Laptop reviews are not standard fare for this site, but I was strongly urged to give the Toshiba KIRAbook 13 a try. I live deep in the IT world and have purchased a huge number of computer systems. These purchases have included models up to and including midrange/mainframe systems, but have included a substantial number of laptops. I currently use a laptop and have used laptops almost exclusively for the last 15+ years. And I use laptops so much that it makes sense for me to have the fastest model available. Therefore, my primary laptop typically gets replaced annually with something nice and very fast.
My current laptop is a sleek, powerhouse Dell XPS 15:
That might explain some of my hesitation to carve out valuable time in my schedule for a tiny laptop review. But the review request was strong and, as a favor (OK, I was mildly intrigued), I accepted the short-term KIRAbook loan.
After accepting the request, I decided to look a bit more closely at what was coming:
I know, you are thinking that I should have looked at the specs before I accepted the request. Guess I have trust in my source - and from the above, it appears that they did not let me down. Obviously, a very cutting edge machine was headed my way.
Also obvious is that unboxing is the first step in a review and Toshiba hits an immediate home run with their first impression through the KIRAbook packaging. A fancy, hinged black box holding the laptop slides out of its master box. The laptop is nicely protected inside.
Lifting the little laptop out requires very little effort as this is definitely an air-weight device. Even the AC adapter is small and light. Size and weight are primary considerations for laptop selection. Few are going object to the dimensions and weight of this laptop – even those carrying for long periods of time. The brushed-metal appearance of this laptop is also a big hit.
As stated in the above bullets, attention has been paid to the display hinge – it opens smoothly and remains nicely resistant to bounce.
The initial startup procedures went very smoothly for me. Less smooth was my own transitioning from Windows 7 to Windows 8. It is a minor hurdle, but it will take more time for me to fully acclimate to this OS.
The display is what you look at most of the time. And the LED display in this laptop is perhaps the most-advanced feature in this device. 2560 x 1440 resolution in a 13" display is jaw-dropping, eye-popping, crazy-high resolution. I find 1920 x 1080 resolution to be small on my Dell's 15" display. 2560 x 1440 is definitely taking me some time to get used to.
Higher is generally considered better for a device's resolution spec. And I mostly agree.
Applications and web pages are generally designed to cover a specific number of pixels. As screen pixel density increases, the overall size of numbers, letters and other details shrink. You can get much more information on a high resolution display, but that information is potentially much harder to read.
Toshiba clearly knows this – and sets the Toshiba KIRAbook 13's to 165% view by default. This enlarges application details to what laptop owners are used to seeing. Photos are rasterized (vs. vector described). They are pixel-mapped. Photo sharpness, when viewed at 100%, is sacrificed to some extent with increased display magnification.
With the KIRAbook display set to 100%, I was now enjoying the benefits of the full resolution capabilities. And less-enjoying the tininess factor – you need good eyes (or a good eyeglass prescription) to use 100% resolution. And using touch behaviours on the tiny details favors tiny fingers. But displayed characters are very sharp at this incredible resolution. And a huge amount of information can be shown on the small display. The higher resolution display delivers noticeably smoother image quality.
My primary interest in the KIRAbook was for photo editing capabilities. And this was one of the carrots dangled in front of me when this review was being requested. I have yet to use a laptop with a screen that I felt was adequate for serious photo editing. I use an external monitor for all of my final image editing.
My Dell has a very nice LCD. Images look great on this laptop. But ... they often look too good – and look almost too sharp even with the display driver set to "0" sharpness.
In contrast, images on the KIRAbook appear barely sharp enough even with the display driver set to maximum sharpness. However, as I got used to what the extreme resolution I was looking at, I backed the display sharpness back down to the original default value. Colors, though more muted than on my Dell XPS 15, look remarkably close to my very accurate external monitor – a 25.5" NEC 2690WUXi2. Here is a Datacolor Spyder4 Elite Display Calibration System-generated comparison of the color gamut. The triangle bound by the circles shows the range producible by the specified display.
From the comparison above, we can see that the Toshiba can reproduce essentially the complete sRGB color gamut while the Dell reaches only 80%. Here is another comparison showing the measured tone curve of the same three displays. The Toshiba does not fare as well in this contest.
But, the Toshiba tested better than the Dell in white point, contrast, luminance uniformity and color accuracy. I calibrated the Toshiba's display using the Spyder4, but the difference made by doing so was barely noticeable. Toshiba's out-of-the-box color calibration was very good – and this is a big deal.
The bottom line is that I can use the KIRAbook for photo editing. I edited pictures side by side on the two machines, using my NEC monitor attached to the Dell and the Toshiba's PixelPure LED, and came up with identical recipes including brightness, white balance, saturation, etc. I'm impressed.
A downside to the Toshiba that should be mentioned is that the LED has a narrower angle available for critical viewing. The Dell and the NEC both remain viewable from wider angles. You will want to insure a direct viewing angle for critical editing work.
The display image quality is of course the primary interest I had in this unit. With that test passed, everything else is icing on the cake.
The touchscreen is a new laptop feature for me. I'm not sure how much I would really use it. And regardless of the effort made to avoid fingerprints, they still happen – and I find them annoying. Still, it is fun to flick, tap and zoom through a website or app. A microfiber cloth easily removes the prints.
Overall speed and performance is frequently sacrificed on ultrabooks. But not on this one. While my Dell's processor converts RAW images in about 70% of Toshiba's rate (processed 9 5D III images in 85 vs. 122 sec for an example), the significantly larger Dell has a really fast processor – and runs hotter. The Toshiba is fast – and runs cool. If you have not used an SSD (Solid State Drive), prepare for a big smile. These drives scream. The difference they make (for most tasks) is huge.
The keyboard is a laptop part that gets heavy use. This one is very usable – very similar to what I'm used to on my Dell (with a few important-to-me dedicated keys added) and very similar to standard laptop keyboards industry wide. The backlit feature is a requirement for my uses. The large palm-rest touchpad is very nice – it is easy to be precise with and the friction provided is just right. Of course, the entire display is a touchpad and works great as such.
No built in optical drive is provided – an external USB optical drive is optional. HDMI out is your external video option. Three USB 3.0 ports are provided (what I minimally require) as is a memory card reader.
Sound from the bottom-mounted speakers is good. The sound from the other end of a KIRA premier support phone call is even better. "Call Us! We're Here to Help You." the card on top of the packaging says. So I took Toshiba up on that offer. My calls (placed two of them) were answered (no hold time) by an intelligent and very friendly support person who proceeded to properly answer the questions I had (one difficult, one keyboard-related).
Circling back around to the size and weight ... the form factor of the Toshiba KIRAbook 13 cannot be overlooked. This laptop is tiny and light – it is very easy to take with you. It looks as great as it feels. It will certainly not let down your image in front of clients.
As usual, top of the line wears a higher-than-average price tag. And higher price tags always reduce the market audience. For those that know what they are getting in this machine, the price will not be such a big hurdle.
Finally, a Windows-based laptop suitable for serious image editing!
Unfortunately, as I mentioned earlier in the review, I had to return this evaluation unit. But, the Toshiba KIRAbook 13 definitely has me thinking about what my next laptop will be.
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