Toshiba Kira Ultrabook

Toshiba's Kira Ultrabook is great example of a more expensive laptop built with superior construction and materials, but it needs to stand out a little more.

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What makes one laptop worth AU$999 and another worth AU$2000? That's a tricky question, and one that has bedevilled PC makers looking to join a handful of companies such as Apple in charging a premium price for products that, at the end of the day, use many of the same components as less-expensive items.

The new Kira from Toshiba attacks this question head on. This 13-inch laptop starts at a bold AU$1799, and goes up from there. The unit reviewed here is AU$2199, as the absolute top of the line of the four models currently in Australia.

Toshiba is pitching the Kira as the first product in a new high-end line, also called Kira, which will complement the existing Satellite, Portege and Qosmio lines. As the company already makes some very nice ultrabooks for very reasonable prices, the challenge with the Kira is to pull out all the stops to justify its high price and the heavy hype Toshiba is putting behind the new line.

(Credit: Sarah Tew/CNET)

And the Kira is clearly a premium product. Its thin, light body is made of a magnesium alloy, which is both lighter and stronger than aluminium; the keyboard and touch pad are better than those found on standard Toshiba Satellite laptops; and, most notably, the 13.3-inch display has an incredibly high 2560x1440-pixel resolution. Toshiba calls this PixelPure, and it's not dissimilar to the Retina display Apple uses in its highest-end MacBook Pro laptops.

Other than the excellent construction and standout screen, this is in many ways a standard Intel Core i5/i7 laptop, with 8GB of RAM and a 256GB solid-state drive (to its credit, Toshiba adds two years of "Platinum" support).

Design and features

The Kira may be found in a museum someday, listed as a prime example of 2013 ultrabook design. All the hallmarks are there: the slightly tapered front edge, the brushed-metal look of the lid, the edge-to-edge glass over the display and the large, button-free click pad under the island-style keyboard.

And, if you only see the Kira in photos, that might be the end of your observations. This is one of those products that comes off better in person than on paper, and, in the hand, the Kira really does feel like a high-end laptop. The magnesium-alloy body is very light, but feels sturdy. The fit and finish are excellent, with a clean keyboard tray and a stiff hinge that runs nearly the full length of the system, and even the grilles for the Harman Kardon speakers and system fan have been moved to the bottom panel to keep them out of sight (that fan, however, can get pretty loud at times).

The backlit keyboard follows the general Toshiba model of slightly rectangular keys, with a shorter-than-most spacebar. But the keyboard is a marked improvement over the similar-looking one on most of Toshiba's less-expensive laptops. There's zero flex under your fingers, and the actual keys are deeper (more travel) than on other Toshiba ultrabooks.

The large rectangular click pad offers a lot of surface area for such a small laptop, and with Windows 8, you'll want that for all those OS navigation gestures. The pad's surface has just the right amount of resistance, but I occasionally had trouble getting it to recognise a two-finger scroll, despite playing around with the Synaptics software settings.

The biggest selling point of the Kira is its high-resolution PixelPure screen. At 2560x1440 pixels, it's in a class that only a handful of other devices reach. Toshiba said that resolution equals 221 pixels per inch, and when reading on-screen text and viewing videos with a higher-than-1080p resolution (which can be hard to find, but YouTube has many), it's a great visual experience.

Windows 8 adapts to the resolution well, keeping things looking normal in its tile-based interface. Going back to the traditional desktop view can be jarring — text and icons appear very small by default. Still, as mentioned above, there's not much content that takes proper advantage of the expanded resolution.

Connections, performance and battery

The Kira deserves credit for making all three of its USB ports of the faster 3.0 variety, plus one of them is a powered sleep-and-charge port, which is a handy feature allowing you to plug a device into the port and recharge from the laptop's battery, even if the system is powered down. Other than that, you won't find any high-end extras, such as an near-field communication (NFC) chip or Thunderbolt port.

Our review configuration sports a Core i7 processor and Windows 8 Pro, along with a copies of Adobe Photoshop Elements 11 and Adobe Premiere Elements 11. There's also a special Platinum level of support, which consists of a two-year warranty with "on-site metro, courier pickup/return in regional locations and two-year hotline support service".

Take an ultrabook and pack in an Intel Core i7 CPU, 8GB of RAM and a large SSD, and you're virtually guaranteed to get excellent performance. The Kira does indeed perform like a premium laptop, and ran our benchmark tests as well or better than other U-series Core i7 laptops. Plus, the system was able to play higher-resolution videos easily, including 4K videos.

(Credit: Sarah Tew/CNET)

But considering the things that most people use their laptops for — web surfing, media playback, social-network sharing and email — you're not likely to notice a huge difference between this and a solid Core i5 ultrabook in everyday use. The HD 4000 graphics from Intel can handle some basic gaming, as long as you keep your expectations modest, and you don't try to run games at the system's native resolution. The new BioShock Infinite at 1366x768-pixel resolution with medium settings ran at 16.1 frames per second.

A high-end laptop needs high-end battery life. Working in the Kira's favour are the power-efficient CPU and SSD, but working against it is the need to drive many more pixels than the average laptop screen. In our video-playback battery-drain test (which uses a 1080p video), the Kira ran for five hours and five minutes. That's good, but not especially impressive, considering the 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro ran for nearly seven hours.

Multimedia multitasking test (in seconds)

  • 193
    MacBook Pro 13-inch w/Retina display (October 2012)
  • 384
    Toshiba Kira
  • 402
    Dell XPS 13
  • 487
    Acer Aspire S7

(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Adobe Photoshop CS5 image-processing test (in seconds)

  • 170
    Acer Aspire S7
  • 186
    MacBook Pro 13-inch w/Retina display (October 2012)
  • 227
    Dell XPS 13
  • 230
    Toshiba Kira

(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Video playback battery drain test (in minutes)

  • 417
    MacBook Pro 13-inch w/Retina display (October 2012)
  • 386
    Acer Aspire S7
  • 331
    Dell XPS 13
  • 305
    Toshiba Kira

(Longer bars indicate better performance)


There is room for premium laptops even among today's price-sensitive shoppers. To make that leap, you really need a design that stands out from the mid-range crowd, and the Kira doesn't quite do so, despite having a higher-resolution screen as its main selling point. That said, it's a great example of a more expensive laptop built with superior construction and materials, and feels great to use while typing, tapping and swiping.

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