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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  • ananduser - Thursday, May 9, 2013 - link

    Don't forget OSX. OSX only runs on macs. If you want or need OSX you have no choice but to get a mac. Windows compatibility ads to the desirability. Mac sales really "exploded" when they switched to Intel. If they were mutually exclusive with Windows I doubt they would've passed the 1-2 million/year volume.

    About crap ... the mbp 13". 1280x800 resolution(TN panel), 5400 rpm, integrated graphics. All for 1400$(in Europe). Ironically it is the most purchased item within Apple's line up.
  • solipsism - Thursday, May 9, 2013 - link

    » "Mac sales really "exploded" when they switched to Intel."

    That doesn't mesh with the time lines as Intel Mac sales jumped immediately but the ability to do dual boot or run a VM came later. Sure, people could have assumed this would soon be a viable option but that hardly seems like the primary reason to drop $2k for a notebook

    The MBP were a new design in a time when PPC had long sense drop the ball for mobile chips. The boost in performance per Watt and the anticipation was tremendous. Mac users knew these were coming, they just came much sooner than Apple had promised.

    » "If they were mutually exclusive with Windows I doubt they would've passed the 1-2 million/year volume."

    I'm not so sure. As Silma says, they are goal oriented. I think if they only sold Windows they would be the best Windows notebook vendor on the market.

    On top of that it doesn't really jibe with your previous comment that they only became popular because of Windows.
  • ananduser - Thursday, May 9, 2013 - link

    I always thought that if Apple would start pumping Windows only macs they would eat(at least in the States) Dell and HP's lunches.

    They are still "relatively" popular in the States alone(even there 11% or 12%); don't overdo it. Apple is after margins not share, so in absolute terms I believe I am right. Windows compatibility definitely made many people switch that were on the fence due to some win exclusive software. There isn't a single macuser without parallels/vmware and a Win license, metaphorically speaking ofc.
  • B3an - Friday, May 10, 2013 - link

    "Don't forget OSX. OSX only runs on macs. If you want or need OSX you have no choice but to get a mac."

    It's easy to get OSX running in a VM. Or theres always the hackintosh route. How can you not know this...
  • KPOM - Thursday, May 9, 2013 - link

    Macs also have better trackpads. Until the Chromebook Pixel, no non-Mac notebook came close to the Mac. It can't be that much more expensive to put in a decent trackpad.
  • andrewaggb - Thursday, May 9, 2013 - link

    yeah. My issue is nobody seems to make an end to end good computer. With desktops I could build my own and choose what I was willing to compromise on (if anything). But laptops you can't do that.

    At this point in my life I'm not interested in compromising on much of anything in my work computer. At least not if it's just cost related (like a wifi card and touchpad). Obviously there are heat/weight/performance tradeoff's that a little money can't fix, but otherwise I'd really like a premium machine start to finish. As a software developer/enthusiast/occasional gamer, ideally it would have an excellent screen, keyboard, touchpad, connectivity (network, audio/video,usb etc), graphics, fast encrypted storage, everything :-). I really don't think it's impossible or unreasonable, but nobody seems to have built a laptop that caters to me yet. Macbook pro's are close but I have extremely little interest in mac os. I have a mac mini for occasional mobile development and that's it. My most important apps are visual studio, eclipse, sql server, postgres, chrome, and internet explorer. Half of those are windows only.
  • bji - Thursday, May 9, 2013 - link

    As a software developer I greatly prefer OS X to Windows. It's probably because I come from a Unix background and my primary development environment for nearly 20 years was Linux. I find that OS X gives me nearly the same set of nice development tools (oriented towards my preferred development style) as Linux did, while also giving me a first class graphical environment and graphical development tools.

    Of the software that you listed, unless you are truly wedded to Visual Studio, there are equivalent or identical software choices available on Mac OS X and Linux. I know that a development environment can be a very personal thing and it's hard to switch, so if you have to have Visual Studio, I guess you're stuck on Windows. If you can handle a different IDE then nothing that you listed sounds like a reason to stick with Windows.
  • andrewaggb - Thursday, May 9, 2013 - link

    My primary employment is enterprise .net apps running on microsoft sql server databases :-). To be honest, I really like Visual Studio and c# is my favorite programming language. Windows is ok. It would be nice if it had a bourne shell and gcc and great posix support, but virtualization is so easy these days it's not a big deal anymore. I write most of my linux applications (c/c++/ or mono .net) in visual studio as well. I certainly could use a different IDE for those but it's a workflow thing :-)
  • robinthakur - Monday, May 13, 2013 - link

    I just run server 2008r2 in a virtual environment on my MBP and it works great for Visual Studio Development. This is a handy setup for me because you need a Mac to run Xcode and iOS development.
  • ahamling27 - Saturday, May 11, 2013 - link

    About 4 years ago now, (wow I can't believe I'm still using this laptop) I was in this same predicament. But I found the Gateway P-7811FX and I'm still using it as my laptop of choice. Sure it's not an ultrabook (it's nowhere close) but it has a dual core 2.2 ghz proc, and that hasn't changed a whole lot anymore. It's a 17" screen which turns some people off, but it's 1920 x 1200 resolution is impossible to find today. Sure you can argue that a 1080p 17" screen is only 120 pixels less top to bottom, but you tend to still find more 768p monitors than anything, 4 years later.

    Plus it has 2 bays for hard drives. I don't have an SSD in it, because I threw in a couple 500 GB WD Blacks in raid 0, and I don't want to mess with that. But it's plenty snappy.

    Also the Nvidia 9800m GTS can play most games, just nothing like Crysis 3.

    Anyway, my point is, there was a time before "Ultrabooks" that they did try and make some great laptops for a great price, hell I only paid $999 for that Gateway. Now that they have a buzz word, I think it gives laptop manufactures a excuse to charge more for a laptop that really should be priced lower.

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