Review: Toshiba Kira Ultrabook
The Kira is aimed at being Toshiba's "ultimate Ultrabook." The company used that very phrase when it announced the device in January. With that in mind, one should expect something pretty special. Gizmag took a look to see how it measured up to that promise.
If you boil down the marketing spiel and sales language, what Toshiba is aiming at with the Kira is a luxury portable entertainment device. All the language used in Toshiba's initial announcement and product descriptions is focused around a great-looking screen, great-sounding audio and great performance. References to a "sleek design" and "exceptional craftsmanship" also tilt at the company's desire to include good looks in the Kira's luxury arsenal.
Look and feel
Sleek is certainly a word you could use to describe the Kira. The device uses grey, brushed magnesium alloy for its case, which gives it a quality but understated feel. With the screen closed, the Kira's curved, tapered base gives the device a sort of artistic, aerodynamic look. It feels solid and well made, but at 1.35 kg (3 lb) isn't at all weighty.
There is no catch to hold the screen closed and it simply lifts up away from the base, as it is the case with more and more laptops today. The hinge feels pretty sturdy and the screen will lean back by about 45 degrees. Once open, the device shows off a backlit keyboard along with its touchpad, which is nicely framed with a beveled surround.
The top-case surrounding the keyboard and the keyboard itself feel perhaps a little plasticy. That may be a little unfair, because the top-case still makes use of the the brushed metal, but its finish doesn't look quite as refined as that on the back of the screen.
The sunken Scrabble-tile keyboard is satisfying to type on. If you're not used to typing on Ultrabooks you may find it a little cramped, but that's something you'll likely get used to quickly. There's a nice balance between the keys needing a soft-touch and bouncing back into place receptively. There's a touch of sideways movement in the keys, but nothing that suggests that the build quality isn't up to scratch.
The Kira is powered by an Intel Core i7-4500U processor, which is one of the fastest processors on the market. It is the same processor and version used by the highest spec of Dell's premium Ultrabook, the XPS 13. The Notebookcheck benchmarking site has the 4500U trumping the Macbook Air's upgraded i7-4650U in 3DMark graphics tests, while their speeds range from 1700-3300 MHz and 1800-3000 MHz respectively. As such, there's not a lot between the processors in any of the three machines.
The Kira loaded the password screen within five seconds of being switched on and, having entered my password, it was only another 3-5 seconds before it was ready to use. Waking it from sleep mode took about one second, and it was ready to use pretty much instantly after entering my password. Large programs load quickly, and at no point have I experienced any lagging or freezing due to running too many programs.
The Kira has three USB ports and a mini HDMI port, as well as an full-size SD card slot. Unfortunately, there is no Ethernet port, meaning users are limited to Wi-Fi for internet connectivity. Given that it's not aimed at business users, it's perhaps not a surprise that there's no Ethernet port, and increasing broadband speeds mean that Wi-Fi may be all most users require. However, it's always nice to have the option of a faster, hard-wired connection, especially with a device aimed at use for downloading and streaming sizable entertainment content.
Elsewhere, the battery is non-removeable. This is a pet peeve of many people who note that replacing the battery will be complicated, and that whipping the battery out is often used as a last resort when a laptop freezes. Toshiba would counter, of course, that freezing won't be an issue with the Kira's high-end specs.
The 2560 x 1440 PixelPure display is the Kira's party piece and it is, frankly, stunning. Colors are as deep and rich as you could wish for on a laptop screen. Toshiba boasts that the Kira has 90 percent more pixels than standard HD and it shows. Text and graphics are beautifully precise and HD video is a joy to watch. It almost seems a waste that the screen is only 13 inches.
It's a genuine shame, however, that the screen's brightness falls a little short of what it needs to be. Full brightness will generally suffice, but the moment there's any glare or external brightness it can be a bit uncomfortable to try and view the screen. It feels like Toshiba has fallen short here.
The screen has multi-point touch functionality, which is something I always thought to be a bit redundant in laptops, but is actually quite useful when you want to zoom in on webpages and photos. The screen uses Corning Concore glass, which is tougher than most other glass made for use in touchscreens and, as such, you won't get any of the color-pooling that you get when you touch other laptop screens.
The multi-point finger tracing, touch markers and other indicative animations are subtle but well implemented. The on-screen keyboard, meanwhile, is accurate and responsive with discrete key tones, but it can be a little difficult to use due to the wobble caused by any on-screen typing. Having said that, the on-screen keyboard is pretty needless and presumably an artifact of a touch interface designed with tablets and hybrid laptops in mind.
Toshiba makes much of the Kira's "custom-made" Harman Kardon speakers with "enhanced surround sound." In reality, the audio output from the speakers is nothing to get excited about. The quality is clear enough, but the volume certainly isn't going to trouble your neighbors, and there is very little bass.
It wouldn't be fair to call the audio output tinny, but it's certainly awash with higher frequencies and isn't a great listen as a result. Nor should it be, necessarily – there's not a great deal of space in a 13-in Ultrabook to fit booming speakers in, but if you want to listen to music then I'd get it plugged into your home sound-system or a pair of headphones.
The Kira is an impressive piece of kit. It's fast and the screen is stunning. There are a few niggles that will hopefully be ironed out by the time the second generation of the Kira is released. There's still room for refining the design, for example, and there's definitely scope for improving the built-in speakers.
Perhaps the area that most needs attention, though, is price. The Kira is listed for £1,299 (US$2,190) in the UK. The highest spec Dell XPS comes in at £150 ($253) less and is very comparable specs-wise, while you can pick up a 13-in MacBook Air with a comparable i7 processor from £1,129 ($1,900).
Product page: Toshiba Kira