Toshiba’s Kira series of Ultrabooks (sometimes called the Kirabook, to our bemusement) have demonstrated since their first 2013 model, that they can do ultra-slim, smart-looking powerful laptops well enough. Yet they’ve rarely stood out.
That’s not because the Kiras have been mediocre — far from it — but that the crowd of competitors is huge and includes some real beauties. For example, last year’s model had to face off against the MacBook Pro Retina, the Dell XPS 13, the Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 2 Pro, the Asus UX301, the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon, and the Fujitsu Lifebook U904.
This model obviously has similarly tough competition. The Dell XPS 15, the Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 2 11, the Asus Zenbook UX305, The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon (2015) and many, many more.
This model has pricing at the higher end of the Ultrabook spectrum, which may well be Toshiba’s main error. When products like the UX305 are cheaper but similar in performance, looks alone, no matter how finely-featured, are not enough to justify the price tag. Similarly, when the Dell XPS 15 offers so much more oomph for just a bit more so, you might be tempted to futureproof yourself a bit better.
The laptop in operation is a joy to behold, with a clear black bezel around the screen, clear brushed aluminium on the body, and glossy black plastic keys. Even the touchpad mimics the overall smoothed trapezoid shape of the laptop. As usual, the worst things about its appearance are the tacked-on Intel and Energy Star stickers.
With the laptop shut it appears rather anonymous, which is odd considering how pleasant it feels when open and powered on. If you didn’t see the large Toshiba logo, you might think this was made by just about any high end manufactuer. And, like its larger Satellite brother, the laptop visual language is confusing when shut, inverting the normal placement of extra bezelling, meaning I always try to open it from the wrong side first.
It is still outrageously slim — the specs here list it as 9.5mm thick (19.8mm including its rubber feet). That’s only slightly thicker than a Samsung S4 phone or iPhone. That delicacy means that you really don’t want to be bending it or picking it up by the screen — but that doesn’t mean it’s fragile, just that it’s not a toughbook.
Contents Under Pressure
Obviously, this isn’t a desktop replacement. So for any processor-intensive tasks it gets both noisy and hot, and that only ramps up as it goes on. During benchmarking the central aluminium got hot enough that you wouldn’t want to be touching it, and the fan sounded like a swarm of angry bees. Restrict your usage to simple web-browsing and email though, and it’s a happy, healthy little creature with a surprisingly good battery life.
Specifications and value
The Kira is at the upper end of the Ultrabook weight bracket — of our picks, only the Asus Zenbook Pro is heavier, with most other Ultrabooks coming in just a little lighter. It still doesn’t feel heavy, of course — I carried it and a chromeback in my rucksack for a week without noticing it. (But then I’m used to carrying a ten kilo baby on one arm…)
The dimensions are like baby bear’s porridge, just right. Of course, there’s a little wasted space around the screen bezel and the keyboard is confined inside a similar aluminium border. It might seem wasteful, but that’s the perfect space to absorb any damage for when you inevitably drop the laptop… speaking of which, though the aluminium surface isn’t going to break any time soon, during our short trial period it started showing signs of wear — small scratches and the like — which couldn’t be polished away.
Here is the Toshiba Kira 107 configuration sent to TechRadar for review:
- Spec Sheet — subhed
- CPU: 2.4GHz Intel Core™ i7-5500U Processor (dual-core, 4MB cache, up to 3GHz with Intel® Turbo Boost Technology 2.0
- Graphics: Intel® HD Graphics 5500 (shared memory)
- RAM: 8GB DDR3L RAM (1600 MHz)
- Screen: 13.3 inch 2560 x 1440 Toshiba PixelPure™ WQHD touch display with IGZO technology.
- Storage: 256GB SSD
- Optical drive: N/A
- Ports: 3 x USB 3.0 ports, HDMI supporting UHD, Headphone jack, Microphone jack.
- Connectivity: Intel® Dual Band Wireless-AC 7265 + Bluetooth 4.0
- Camera: Built-in HD web-cam.
- Weight: 2.9 pounds
- Size: 12.4 x 8 x 0.37 inches
Overall, that looks like a nice package. A solid CPU and graphics package, an acceptable 8GB of RAM, the same size SSD, a lovely WQHD touchscreen and an HD webcam. It’s even the same price! Indeed, the only real difference between this and the Lenovo LaVie Z (one of our current Ultrabook choices) is the touchscreen and that the LaVie Z is two-thirds of the Kira’s weight.
The port and connectivity selection is as standard, with headphone and microphone ports, a 4K HDMI-out port. There are also three USB 3.0 ports. One of these supports sleep and charge meaning it can continue to charge devices even when the laptop is completely off.
You can identify it by the small lightning bolt logo. The HD webcam is nothing to write home about, but does the job it’s intended for — but you won’t be using it in place of a scanner anytime soon.
Performance and features
Performing everyday tasks, the Kira just flies. Its fast start-up time from sleep and when powering on makes it the go-to device for checking anything quickly. It also has the processing oomph to handle mostly anything you throw at it, though it does get hot and noisy if that goes on for too long. The keyboard layout is a little bit uncomfortable for certain hand sizes, but you’ll quickly get used to it.
The harman / kardon speakers are, as expected, sharp and pump out good tunes — though the bass of course can’t match a true subwoofer. The built-in DTS Studio Sound app lets you play around with the audio output, if you want to use 3D or surround sound, or equalize the sound.
Our test Toshiba Kira 107 came with Windows 8.1, an Intel Core i7-5500U CPU clocked at 2.40GHz, 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD. Here’s how it performed in our suite of benchmark tests:
- 3DMark: Cloud Gate: 5510; Sky Diver: 2844; Fire Strike: 744
- Cinebench CPU: 279 points; Graphics: 29.75 fps,
- PCMark 8 (Home Test): 2771 points
- PCMark 8 (Battery Life): 4 hours and 40 minutes
- Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor (1080p, Ultra): 10 fps; (1080p, Low): 25 fps
- Metro: Last Light Redux (1080p, Ultra): 2.7 fps; (1080p, Low): 12 fps
Let’s just remind ourselves how that compares to last year’s Kira scores.
- 3DMark: Ice Storm: 15,086; C loud Gate: 4,622; F ire Strike: 625
- Cinebench 11.5: C PU: 277pts; Graphics: 20.14 fps
- PC Mark 8 Battery Life: 11 hours and 15 minutes
Though the battery life is obviously hugely different, the other benchmarks are only slightly changed. That 50% improvement on the Cinebench graphics performance is down to the improved Intel integrated graphics, but the difference is only minor in the 3DMark benchmarks. Both the games are obviously unplayable at average settings — but then this is an Ultrabook.
Compared to the new Dell XPS 15 (which is 50% more expensive), this new Kira outperforms it at basic tasks, with much better home scores and a stronger battery life. We suspect much of that will be down to superfast transfer speeds from the SSD.
But it falls down heavily on the graphics side, where the XPS 15 clocked in a 72 fps Cinebench score compared to the Kira’s 30 fps, and 3DMark scores that are roughly double to treble the Kira’s. Indeed, the Kira’s graphical scores only just beat the much cheaper Asus Zenbook UX305, which has a 320 minute battery life compared to the Kira’s 280 minutes and the XPS 15’s 210 minutes.
The screen is genuinely stunning, with that huge resolution matching up with an enjoyable richness to impress even our jaded peepers. The screen brightness issues which we had with the previous two models haven’t been addressed, staying too dim at each stage. It’s probably half as bright as the MacBook Pro’s screen, which is pretty astounding.
The other aspects of the screen are better, especially the wealth of screen real estate. The touchscreen is, again, nicely responsive if a little unnecessary for anyone but the iPad generation. The shiny screen is slightly problematic in bright light, but not as badly as other units we’ve tested — and it produces consistent brightness and colour across the screen, and from a wide viewing angle. And it pumps out nicely saturated colours as well.
There’s very little bundled software with this, thankfully. To be honest, we can all accept that (beyond a free antivirus subscription) there’s little we actually want installed as default with our hardware these days, because we prefer to customise things ourselves. So the limited number of Toshiba applications that deal with particular aspects of the Kira are welcome where they’re subtle and in the background.
McAfee AntiVirus isn’t, because it’s an annoying trial version that will be a sod to remove and pester you every day until you get rid of it. Similarly, the thirty day-version of Microsoft LiveOffice is about as welcome as a combine harvester at a flower show. And the Chroma Tune software is there for tuning the display’s colours accurately.
The Kira was always targetted at the MacBook Pro audience. That’s not really changed, and the payoff is still the same — this is like a cheaper Windows-based MacBook without the crazy price point and insane polish. In terms of components, it’s the Lenovo LaVie Z, but without the crazy lightness and with a much better battery life.
The Kira is, generally, pleasant to use — it’s an attractive machine to carry around with you.
We liked it’s looks, its weight and its battery life more than we liked its screen — and we recognise that it’s got some of the best PCMark 8 Home scores of any Ultrabook.
That dim screen still seems to be a problem across the Toshiba range, which is sad. It means that you won’t be happy using this outdoors in some office environments. The keyboard is a little annoying for some people, so it’s worth trying one of these out yourself before buying. The price is also depressing, considering the value of the the Asus Zenbook UX305, but it’s not hugely out of whack for what you’d expect from an Ultrabook.
If this was the laptop we had to use for the next three years, we wouldn’t be at all upset. It’s so nicely made, long-lasting and smooth-running that we’d be quite happy keeping it until it fell apart — which will be a damn long time.. The negatives — the ease of scratching, the dim screen, the price — all hurt but don’t stop it being a damn fine example of an ultrabook — albeit a relatively expensive one.