laptops

Toshiba KIRAbook 13 i5-Touch Review

$1,499.99
7.7
Better than 80% of Reviewed Laptops

It's portable and powerful, but Toshiba's KIRAbook could use better battery life.

No longer is 1080p the standard for high-definition—companies like Apple, Asus, and now Toshiba are changing our expectations of picture sharpness. The Toshiba KIRAbook 13 i5-Touch (MSRP $1,799) packs a resolution of 2560 x 1440, an Intel i5 dual-core processor, 8GB of RAM, and a 256GB solid-state hard drive.

And what better way to interact with that high resolution display than with a touchscreen?

For the price, these are some pretty nice specs, especially the extra RAM and hard drive space. What's even better, Toshiba's KIRAbook benefits from a great keyboard and a decent touchpad. There isn't much to dislike about Toshiba's latest, save for its somewhat lackluster appearance and average battery life.

Design & Screen

If a Mac Air and a Chromebook had a baby...

Let's get this out of the way: Toshiba's new KIRAbook looks a little clunky. Sure, it's lightweight and thin compared to budget laptops, but its appearance doesn't hold up next to the competition. Look at Sony's Pro 13 or Asus' Zenbook—those ultrabooks truly embody style. With the KIRAbook's rounded edges, slightly thicker width, and metallic chassis, it looks like the offspring of a MacBook Air and a first-gen Chromebook.

The KIRAbook's appearance doesn't hold up next to ultrabooks like Sony's Pro 13 or Asus' Zenbook.
Toshiba at least includes a good selection of ports. The left side has a full-size HDMI port, a power input, and two USB 3.0 ports. The right side is home to another USB 3.0 port, a headphone jack, and an SD card reader. Three USB ports? Talk about useful.

Upon opening the KIRAbook, you're treated to an excellent screen and a comfortable keyboard. The screen is easily this ultrabook's claim to fame: a 2560 x 1440 beauty. Text looks crisp, the brightness is adequate, and its touchscreen functionality works flawlessly. Seriously, I'm impressed by how accurate this laptop's touchscreen is—it's almost like a... tablet!

Moving down to the keyboard, I noticed some odd-looking keys. While most laptops have square-shaped keys, the KIRAbook employs slightly rectangular chiclets. Upon first use, I made a few errors typing. After using the keyboard for a short period of time, though, I found it comfortable and highly accurate. Kudos, Toshiba.

The comfort doesn't stop with the keyboard: This KIRAbook has a really good touchpad, too. I'm usually critical of non-Apple touchpads—not because I'm some kind of Apple fanboy, but because touchpads on Windows-based laptops are either cramped or unresponsive. While the KIRAbook's pad is still not on the level of the Macbook Air's, it trounces most other PC pads I've used. Toshiba gives you ample space to work with, and the surface of the touchpad is smooth and responsive for easy finger gliding.

A word of caution: If you purchase a KIRAbook, be sure to update the touchpad driver—mine was a real pain before its necessary update.

Software

A bundled program that's actually useful? Toshiba delivers.

The KIRAbook's touchscreen functionality means that you can utilize Windows 8 to its full extent. Currently, Microsoft's operating system boots to a touch-friendly Start screen full of squares and rectangles called "Live Tiles." Using the touchscreen, this interface is highly intuitive; with a touchpad or mouse, not so much. Luckily, if you want to bypass the touchscreen functionality, there's also a desktop mode (which looks almost identical to Windows 7, save for the missing Start button).

Toshiba deserves credit for packaging a truly useful program on this KIRAbook: Adobe Photoshop Elements 11. Most laptop companies bundle a bunch of useless apps—referred to as bloatware—and Toshiba is no different: a handful of Norton anti-virus programs can be found, as well as the cruddy Toshiba Media Player. But a full version of a useful photo-editing software? Now that's a treat.

There's also KIRAcentral, which includes info about the laptop and updates for specific drivers. Like I mentioned previously, make sure your drivers are up-to-date. This KIRAbook had a lousy touchpad before I updated its driver.

Performance

It's no juggernaut, but this 13-inch Toshiba can hold its own.

After using the KIRAbook 13 i5-Touch as my personal laptop for a few days, I walked away impressed. A good keyboard, touchpad, and sharp screen are only half the battle, though. Performance is a necessity for many consumers, and most especially for professionals.

The KIRAbook's graphics performance wasn't nearly as good as its processor performance.
Processor-gauging tests like PCMark and Geekbench favored this little magnesium ultrabook, as it produced fairly good results: steady frame rates and quick completion of tests. Ultrabooks of this caliber usually come with a dual-core processor, so it won't outdo high-end models like Asus' Zenbook UX51VZ-XB71, which features beefier insides. That laptop costs over a grand more, though, so you get what you pay for.

The KIRAbook's graphics performance wasn't nearly as good as its processor performance, unfortunately. It produced lower scores using the 3DMark Vantage software, and running Portal 2 on high settings confirmed this machine's graphical deficiencies. Also, when the KIRAbook runs intensive software, its fans go full blast and they get loud.

Real world tests, like Photoshop and Excel, produced average numbers. Handbrake, which is a video conversion tool, gave us below-average numbers—that is, it took longer than usual to convert a video file. This one is a head-scratcher, since the KIRAbook i5-Touch has 8GB of RAM, a decent processor, and a solid-state hard drive.

When the KIRAbook runs intensive software, its fans get very loud.
While we don't score laptops for their audio quality, it's worth mentioning that this KIRAbook has absolutely lackluster sound. Why is this noteworthy? Because Toshiba partnered with Harman Kardon for this ultrabook's speakers, which would have you expecting above-average sound. Yet bass is almost non-existent—disappointing. Hip hop fans beware, or just break out some headphones.

Finally, battery life is just ho-hum. We cut the brightness to 50% and let this little ultrabook refresh a webpage every two minutes. The resulting battery life clocked in at just over 6 hours. While that isn't a terrible number, it doesn't compare to ultrabooks running Intel's fourth-generation chip, which regulates performance to accommodate battery life. Even worse, cranking the screen's brightness up will chew through the KIRAbook's battery very quickly. Keep that in mind if you plan to use this at a coffee shop or an airport for extended periods of time.

The Verdict

Despite its shortcomings, this is one rock-solid ultrabook

Toshiba crafted a gem of a computer with the KIRAbook 13 i5-Touch. For $1,799, you get a proficient processor, 8GB of RAM, and a 256GB solid-state hard drive. Those last two points—the RAM and hard drive—help justify the cost of this Toshiba.

Is this a worthy competitor to the MacBook Air? You bet. While Apple certainly wins with its hardware and battery life, the KIRAbook offers slightly better processor performance, plus a super hi-res screen. It also comes bundled with Photoshop Elements for all you photo-editing junkies. At $1,799, this laptop is par for the course. But if you don't care about having a touchscreen, Toshiba sells the exact same model for $200 less. Now that's a good deal for a competent computer.

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