Intel’s Haswell CPUs have been good to Ultrabook makers. Use them, and you get an essentially “free” battery life boost without sacrificing any performance. Most of the PC OEMs—Acer, Dell, Apple, and Lenovo among them—have simply dropped Haswell processors into lightly-modified versions of their Ivy Bridge Ultrabooks and called it a day.
Now Toshiba is joining the party with a new, Haswell-toting version of its high-resolution Kirabook. We liked last year’s version, but it was much more expensive than other comparable Ultrabooks despite being late to the Ivy Bridge party. We’ve got the new version in our hands, and we can say that the Kirabook’s second go-round comes much closer to succeeding than the first.
Body, build quality, and screen
|Specs at a glance: Toshiba Kirabook (Haswell)|
|Screen||2560×1440 at 13.3″ (221 ppi)|
|OS||Windows 8 Pro 64-bit|
|CPU||1.8GHz Intel Core i7-4500U (Turbo up to 3.GHz)|
|RAM||8GB 1600MHz DDR3 (non-upgradeable)|
|GPU||Intel HD Graphics 4400 (integrated)|
|HDD||256GB solid-state drive|
|Networking||Dual-band 802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.0|
|Ports||3x USB 3.0, HDMI, card reader, headphones|
|Size||12.44″ × 8.15″ × 0.7″ (315.98 × 207.01 × 17.78mm)|
|Weight||2.97 lbs (1.35kg)|
|Price as reviewed||$1,699.99|
|Other perks||Webcam, backlit keyboard|
Toshiba has changed basically nothing about the Kirabook’s appearance, build quality, or port layout—you wouldn’t be able to tell the new one from the old one if they were sitting next to each other. The lid and palm rest area are still a brushed “magnesium alloy,” while the underside is a smooth version of the same material that looks and feels a little more like plastic. The lid flexes and bends a bit under pressure, but overall it’s a nice-looking laptop that holds together well.
The laptop’s hinge is sturdy, and it holds the screen firmly in place even if you’re poking at it with your finger. You will, however, need two hands to comfortably open the laptop—try to lift the lid with one hand and the bottom will follow it. All of the laptop’s ports are lined up on the left and right edges of the laptop: there’s an HDMI port and two USB 3.0 ports on the left side, and an SD card slot, a headphone jack, and another USB 3.0 port on the right.
Compared to other Ultrabooks with a 13.3-inch screen, the Kirabook remains a little thicker (0.7 inches, compared to 0.5 for the Aspire S7) but has a smaller footprint overall. The display’s bezels are narrower than they are in other touchscreen Ultrabooks, and Toshiba was able to make the entire laptop smaller as a result. The Kirabook looks and feels a bit more like a 12-inch laptop than a 13-inch one.
The screen itself is still a nice-looking 2560×1440 panel with bright colors and good viewing angles—it’s not quite as high-resolution as the 3200×1800 display on Lenovo’s Yoga 2 Pro, but there’s nothing to complain about here. All Kirabook models now include a 10-point touchscreen, eliminating the entry-level non-touch version from last year. The screen includes no active digitizer for use with styluses or other pens, but this is arguably less important on a laptop than it is on a convertible or tablet.
Two small complaints about the screen: first, there’s the extremely reflective layer of glass over the top of it, which is pretty quick to show smudges. This is par for the course for almost any touch-enabled computer, though. Next, it doesn’t get quite as bright as other screens we’ve seen. This won’t be a problem indoors, though it might make the screen more difficult to see outdoors.
Finally, the most important thing for any good laptop: the keyboard and trackpad. Toshiba still uses keys that are just a little shorter than most, meaning most of the keys are sort-of-rectangular in size than perfectly square. Once you adjust to the spacing, the Kirabook is easy to type on, and the keys feature pretty good travel (for a chiclet keyboard) and a nice, even backlight. The Synaptics touchpad is about as good as Windows laptops get—it’s reasonably accurate. We had no issues with palm rejection, and the Windows 8 touchpad gestures and other functions like two-finger scrolling worked as expected. It does what it needs to do.
Software: Bundled stuff, scaling issues
The Kirabook includes a relatively bloatware-free installation of Windows 8.1 or Windows 8.1 Pro (on top of which we’ve installed the upcoming Windows 8.1 Update from Microsoft’s developer site). It includes a smattering of Toshiba-added Live Tiles, an easily-removed evaluation of Norton Internet Security, the standard Microsoft Office demo, and a smattering of Toshiba support applications. These are harmless but mostly redundant—the best of them is probably the Toshiba Display Utility, and even that is just another way to adjust Windows’ built-in scaling settings.
As in the previous model, the most useful utilities here are the pre-installed versions of Adobe Photoshop Elements 11 and Premiere Elements 11, which are basic but useful photo and video editing applications. These applications also demonstrate the problems you’ll run into using Windows desktop applications with high-density displays, a problem we also touched upon in our original Kirabook review, the Yoga 2 Pro review, and other places besides. Look what happens when you open these fully-updated, pre-installed applications on a screen set to 150 percent scaling:
The story is the same as always: Stick to first-party Microsoft applications and Modern apps installed through the Windows store, and things mostly look great on the Kirabook’s screen. Stray from that path, and things get much messier.