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.