KiraBook review: An ultrabook for the 1%

At a cost starting at $1,600, Toshiba's KiraBook offers a sleek exterior and high-end tech.

Super-sleek, light, powerful and with a slew of amenities, Toshiba's 13.3-in. KiraBook is an ultrabook for the 1% -- and is priced like it.

The KiraBook comes in three versions. The lowest end starts at $1,600 for a 1.8GHz Intel Core i5-3337U processor (with TurboBoost technology to get up to 2.7GHz), 8GB RAM, a 256GB SSD and a non-touch screen with Windows 8. The next model adds a touch display for a cost of $1,800, while the high-end edition comes with an 2.0GHz Intel Core i7-3537U processor (that goes up to 3.1GHz) and Windows 8 Pro for a total cost of $2,000. For this review, I looked at the midrange laptop.

Toshiba KiraBook
Toshiba KiraBook

At 2.8 lb., the KiraBook is half a pound lighter than the Asus Zenbook Prime UX31A and 3 oz. lighter than the 13-in. MacBook Air ultrabook. If you add its small AC adapter, it has a travel weight of 3.1 lb.

The KiraBook has a footprint of 12.3 x 8.2 in.; at a width of 0.7 in. in the front and 0.9 in. in the back, it is slightly thicker than the Air, which ranges from 0.1 to 0.7 in.

The system has a brushed metallic finish with a lid made of stamped aluminum-magnesium alloy; the base is reinforced with honeycomb supports in high-stress areas, like the palm rest. Toshiba says the case is more than twice as strong as the metal used on the Air. During use, I found that unlike the Air, the KiraBook is rock solid with almost no flex to its case.

A vibrant display

Open the lid and you'll see one of the sharpest and brightest notebook screens available. Based on Intel's HD 4000 Graphics, the 13.3-in. display boasts 2560 x 1440 resolution. I found the colors on the screen to be lush and vibrant, although not quite at the level of the MacBook Pro with Retina display.

The KiraBook's display does, however, offer something the MacBook doesn't: touch sensitivity with the ability to interpret 10 independent inputs and work with gestures, like spreading your fingers to zoom. The system uses Corning's new Concore glass, which is thinner and lighter than conventional touchscreen displays.

Over the course of a week, I found the screen on the KiraBook always responded quickly and accurately to both the touch of my fingers and a stylus. The slight lip around the edge of the display is annoying at first but easy to get used to. And the screen wobbles slightly when you swipe or tap on it, so if you plan to do a lot of touch computing, be ready to brace it with one hand as you tap and swipe with the other.

While some ultrabooks tend to skimp somewhat on their keyboards, the KiraBook's is comfortable and functional, with 19.1mm keys that are slightly scalloped. I really appreciated its backlighting and large touchpad. Above the display is a webcam that can capture 1280 x 720 video and a dual-microphone array that comes in handy for videoconferences.

As is the case with other ultrabooks, there isn't a lot of room for ports. The KiraBook has three USB 3.0 connectors, an audio port, an HDMI port and an SD card slot (like most ultrabooks, there's no room here for a DVD drive). There is also 802.11n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.

In addition to a pair of Harman-Kardon speakers, the system comes with DTS Studio Sound technology that makes the sound richer and fuller than you'll find in most other laptops.

The KiraBook also offers Intel's WiDi wireless system for sending audio and video to a nearby display.

Superior performance

It all adds up to a superior performer that scored 1,887.0 on PassMark's PerformanceTest 8.0, making it one of the most capable notebooks around regardless of size and weight. Its Cinebench 11.5 results of 2.45 and 15.54 frames per second were slightly ahead of competing products such as the Zenbook (with scores of 2.31 and 14.50) and its own cousin, Toshiba's Portege Z935 (with scores of 2.37 and 14.51).

I was surprised (and pleased) at the power of the KiraBook's 3,400mAh lithium polymer battery. It ran for 5 hours and 38 minutes while continuously playing back HD videos from a USB drive without any power conservation turned on. That's 18 minutes longer than I got when I tested the Zenbook's larger-capacity 6,840mAh battery and translates into a solid day of regular use. (Be aware, however, that you can't remove the battery.)

The KiraBook comes with full versions of Adobe Photoshop Elements 11 and Adobe Premiere Elements 11 as well as a two-year subscription to Symantec's Norton Internet Security.

Toshiba offers a two-year warranty instead of the standard one year of coverage. It also provides a dedicated team of support technicians and a special phone number to use if you have a problem.

Bottom line

At a price that reaches $2,000, a KiraBook can cost as much as a pair of lesser ultrabooks. However, if you want a computer that comes with everything, can outperform the pack and has been built to last, it may be money well spent.

This article, KiraBook review: An ultrabook for the 1%, was originally published at Computerworld.com.

Brian Nadel is a frequent contributor to Computerworld and the former editor in chief of Mobile Computing & Communications magazine.

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