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Toshiba Kirabook Challenges MacBook Air with Retina-Like Display (Video)

The Kirabook isn't just another laptop for Toshiba; it's the first product in a new luxury brand designed to go toe-to-toe with Apple at the high end of the market. Priced at a fairly steep $1,599, this 2.6-pound Windows 8 Ultrabook weighs considerably less than the 3-pound MacBook Air but packs a higher-resolution display (2560 x 1440 pixels) and beefier 256GB SSD along with optional touch capability. 

After spending some hands-on time with the Kirabook, available for pre-order May 3rd and on sale May 12th, we could definitely tell that Toshiba is pulling out all the stops for this launch.

MORE: Top 10 Ultrabooks

The Kirabook boasts a premium design that's deserving of its own brand. The lid is made of AZ91 pressed magnesium alloy, which is 100 percent stronger than aluminum alloy, while the inside employs a sturdy honeycomb structure. The bottom of the chassis uses die-cast magnesium. Despite the durable design, the Kirabook measures just .7 inches thick. We found the slightly brushed metal aesthetic to be clean and svelte, if not very flashy.

The 13-inch PixelPure display is the star of the show here. When we played the "TimeScapes "4K video from YouTube, the picture was bright, colorful and very sharp . The $1,499 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina Display has a slightly higher resolution (2560 x 1440 pixels) but weighs about a pound more. Other key specs include a third-generation Core processor (Core i5 or i7), 8GB of RAM and a Lithium-polymer battery rated to last a solid but unspectacular 6 hours.

Toshiba designed the Kirabook so that the hinge offers enough tension so that it doesn't flop backwards when you touch the display (touch costs an extra $200). We also like that the drop-hinge elevates the back of the system when you lift the lid, which makes for a more comfortable typing position. Speaking of the keyboard, the backlit layout is much improved compared to other Toshiba Ultrabooks like the Portege Z935; the keys are larger and offer more travel.

The left side of the Kirabook houses the power connector, HDMI port and two USB 3.0 ports, while another USB port, SD Card slot and headphone jack line the right side. On the bottom of the notebook you'll find a circular intake vent for the AirFlow II cooling system.

Other premium features abound, including Harman Kardon speakers, pre-loaded copies of Photoshop Elements and Premiere 11 Elements and a free two-year subscription to various Norton security services (which includes 25GB of online storage). Last but not least is a two-year warranty and platinum support that includes access to dedicated U.S.-based agents and annual tune-ups. 

Toshiba knows the Kirabook isn't an impulse buy, but the company is confident that it will find plenty of takers looking for a luxury laptop. The Kirabook will be available at Amazon.com, BestBuy.com, and the Microsoft Store, among other retailers, as well as ToshibaDirect.com. Stay tuned for a full review.

Responsible for the editorial vision for Laptop Mag and Tom's Guide, Mark Spoonauer has been Editor in Chief of LAPTOP since 2003 and has covered technology for nearly 15 years. Mark speaks at key tech industry events and makes regular media appearances on CNBC, Fox and CNN. Mark was previously reviews editor at Mobile Computing, and his work has appeared in Wired, Popular Science and Inc.