Toshiba KIRA full review
By its own admission, Toshiba is quite happy to focus on the 'value' end of the market and its recently unveiled spring line-up did feature a preponderance of budget 15-inch and 17-inch laptops.
However, there were two notable exceptions to that rule – the 15.6-inch Satellite P50 with its eye-popping 4K display, and the 13.3-inch Kira-101, which Toshiba refers to as the 'ultimate Ultrabook'.
The P50 hasn't arrived in the UK yet, but we've been able to test the Kira and can't deny that it's one of the slimmest, lightest Windows laptops we've seen so far.
The tapering profile of the Kira and its silvery-grey metallic casing invite the inevitable comparisons with the 13-inch version of Apple's MacBook Air.
The Kira is slightly thicker – 19.8 mm along the rear edge, compared to 17.5 mm for the MacBook Air. However, the Kira has a significantly smaller footprint, measuring 316 mm wide and 207 mm deep, whereas the MacBook Air is 325 mm wide and 227 mm deep.
It's close in weight, as both laptops weigh around 1.3 kilos, the Kira 1.26 kg and the Air 1.35 kg. The smaller footprint of the Kira gives it a narrow edge on sheer portability; but the MacBook Air wins on screen size. Both are specified with 13.3-inch displays but since the MacBook has a 16:10 ratio it has a larger viewable screen.
Build quality is excellent, with the magnesium casing providing firm support for the screen panel and keyboard. Needless to say, there's no room for a DVD drive in that slimline design, but the three USB 3.0 ports, HDMI and 802.11ac Wi-Fi cover most other connection needs.
The speakers aren't particularly loud, but they do manage to avoid the irritating, tinny sound that afflicts many laptops. It's a shame, though, that there's no Ethernet for an office network.
Mind you, the MacBook Air is no great shakes when it comes to connectivity either, and there's one important area where the Kira completely outguns its Apple rival.
The 1440x900 resolution of the 13.3-inch MacBook Air hasn't been updated in a couple of years, and its resolution pales in comparison to the 2560 x 1440 resolution and 221 pixels per inch density of the Kira's display.
The Kira looks brighter and sharper, with crisper colours and contrast. Toshiba doesn't specify the type of screen panel that the Kira uses, but it does have the near-180-degree viewing angles that we'd expect from an IPS display.
It's touch-sensitive too, and finished off with scratch-resistant and smudge-resistant Gorilla Glass. Our only complaint is that the glossy Gorilla Glass does throw off a lot of glare and reflection, making it difficult to see in daylight.
At the moment, the Kira is only available in a single configuration in the UK, costing £1299 with Windows 8.1 Pro running on a 1.8 GHz Intel Core i7 dual-core processor, 8 GB of memory and 256 GB solid-state drive.
It seems odd that there's no option to use the standard Windows 8.1 or a slightly less expensive Core i5 processor, but a score of 5100 points when running the general-purpose PCMark 7 benchtest suggests that the Kira is one of the fastest Ultrabooks we've seen so far. In contrast, the version of the MacBook Air with 1.3 GHz Intel Core i5 processor scored 4602 points when running PCMark 7.
The Kira's performance with the Home and Work suites in PCMark 8 was a little lower, at 2200 points and 2630 points respectively, but the Kira still has enough horsepower to provide desktop-replacement levels of performance for demanding tasks such as photo- or video-editing.
Gaming performance is limited, though, as the Kira has to rely on its integrated HD Graphics 4400. It could manage 17 fps when running our Stalker test at 1920 x 1080 resolution. However, that score did increase to a playable 30 fps when set to 1280 x 720, so it should handle some moderate gaming at lower settings.
There is another area where the MacBook Air still has an edge, though. The Kira lasted for seven hours and ten minutes when streaming video from the BBC iPlayer. Very light use may indeed allow it to come closer to Toshiba's quote of nine hours. The MacBook Air on the other hand canlast beyond 12 hours n the same test.
In that respect it's perhaps fairer to compare the Kira with the 13-inch version of the MacBook Pro with Retina display. That has an even higher 2560 x 1600 resolution, for which Apple quotes a similar nine-hour battery life – although in our tests it actually gave us almost 10 hours of streaming video against the Kira's 7 hours.
At a press event in London today, Toshiba showed us a laptop first launched in May of last year, the Kira Ultrabookrange - also known in the States as the KIRAbook. Or as Toshiba UK has styled it, just KIRA™.
The Toshiba KIRA is a 13.3-inch ultraportable laptop built to Intel's template for an Ultrabook™. That is, inspired by the Apple MacBook Air but with Windows 8 pre-installed. See also: Group test: what's the best ultraportable laptop?
Toshiba KIRA: touchscreen display
Aside from operating system, another significant departure from the Apple laptop is the touchscreen display. It has Retina-class resolution, similar to the 13-inch Apple MacBook Pro with Retina display, but smaller at 2560 x 1440 pixels rather than the taller 16:10 IPS panel used by Apple of 2560 x 1600 pixels.
On the KIRA, the display had vibrant colours and decent viewing angles, as we'd expect of an IPS display, although reflections were more annoying on the Toshiba. It may lack the anti-reflective coating that helps tame glare on the MacBook.
Windows is not optimised for high-resolution display like this, not even Windows 8, and we saw jagged bitmapped text and graphics in about half of the windows and control panels we opened and examined.
Touch control worked reasonably well. When you open the lid from closed, you'll need two hands to pull it apart as the hinge is stiff; but this helps when you try to use the display as a touchscreen. Apart from some wobble, the screen did not move from its set angle in our short trial.
Toshiba KIRA: MacBook Air-like chassis
The chassis is more closely modelled on the original 2008 MacBook Air, rounded in corner and beautifully sculpted on the underside. The KIRA appears to be constructed from a combination of plastic on the underside and then metal veneer for the wrist-rest area and display back. One cooling fan draws air from a round cut-out on the base, and exhausts through slots on the back of the hinge. In our limited use in a noisy room, we couldn't hear the fan at work.
Inside, the Toshiba KIRA model that's coming to the UK – and there will be but one version – will be a Haswell-generation Intel Core i7 processor, the 4500U version. This takes slower Intel HD Graphics 4400 than the chip's best 5000 solution. The CPU/GPU chip is backed with 8 GB of memory and a Toshiba 256 GB SSD.
For wireless it takes the latest draft-11ac Wi-FI, in this case the two-aerial Intel AC7260 wireless card rather than a 3x3 solution used in premium models.
Toshiba KIRA: usable keyboard
We found the keyboard eminently usable, an area where many Ultrabooks pay little attention, and the Apple-style buttonless trackpad was large and precise in operation. Toshiba, like other Microsoft hardware partners, has now adopted the Apple natural scrolling too, such that two-finger dragging downward brings the window contents downward too.
Inside the KIRA, we're told it has a honeycomb construction to help keep the thin chassis stiff. Build quality was mostly neat and trim, although the sample we tried had a nasty warp to the chassis which meant it wobbled on the glass tabletop.
Toshiba told us battery life for the KIRA is 9 hours of use. The model we tried started at 100 percent battery capacity, and was down at 89 percent after roughly 20 minutes of unintensive use. At this point Windows reported 3 hours 15 mins remaining, suggesting actual total runtime closer to around 3 hours 40 mins. See also: What's the best laptop you can buy?
The Toshiba KIRA is one of the better Windows Ultrabooks we've tried, although at £1299, £50 more than a similarly specified 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display, it's going to have its work cut out. Yet this is one promising Windows ultraportable. Those that like the idea will relish the touchscreen display, although this may in part be responsible for the short battery life we observed. We hope to run a full review after the laptop launches in the UK.
Toshiba KIRA: Specs
- 13.3-inch (2560 x 1440 pixel, 221 ppi) IPS display
- 1.8 GHz Intel Core i7-4500U (3.0 GHz Turbo)
- Intel HD Graphics 4400
- Windows 8.1 Pro (64-bit)
- 8 GB DDR3L RAM
- 256 GB solid-state drive
- Bluetooth 4.0
- 1x HDMI 1.4
- 3 x USB 3.0
- SDXC card slot
- 720p webcam/microphone
- 1x headphone/microphone socket
- 52 Wh non-removable lithium-polymer battery
- 316 x 207 x 19.8 mm
- 1.26 kg
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