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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  • kevith - Thursday, May 9, 2013 - link

    I think that´s spot on what Mac-buyers think. Every one of them, that I know, points out just that, again and again. Very well nailed!
  • robinthakur - Monday, May 13, 2013 - link

    Wow, a well reasoned argument, this site is not just catering to nerdy IT Types, the ultrabook is just a tool at the end of the day, not a toy to play with in and of itself. Apple's reputation for quality and customer service have ben hard won over many years, it is somewhat unfair to now expect PC manufacturers to offer the same when their margins are much less. I think the big difference now is that these machines cost as much as macs do, whereas in the past, you pretty much paid very little and got what you paid for.
  • robinthakur - Monday, May 13, 2013 - link

    Does "Posh" equal build quality? When you ape Apple's design so closely, then cheap out on the materials, do they think people won't notice? There is a time in a potential customer's lifecycle where they evaluate what choices are out there, and solicit purchase advice from knowledgeable sources. If you are in the market for an ultrabook, the main competition is the MacBook Air, which is comfortably still the biggest selling ultrabook, not the PC variants. I personally know loads of people that bought MBA's and then run windows on them, usually they present a lot, and being able to kit it out with 8GB of ram was a big deal at the time, even if you are constrained to dual core CPUs.
  • 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.
  • happycamperjack - Thursday, May 9, 2013 - link

    I think you missed the point. Retina 13 can run both Windows and OSX. But this laptop can only run windows. So it is a subset of Retina 13, therefore it should cost less.
  • wendoman - Thursday, May 9, 2013 - link

    But Macbooks runs Windows very bad usually. Poor battery life, bad drivers etc.
    I don't know about Intel only GPU Macs, but Macbooks with discrete GPU can't switch graphics and drain battery.
  • lukarak - Thursday, May 9, 2013 - link

    You can always run it in VMWare. Which you can't easily do with OS X on Windows
  • KPOM - Thursday, May 9, 2013 - link

    I run Windows 7 on my 13" rMBP and it works pretty well. Sure, Apple doesn't prioritize their WIndows drivers, but it is certainly doable. You are right that battery life takes a hit, though. Sometimes replacing the Boot Camp drivers with the native Intel drivers helps.
  • SirKronan - Saturday, May 11, 2013 - link

    I did this with my video card drivers on my MBP and noticed not only an improvement in battery life (albeit a small one) but a significant difference in performance and stability.
  • nathanddrews - Thursday, May 9, 2013 - link

    This laptop could probably run OSX. Hackintosh style.

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