Toshiba is rightfully proud of the rigidity of the Kirabook's magnesium-alloy chassis, but the lid housing its display flexes enough to do the limbo. It feels alarmingly fragile. The other half, which encloses the keyboard and motherboard, feels remarkably strong considering how thin it is. The machine weighs only 2.97 pounds, and it measures just 0.7 inch thick when closed. The Kirabook is one of the prettiest laptops I've seen, with nary a hard edge to be felt. Unsightly features such as cooling vents and speaker grilles stay hidden while this Ultrabook is in use.
The Kirabook's backlit keyboard offers very good tactile feedback, and its monolithic touchpad--which also supports Windows 8 gestures--tracks smoothly and accurately. The left and right mouse buttons are integrated into the touchpad itself, helping to keep the overall design clean and elegant.
In addition to HDMI-out, the Kirabook has three USB 3.0 ports, a media card reader, and a combo microphone/headphone jack. It lacks a hardwired ethernet port, however. Exacerbating that problem is Toshiba's decision to use Intel's Centrino Wireless-N 2230 Wi-Fi adapter, which is limited to networks operating on the crowded 2.4GHz frequency band. Come on, Toshiba, this is supposed to be a luxury offering!
As you've probably guessed, the machine has no optical drive. The Harman/Kardon audio system, though, sounds much better than I expected, generating relatively full-range sound and a wide stereo field from the speakers' left and right locations on the bottom of the unit.
The Kirabook achieved a Notebook WorldBench 8.1 score of 284, versus the 100-point score of our reference notebook, Asus's VivoBook S550CA. Much of that performance delta can be attributed to the Kirabook's SSD (the VivoBook has just a 24GB SSD acting as a cache for a 500GB mechanical hard drive). The Kirabook also delivered better performance in most of the other tests that make up the WorldBench suite, but those differences weren't nearly as dramatic as the storage-performance results. And you shouldn't expect to play hard-core games on either system, but that's clearly not the audience Toshiba is going after with this product.
The audience Toshiba is pursuing with the Kirabook is the well-to-do professional who is willing to pay extra for services such as dedicated, United States-based telephone tech support. Toshiba goes so far as to guarantee Kirabook buyers that such calls will be answered within 45 seconds. If that's inconvenient, you can schedule a date and time when a tech-support person will call you, instead. And should you need to send your unit in for repairs during its two-year warranty period, Toshiba will pay for overnight shipping.
The Kirabook is the most beautiful Ultrabook to pass through the PCWorld Labs, but its inability to drive a large external monitor at native resolution, a lid that flexes like a contortionist, a Wi-Fi adapter restricted to 2.4GHz networks, and a display that doesn't deliver as much contrast as the Retina display Toshiba wants consumers to compare it to make this machine's sky-high price tag hard to swallow.
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