As one the creators of the laptop, Toshiba isn’t a company to stray away from being inventive.
The company practically helped signal a revolution in 1985 when it launched the T1100 – “the world’s first mass-market laptop computer” – and this year, it hopes to revolutionise PC laptops again, with an Ultrabook that not only strives for perfection in design and specification, but also with a hyper impressive screen that no other PC manufacturer has.
The first of a new brand of devices with a name that apparently means “shining light,” Toshiba’s Kirabook represents a new type of computer for the company. Designed to not only be powerful, this laptop is aimed at the discerning customer who wants the best of the best of the best, and as such, demands excellence from a computer.
To make this happen, Toshiba has gone back to the drawing board, coming up with a machine that sets new benchmarks at the screen’s design, which is one area that desperately needed work in notebook computers outside of the ones put forth by Apple.
Here, Toshiba has developed its own high resolution panel which packs in a 2560×1440 screen, higher than both the Full HD (1920×1080) and HD (1280×720, 1366×768) panels, and featuring a better pixel aspect ratio, with 220 pixels per inch packed into the 13.3 inch display used here, just 6ppi shy of the 13 inch Retina-class Apple MacBook Pro.
Touch technology is built into the screen, as is a new type of Corning protective coating called “Concore” which apparently offers resistance to fingerprints, and sounds like a necessary technology for a touchscreen.
All of this sits encased in a chassis that screams premium, and is made from magnesium alloy built in a honeycomb structure, which Toshiba says is not only very strong, but also makes it durable and light.
Outside of the ever important display and chassis is a set of specs that should please most, including a third-generation Intel Core i7 processor, 8GB RAM, 256GB solid-state drive, and enough ports to please, with one HDMI, one half-height SD card slot, headset, and three USB 3.0 ports with one of them able to charge your devices while the laptop is sleeping.
Connections are fairly standard, with Bluetooth 4.0, DLNA, and 802.11 b/g/n WiFi offered here.
A trackpad offering some multitouch gestures is included, and the keyboard is backlit for use in dark environments. The speakers come from Harmon/Kardon and work in conjunction with a DTS audio driver.
And while we don’t normally talk warranties and support, the Kirabook’s premium service warrants a mention, with this machine coming with a two year premium “white glove” experience, that not only will offer to fix your laptop with express pick-up when required, but even comes with a dedicated phone support line.
Picking up the Kirabook for the first time, you can only marvel at what is easily one of the nicest feeling laptops you’ll ever feel. With a magnesium chassis utilising inspiration from the honeycomb structure bees use in making hives, Toshiba has come up with a build that is not only solid, but very light to hold.
Overall, the metal is soft and features a finish that isn’t all that slippery and is very easy to grip. Indeed, it’s so light that you can comfortably cradle it with one hand and use it with the other, though we don’t imagine this will create the fastest of typists.
Switch it on and everything comes to life, Windows 8’s familiar tile interface going live and showing you just what the screen can do, though we’ll get to that in a moment because usability comes first.
As per usual, Toshiba’s keyboard is excellent, with a solid feel and the right sound as your fingers press the letters down. There’s a noticeable margin between the letters, but you never notice it in a bad way, and our fingers never crept in the gutter and missed letters. This was easily one of the more comfortable Ultrabook keyboards we’ve ever used, with some of the better backlighting in the business.
For that last part, the letters are bright and easy to read, and in a dark room with screen turned down, typing is possible. In fact, we wrote this section of the review on a darkened bus.
Overall, the keyboard is an excellent part of this laptop, and you won’t be dissatisfied here. Not by a long shot.
The trackpad mouse is also decent, supporting multitouch gestures, though some of them are quite close to the edge and don’t activate as quickly as they might on other laptops.
The real star of the show is obviously the screen, and that’s the main feature Toshiba is pushing in its marketing materials for the Kirabook. Rightfully so, might we add, since this is the first time a computer released outside of Apple’s MacBook Pro range has sported such a high resolution.
That resolution is 2560×1440, twice that of the HD res screens we normally see on 13 inch notebooks, and higher than that of any PC laptop out there. In fact, this resolution is not only higher than most monitors on the market, but packs in more density thanks to the amount of pixels present in a 13 inch diagonal space.
Impressive on a specification level, that’s for sure, and in person, it works just as well.
Text is one area where the high resolution is infinitely more noticeable, with words and letters that are so much easier to read, offering better clarity from both close and afar. Images are also very pretty, and this is one of the nicest screens a photographer (or photo enthusiast) can use on a laptop today.
There are some quirks with the screen, and since Windows 8 wasn’t exactly designed with this resolution in mind, Toshiba has had to develop some software works with Windows to take care of this re-rendering of information.
For the most part, it works well, with apps designed for Windows 8’s former “Metro” interface rendering sharp text and clear images, easily taking advantage of the extra resolution on offer.
Desktop apps based on the look of Windows 7, however, didn’t quite nail it for us.
The Kirabook’s own basic installation of Norton Internet Security showed tiny fonts that were near impossible to read, while Google Chrome and some of the Windows dialog boxes revealed blurry text, almost as if the windows had been blown up in size to support this new resolution. Internet Explorer, meanwhile, looked excellent, with not a single blurry pixel to distort the image.
Google’s Chrome browser is an interesting one, because you can also launch it in Windows 8 mode, and when you do, you’ll find that text is rendered with the sharp resolution in mind, without that blur we spoke about.
Unfortunately, it’s not the perfect solution you’re looking for, because it also makes Chrome show everything at the 2560×1440 resolution, which in turn makes all the text very, very small, and makes webpages look unfortunately spaced, as if you were viewing them on a very big screen.
None of these are problems that lessen the excellence of the screen, and right now, these feel like teething issues that Toshiba will fix with eventual patches and updates, possibly even Microsoft. This resolution technology is new, so it will take some time to get perfect across Windows.
With that in mind, it’s hard not to be impressed with the image quality on offer, and coupled with an excellent touchscreen, the display side of the Kirabook is a real achievement. As one GadgetGuy staffer said, the touchscreen not only looks good, but it also works, which is something not all touch-enabled laptops can attest to.
Toshiba’s touchscreen in the Kirabook is quick to respond to and even comes with some element of fingerprint resistance, though the keyword there is “resistance,” and you can see prints when the screen is off if you’re prone to using your fingers all over the screen.
Some apps aren’t as friendly with the touchscreen – alternate web browsers, for instance – but we suspect a fix will come for that further down the track.
What’s interesting about the screen on the Kirabook is that it corrects a problem that so many Toshiba laptops have had in the past couple of years: poor quality screen technology.
Up until recently, Toshiba’s display selection on notebooks has been pretty lacklustre in all but the Qosmio range, with 13, 14, and 15 inch computers mostly arriving with reasonably low-grade LCDs.
If it wasn’t the poor 720p HD resolutions in big screens, it was the weaker Twisted Nematic (TN) panels that many of them had, with weak viewing angles that required you to set yourself up and never move lest you deal with washed out colours.
The screens were generally a shame, especially when you realised that the computers were otherwise decent, and customers were getting let down by a choice in display that didn’t match the rest of the equipment.
In the Kirabook, however, Toshiba appears to be attempting to undo that damage with an offering that not only is excellent, but outclasses much of the competition with its display technology and viewable quality.
System performance is also fairly impressive, and with a third-generation Core i7 processor working alongside 8GB RAM and a 256GB solid-state drive, this certainly has the specs to be an impressive little beast.
Only around 175GB of that SSD is available to you, though Toshiba has left Adobe’s Elements software for you, offering cut down copies of Photoshop and Premiere if you need them.
Start-up time certainly worked well for us, with merely a second on from standby and roughly seven seconds on from being off and cold, excellent times for a laptop, though not unusual for an Ultrabook, especially one with solid-state storage.
Toshiba’s inclusion of Harman/Kardon speakers is a key feature too, and working alongside a DTS driver, the audio is loud and bright, which should excite anyone watching movies or online videos here.
You can always plug a pair of headphones in, but being able to share quality sound is a nice bonus.
The battery could do with some a little, though, and despite the high specs and awesome screen, you’ll find a pretty mediocre battery and a rough maximum runtime of five-ish hours here. That’s with WiFi switched on, surfing the web, writing documents (this review, in fact), and being a general office worker.
On one battery cycle – using the laptop – our battery metre showed around four hours, while a second attempt with the laptop revealed just under six hours. With that in mind, it feels like the more you use the high-resolution touchscreen and WiFi, the more the battery will sit below the five hour mark, so think four to five-ish as a maximum.
Those without the touchscreen – or customers who just prefer a trackpad to a touch-friendly display – will probably want to dig into the driver as fast as they can to switch off inverted scrolling, though it’s an absolute hassle to find.
Also known as “natural scrolling” by Apple, the trackpad on our touchscreen Kirabook (and we therefore assume on the touch-less model) uses a Synaptics driver that defaults to the inverted scrolling, which is only able to be switched off once you push deep into the mouse driver.
Customers looking for a “best in show” notebook can certainly put the Toshiba Kirabook on their list, even if it does come with its fair share of quibbles.
We’d very much like to see an updated mouse driver and a stronger battery, as well as some fixes for the screen re-rendering, though this is a very new concept for the PC space, and offers some of the best display quality seen in a small computer.
If an amazeballs notebook screen is what you desire with specs to boot, this is the machine to get right now.