Take a stroll through the laptop section at Best Buy recently? If you have, you know Toshiba's got a firm stronghold on the cheapie notebook market. The thing is, $400 systems don't exactly offer high margins -- a problem when people aren't buying that many PCs to begin with. And besides, who wants to be known for shoddy build quality and ho-hum designs? Not Toshiba, anyway. The suits in Tokyo were so fed up with the company's low-rent reputation that they decided to launch a premium line to prove Toshiba is indeed capable of making high-end machines. That line is called Kira, though for now there's just one product to speak of: the Kirabook, a 13-inch ultraportable starting at $1,600.
For the money, you get a mix of modern design, top-shelf components and a whole lot of sucking-up from Toshiba's technical support. Topping the list is a 2,560 x 1,440 display, making this the first Windows Ultrabook to sport such a high-res screen. (We've already seen similar panels on the Chromebook Pixel and the Retina display MacBooks.) Additionally, users receive two years of warranty coverage and a dedicated support line, with near-instant pick-up times and a US-based staff (something customers have been asking for, says Toshiba). Also included: full versions of Adobe Photoshop Elements 11 and Premiere Elements 11, along with 25GB of online storage and a two-year Norton subscription -- something HP already bundles on select machines. The Kirabook will be sold in the US, Japan and Australia, with prices ranging from $1,600 to $2,000. It'll ship May 12th and go up for pre-order on May 3rd, but for now, we've got a detailed walk-through video waiting after the break, along with some early impressions. So come join us -- because who doesn't enjoy laptop porn?
Toshiba Kirabook hands-on
Where else to start but with that WQHD display? The minute we saw it, we knew this wasn't your garden-variety 1,366 x 768 panel. Everything is sharper -- even the lettering on the Start Menu -- though we would have just as easily assumed this was a 1,920 x 1,080 panel. Unfortunately, though, as much care as Toshiba otherwise put into the design, it clearly skimped on the viewing angles. (The screen has some unspecified wide-viewing-angle technology that's different from IPS.) In fact, we had a bit of trouble photographing the laptop head-on, what with all the screen glare. And that's a shame, because Toshiba already made this mistake once before with the Satellite U845W. The entire hook was that it had a super-wide 21:9 screen you could dip far forward in tight spaces, but that ended up being a moot point thanks to all the reflections.
Toshiba Kirabook: the making of
Our disappointment with the viewing angles aside, this is otherwise the simplest, most thoughtful design Toshiba has come out with in a very long time. The machine is made of magnesium through and through, with pressed metal on the lid and a die-cast variety on the bottom. On the inside, Toshiba went with the same honeycomb framework it's already been using on its Portege laptops. The hinge, meanwhile, is 5mm thick -- and sturdy enough to keep the display still even while you're jabbing at it with your finger. All told, the result is a laptop that's at once durable and lightweight. Impressively, the Kirabook weighs 2.9 pounds, and that's with the touchscreen. Without, it's just 2.6. Not bad, considering the current-gen 13-inch MacBook Air weighs 2.96 pounds even without a touch panel.
Like the Air and many other Ultrabooks, the Kirabook has a wedge shape, with the machine getting narrower and narrower as you move away from the hinge. Somehow, though, Toshiba managed to keep the edges round, similar to lots of other machines in the company's lineup. It's only around the palm rest where the edges get really sharp, but you won't notice it when the notebook is closed. In fact, something about the weight distribution makes the Kirabook very easy to grip in one hand, though again, those contoured edges help too.
According to Toshiba, the keyboard attempts to correct some of the flaws on the Portege Z835 / Z935 (we were pretty vocal in our complaints, if you recall). This time around, the company contoured the top of the keys ever so slightly, and also allowed for a bit more travel. Not that we were able to do a side-by-side comparison with the old model, but it certainly felt easier typing on the Kirabook than on the Z835. It also helps that the keys have a soft finish, along with some crisp backlighting (there's a light underneath each key, similar to HP's Radiance setup).
Before we close out, we'd be remiss if we didn't give you a little more information about specs and performance claims. The first two configurations (the $1,600 non-touch and the $1,800 touch model) will both have Core i5 processors, whereas the highest-end, $2,000 machine will come with a Core i7 chip. Regardless of which one you choose, eight gigs of RAM and 256GB of solid-state storage are standard. Either way, the Kirabook is launching with Ivy Bridge CPUs, though it wouldn't surprise us if a Haswell refresh came later. With last year's Ivy Bridge chips, though, the 52Wh battery is expected to last a little over six hours on a charge. In other words, a similar battery life rating as other Ivy Bridge Windows 8 Ultrabooks, except this time, there are a lot more pixels to light up.