Toshiba's Kirabook ($1,699 as reviewed) is back for 2015, with the same purpose as its predecessor: to provide top-notch Windows performance within a sexy and slim package that rivals the MacBook Pro. The Kirabook mostly achieves that goal with ease, offering plenty of processing power, solid battery life and a sub-3-pound design that won't weigh down your bag. However, while the notebook's 13.3-inch quad-HD touch display offers stunning picture quality, it's a bit too dim to outshine its closest competitors.
It's hard not to the think of the MacBook Pro when eyeing the Toshiba Kirabook's sleek and slim aluminum design, though the notebook has enough attractive quirks to stand out on its own.
The laptop's brushed-metal chassis feels both sturdy and smooth to the touch, with a black, island-style keyboard and black-bezel display complementing its otherwise all-silver look. Both the notebook's lid and underside are wonderfully clean, with nothing but an embroidered Toshiba logo at the top and a few screws and bumpers on the bottom.
Measuring 12.44 x 8.15 x 0.71 inches and 2.9 pounds, the Kirabook felt pleasingly light in my hands. Toshiba's notebook is just as slim and lightweight as the 13-inch MacBook Pro (12.8 x 9 x 0.68 inches, 2.9 pounds), and actually has a slightly smaller footprint.
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While not quite is a tiny as the bezel-less Dell XPS 13 (11.98 x 7.88 x 0.33-0.6 inches, 2.8 pounds), the Kirabook is similar in svelteness to other attractive ultraportables in its category, such as Samsung's ATIV Book 9 Plus (12.5 x 8.8 x 0.54-inches, 3.06-pounds).
The Kirabook's 13-inch, 2,560 x 1,440 touch display delivers gorgeous picture quality, but it's far too dim. Due to that picture quality, text on websites such as LaptopMag.com and ESPN.com practically looked handwritten, and images of laptops and athletes looked colorful and crisp.
That same sharpness carried over to a 1080p trailer for Avengers: Age of Ultron, though the notebook's dark display made it difficult to make out certain characters' faces during close-ups.
This frustrating dimness was reflected in our brightness test, as the Kirabook registered a relatively low 222 nits on our light meter. This rating pales in comparison to the MacBook Pro's 389 nits, the XPS 13's 295 nits, the ATIV Book 9 Plus' 315 nits and our 262-nit ultraportable average.
The Kirabook displayed an impressive 102.6 percent of the sRGB color gamut, covering more colors than the MacBook Pro (91.2), the XPS 13 (96.6), the ATIV Book 9 (95.4) and our 76-percent category average.
It's not as color-accurate as it is colorful, however, with a color accuracy rating of 5 that strays far from a perfect 0. While better than the ATIV Book's 6.8, the Kirabook proved to be less accurate than the XPS 13's rating of 3.5 and worse than our 4.12 average.
The Kirabook's touch display was highly responsive, whether I pinched to zoom into websites or dragged digital cards into battle in Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft.
Featuring harman/kardon stereo speakers, the Kirabook was perfectly loud, and crisp enough to fill my small living room with quality tunes. Whether I was jamming to hip-hop anthems such as Kendrick Lamar's "King Kunta" or blasting the arena-pop sounds of Fall Out Boy's "Irresistible," I was treated to vocals, strings and guitars that came through clearly, and drum sounds that hit with a satisfying pop.
If you want to tweak the Kirabook's audio output, there's a built-in DTS Studio Sound app that lets you toggle bass boost, 3D sound or surround sound. The app also features an equalizer for extra fine-tuning.
Keyboard and Touchpad
The Kirabook touts a slick set of nicely spaced-out chiclet keys, complete with a handy function row for quickly adjusting volume, brightness and audio playback.
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Using the Kirabook, I was able to type at a brisk 93 words per minute with 98 percent accuracy on the Key Hero typing test, but I wasn't comfortable the whole time. The 1.4-millimeter-high keys felt too shallow for my liking, as I often felt like I was smacking my fingers against the deck of the laptop itself when chopping away.
The notebook's 4.1 x 2.3-inch touchpad provides plenty of real estate for scrolling around. Despite packing a single-panel construction, the touchpad recognized whether I was performing left or right clicks based on which side of the pad I pressed down. Touch gestures -- such as tapping to click, pinching to zoom and swiping between apps -- were a breeze.
Ports and Webcam
The Kirabook touts a fairly standard port selection, with a few handy bonuses. Of the laptop's three USB 3.0 ports, one supports Toshiba Sleep and Charge, which lets you charge your USB devices even when the notebook is asleep.
There's also a headphone/microphone port, a 6-in-1 memory card reader and an HDMI-out port, the latter of which can output to 4K displays for extra-sharp presentations and movie playback.
The Kirabook's HD webcam takes fairly pixelated photos, especially when considering smaller details like birthmarks and strands of facial hair. However, the blurriness won't keep your co-workers from being able to distinguish you on your next conference call.
Powered by a 2.4-GHz Intel Core i7 processor with 8GB of RAM, our configuration of the Kirabook can multitask masterfully. I didn't experience any slowdown when streaming an HD Hulu video, playing Hearthstone and browsing 12 Chrome tabs at once, and the notebook allowed me to switch between each of those respective apps in an instant.
The Kirabook scored a 6,396 on the Geekbench 3 overall performance test, beating out the XPS 13 (5,653, Core i5), ATIV Book 9 Plus (5,056, Core i5) and our 4,314 ultraportable average. However, Toshiba's notebook fell short of the Core i5-powered MacBook Pro's 7,113.
On our spreadsheet test, the Kirabook took a brisk 4 minutes and 32 seconds to match 20,000 names to their addresses. The notebook outpaced the XPS 13 (5:02), the ATIV Book 9 (5:17) and our 9:23 average, but, once again, couldn't keep up with the MacBook Pro's 3:28.
The Kirabook's 256GB SSD drive transferred 4.97GB of mixed media in a blazing 15 seconds, resulting in a transfer rate of 339.3 MB per second. Toshiba's ultraportable crushed the XPS 13 (154.2 MBps), the ATIV Book 9 (221.3MBps) and our 157-MBps average. However, the MacBook Pro's 128GB, PCI-based flash storage performed even faster than the Kirabook, at a zippy 386 MBps.
Packing integrated Intel HD 5500 graphics, the Kirabook has just enough graphical muscle for some light gaming. Whether I was crashing head-on into other vehicles in Asphalt 8: Airborne or battling animated playing cards in Hearthstone, the action always played out smoothly in the less-demanding games I tested.
The Kirabook played World of Warcraft at a smooth 54 frames per second on autodetect at 1,366 x 768 resolution. However, the game dipped to 29 fps at 1080p, and dropped to an unplayable 16 fps when we kicked the graphics to Ultra.
The MacBook Pro eked out a similarly sluggish 17 fps at 1,920 x 1,200 with graphics on Ultra, while the ATIV Book 9 Plus and XPS registered Ultra/1080p frame rates of 12 and 18 fps, respectively.
The Kirabook scored a 59,650 on the 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited graphics test, edging out the ATIV Book 9 Plus' 44,476; the XPS 13's 55,586; and our 31,907 ultraportable average.
The Kirabook is a bit heavy on preinstalled apps, but there are a handful of useful programs to be found in the mix. The notebook's main first-party offering is Kira Central, which provides quick links to tech support and forums, in addition to a Toshiba social media feed and a built-in browser for shopping for Toshiba's products.
Standard Toshiba utilities such as Application Installer, Service Station and Recovery Media Creator are present on the notebook, as is Toshiba's Chroma Tune. This app contains some handy presents (such as Cool, Warm and Native) for quickly tuning the display's colors.
Creatives can dig into the included versions of Adobe Premiere Elements 12 and Photoshop Elements 12, and there's a month trial of Office 365 if you're looking to get some work done. The notebook also comes with a 24-month subscription to McAfee Live Safe security.
Toshiba offers two versions of the Kirabook, with processing power being the major differentiator between the two. The starting, $1,499 model packs an Intel Core i5-4200U CPU, 8GB of RAM, integrated graphics, a 256GB Solid State Drive and a 13.3-inch quad HD display.
If you shell out for the $1,699 version (which we reviewed), you'll get a faster Core i7-5500U processor and Intel HD 5500 graphics with the same RAM, storage and display.
The Kirabook's battery will get you through a full day of work (and then some), but it's not quite the longest-lasting ultraportable out there. Toshiba's notebook endured an impressive 9 hours and 7 minutes of continuous Web surfing over Wi-Fi on our battery test, lasting longer than the XPS 13 (7:24), the ATIV Book 9 (7:54) and our 7:58 average.
However, Apple's laptops dominate the Kirabook in terms of endurance; the MacBook Pro lasted an epic 12 hours and 4 minutes, while the latest 13-inch Pro endured for an even stronger 12 hours and 22 minutes.
With a slick quad-HD touch display, zippy processing speeds and a stunningly slim design, the Toshiba Kirabook ($1,699 as reviewed) is a reliable ultraportable whose performance is as good as its looks. The notebook's small footprint and 9-hour-plus battery life make it ideal for vacations and business trips, and its crisp harmon/kardon speakers make it a solid multimedia machine.
While the Kirabook's display stands out in terms of sharpness, the laptop's relative dimness holds it back from true greatness. Cheaper Windows alternatives such as the $1,399 Dell XPS 13 and $1,225 Samsung ATIV Book 9 Plus offer brighter, 3,200 x 1,800 displays, and the 13-inch MacBook Pro touts better overall performance for a more affordable $1,299.
Still, if you're seeking a Windows machine that prioritizes design, battery life and performance, and you can live with a somewhat dim display, the Kirabook is a strong choice.