Toshiba Kira review

Laptops these days are statements of design as much as they are capable powerhouses able to crunch through almost any task you throw at them. The Toshiba Kira is the company's bash at high-end design, delivering a slim and capable machine packed with features.

A quick glance at the specification and there's no denying it offers stacks of power, thanks to an Intel Core i7 processor and a 2560 x 1440 high-resolution screen putting big ticks in that box.

Can the company not exactly renowned for being a design great cut it at this premium end of the market? Words such as "magnesium alloy" conjure images of Apple MacBook pro, but does the Kira equate to the luxury Windows 8.1 equivalent? We’ve been living with the Kira for work and play to find out.

Design

From its closed position the Kira reveals its pressed aluminium top, whereas the rest of the body is a magnesium alloy. This makes for a lightweight design for a 13.3-inch device, toting up to 1.35kgs on the scales.

Lift the lid - which can be a bit of a fiddly fingernail fare - and there's a backlit keyboard and trackpad with very little wasted space between these main components. There might be more distance than necessary between the top of the keyboard and the screen, however, which we only highlight given the stunted measure of the individual keyboard keys. We'd like them to be a bit larger for an optimal typing experience.

Overall the Kira has an understated look which has promise, but it's the finer details that Toshiba fails to focus on. The oversized exposed screws on the underside of the base, the oddly drab colour scheme. If "kira kira" means "to glitter" then we were hoping for a dash more sparkle.

Connectivity is covered by three USB ports - two of which, and just like in all Apple Mac devices, are frustratingly close together - an SD card slot, HDMI (C-type) out, and the usual 3.5mm headphone jack and power input.

Widescreen wonderment

But what really elevates the Toshiba to the next level is its screen. It's just ace.

The 13.3-inch panel delivers a 2560 x 1440 pixel resolution, putting it in similar territory to the MacBook Pro with Retina display. The difference between the two is that the Apple device doesn't opt for the 16:9 widescreen aspect ratio of the Kira, and so has 1600 vertical lines rather than 1440.

READ: MacBook Pro with Retina display (2013) review

Resolution isn't everything, but the sheer number of pixels on the Toshiba screen render everything beautifully. Text is ultra crisp, HD movies look top notch, characters in games look life-like. The only downside can be how small things like icon sizes are if you have the settings wrong.

In the other areas that count the Kira’s screen continues to score well. Brightness is great and colours are rich thanks to LED backlighting, while the 176-degree viewing angle offered by the IPS panel keeps everything looking quality whichever angle you're looking to the screen from.

You might find the 16:9 ratio doesn't suit your needs as well as a taller screen might, but otherwise the Kira can do no wrong in the display department.

Pricey customer

But that screen comes at a price. Although Toshiba claims the UK price is £1082.50, none of the "where to buy" links on the official website lead to a retailer that stocks the Kira. We've only been able to find it on Amazon for £1300.

That's a fair whack of cash: it's pricier than the 2.4GHz Intel i5 equivalent MacBook Pro with Retina display. Apple is known for having pricey products, so Toshiba is really asking for a lot here.

Noisey performance

But there are other premier features that qualify the asking price. Take the Intel Core i7 processor, with both cores clocked at 1.8GHz. Add 8GB RAM and on-board Intel HD Graphics 4400 and the Toshiba is a powerful machine. It's been speeding along in our tests for image editing, loading dozens of tabs of internet browsing and, well, just about anything you fancy throwing at it.

Its one weakness is the lack of discrete graphics, though, but then the £1300 price point wouldn't cover that. Even so, playing Goat Simulator via Steam at the maximum 2560 x 1440 resolution meant stuttering motion - so it's not possible to make the most of one the high resolution feature in all situations. Downgrading to 1920 x 1080 also failed to produce smooth results, which was a disappointment.

In terms of noise there's always some subtle fan noise, which elevates to a more audible whistle when pressing the machine to do more. Not loads more though: just downloading a 2GB game saw the Kira produce a little hum that was somewhat annoying. Audio can't seem to mask it either as that whistle cuts through the sound produced by the Harman Kardon speakers.

Despite a prestigious brand name behind the audio, we found output to be generally thin due to the speakers pointing downwards on the underside of the body. Bassier sounds weren't a patch compared to even our MacBook Air either.

All this power might suggest poor battery life, but the Intel Haswell-based chipset holds up rather well. We've been getting a full day's use from a single charge, with nine hours of ongoing use proving no problem when indoors. More significant auto brightness when out and about in the sun will impact that, but it depends how often you're likely to use your laptop in the park we suppose. (Clue: not often).

Software

In use Windows 8.1 has proven swift, with files quickly lifted from the built-in 256GB SSD drive. As the screen is touch-sensitive it's possible to swipe away at the panel to control various functions. Although our preference isn't to do this due to fingerprint marks and we found the native resolution made some icons and symbols so small that, for example, a press of the "x" to close Internet Explorer was sometimes a bit of a gamble. Still, the choice is there should you need the power of touch.

Some laptops deliver constant nagging reminders to update software straight out of the box. Although that's not the case with the Kira, the 30 day trail of McAfee LiveSafe will likely resort to such tactics. We had five days of the 30 day trial remaining when we were finished with the Kira.

Elsewhere software is fairly light on the ground, which is a good thing. There's Toshiba Desktop Assist to quick source adjustments to media, tools and recovery. All the sort of things that Windows 8.1 should be able to facilitate itself, but here the likes of Display Utility's Resolution+ image processor, or PC Health Monitor's power consumption guide, each make for their own use.

In our review unit the Kira also had Evernote preinstalled in the Start bar. There are plenty of other apps you can buy from the Windows Store or install yourself, which is where everything is likely to come from given the absence of an optical drive.

Verdict

The Kira's star of the show is its 2560 x 1440 widescreen display. It's quite simply ace. It not only looks great but has exceptional viewing angles and this one feature puts the Toshiba of many of its competitors. It's in and around the same ballpark as the MacBook Pro with Retina display.

But its the subtle details that stall the Kira; it never quite achieves on its spectacular promise. The whistle of fan noise can be irksome, the Harman Kardon speakers aren't a patch compared to even our MacBook Air, and the design doesn't sing to the tune of £1300 as much as it could. We'd be likely to save some cash and buy a Dell XPS 13.

The Kira ticks a lot of desirable boxes and, in casual use, does a good job. It's lightweight and easily portable enough for us to happily use it as a day-to-day Windows machine. But that price point would make us look elsewhere. A little more polish and refinement and the Kira could be a glittering example of a laptop. For now it lays the groundwork to what we suspect will be a great device in its second generation format. One to watch.



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