveness and the display. Toshiba's SSD and healthy 8GB of RAM keep the KIRAbook running very smoothly, and the lack of bloatware is immensely appreciated. Display quality is, as I mentioned, absolutely stunning. There was also the pleasant surprise of the speakers, which are really as good as ultrabook speakers are going to get.

So why isn't the KIRAbook a slam dunk? The biggest reason is actually the price, because a starting price of $1,599 forces the KIRAbook into a class it has a much harder time competing in. If the entry level KIRAbook manages to appear in retail at $1,399 or even $1,299, it'll be a wicked deal and easily recommended. But starting at $1,599 and only going north produces some problems and throws design issues into sharp relief.

First, the lid flex is inexcusable at this price point, full stop. It's not horrible, but it's unnerving enough when you're dealing with a display as beautiful as this one is. The magnesium alloy that Toshiba is using also tragically doesn't look that great; it's not unattractive, but it looks like high rent plastic, which we can all agree wasn't what Toshiba was going for. Whether or not it's more sturdy than the aluminum alloy Apple uses (as Toshiba claims) becomes less relevant because it doesn't actually look better.

As far as the specs go, Toshiba did an admirable job and then inexplicably cheaped out with a vengeance on the wireless connectivity. Whether or not 5GHz connectivity is important may depend on the individual, but anyone spending $1.6k on a notebook probably shouldn't be using a cheap, $50 2.4GHz router and dealing with the interference of everyone else's cheap 2.4GHz routers. My smartphone does 5GHz, and a genuine dual band wireless card from Intel only adds $10 or so to the BoM, if that, so there's no excuse for this.

I also have a hard time recommending any model of the KIRAbook but the entry one. The $1,799 one is a joke; you're paying $200 just to add touchscreen capability to the KIRAbook. At least the $1,999 model (as reviewed) offers a faster processor and the expanded feature set of Windows 8 Pro, but the $200 price jumps are tough to justify.

Finally, the biggest fly in the ointment may actually be the impending launch of Haswell. If you pre-order and buy the first generation KIRAbook you're probably going to regret it in a few months; Haswell promises roughly 10% better IPC, and the low voltage models will enjoy a 2W lower TDP. It's tough to argue with better performance and less heat (and thus less noise), and hopefully in the refresh Toshiba will update the wireless card to something from the last year or two.

Is the KIRAbook a bad product? No, not at all, quite the opposite actually. But it's a good product that has a questionable price and poor timing, and that's ultimately where things go south. Price wise it's actually competitive with the PC market, but has a much rougher time competing with the 13.3" Apple Retina MacBook Pro, which actually starts at $100 less. That's the hard lesson PC manufacturers still haven't quite learned: you don't compete with Apple. 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. The best case scenario for the first generation KIRAbook is a fire sale after the Haswell-based refresh materializes, and that's a verdict I'm not at all happy to deliver for such a promising product.

Display, Battery, Noise, and Heat
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  • baronmog - Thursday, May 9, 2013 - link

    Wow. I was reading the specs and mostly thinking, "that's pretty cool," or "eh, I could live with that," until I got to the "no 5GHz wifi support." Dude, that doesn't cut it. The ThinkPad my work provided to me a year ago has 5 GHz support. My Galaxy S3 (from a year ago) has 5 GHz support. My Nexus 10 has 5 GHz support. The Netgear router I bought almost a year ago has 5 GHz support...

    Seriously, what was Toshiba thinking?
  • danstek - Thursday, May 9, 2013 - link

    $1599 but no dual band WiFi is just lulz. Seriously, all single band WiFi adapters and routers at this point should just be banned from existence.
  • Hrel - Thursday, May 9, 2013 - link

  • SirKronan - Saturday, May 11, 2013 - link

  • CajunArson - Thursday, May 9, 2013 - link

    I have a 5 year old Core 2 notebook with Intel 5Ghz wireless-N support fer crying out loud!
  • elitegibson - Thursday, May 9, 2013 - link

    I think that's funny because my 2008 Toshiba Satellite has 5ghz wifi. I would probably cost them like $3 per laptop to put a good wifi card in it. Major misstep Toshiba.
  • chrnochime - Thursday, May 9, 2013 - link

    So one manufacturer finally makes a laptop with a good screen and all you have to complain is no 5GHz support? BTW 5GHz has crappy wall penetration so it's not like you're going to be using it anywhere BUT completely open space anyway. Besides there are crapload of 5GHz wifi adapters to buy to remedy this.
  • sosrandom - Thursday, May 9, 2013 - link

    Yup 5Ghz is pretty bad on my router, upstairs in my plaster board house the signal is really weak.
  • Gigaplex - Thursday, May 9, 2013 - link

    I get better reception and speed on 5GHz than 2.4GHz throughout my entire (admittedly smallish) apartment. I'm certainly not willing to give it up especially if it's not user serviceable so I can switch in my own WiFi adapter.
  • SirKronan - Saturday, May 11, 2013 - link

    A sleek, expensive, premium looking/feeling ultrabook is not supposed to have unsightly things hanging out of it and taking up your precious few USB ports... just to get 5GHz. This is one standard where costs shouldn't have been cut. It makes an otherwise premium device at least "seem" less premium to consumers, and will chase away many "premium" buyers that expect 5GHz as a standard.

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