- High-resolution touchscreen
- Core i7 CPU, 8GB of RAM
- Good battery life
- Good sound output
- Lacks legacy ports
Ultrabooks have come a long way since their earliest appearance, and the slim, lightweight concept has helped them make the transition from consumer to business sectors. Although Toshiba targets the Kira-101 primarily at the consumer market, it could sit quite happily in some businesses — although the fit will depend to some extent on your connectivity requirements and your budget, as this is a relatively expensive laptop.
The Kira 101 certainly has the 'wow factor' when it comes to hardware design. As an ultrabook, it's thin and light weighing just 1.35kg and tapering at the front to 9.5mm (full dimensions are 31.6cm by 20.7cm by 0.95-1.98cm). The brushed metal appearance of the lid and, inside, the wrist rest and keyboard surround lends an appealing uniformity to the notebook's look, although the silvered plastic around the touchpad is a little 'blingy'.
Close inspection reveals that the bodywork is made from plastic rather than metal, and is not as tough as it first looks. In particular, there is some give in the lid. We had hoped for a more solid construction from a premium-priced ultrabook.
The screen is a 13.3-inch Toshiba PixelPure unit with 176-degree viewing angles in both horizontal and vertical planes. Some may find the screen far too glossy (you could easily use the screen as a mirror with the system switched off), but it does have one very nice feature: a resolution of 2,560 by 1,440 pixels (221ppi). Working at that resolution is made easier with a desktop scaling level of 150 percent, which is the default setting. If you regularly run graphics-rich workloads, including presentations, the Kira 101's high-resolution display could be a real draw.
Not only does the screen offer a high resolution, it's also touch-sensitive. However, the Kira 101 is not a convertible notebook whose display twists and lays flat on the keyboard for tablet-style use: you'll have to prod at the screen in clamshell mode, which isn't always ideal. Some people will be happy to have a touchscreen though — particularly if you're a fan of Windows 8.1's tiled Start screen.
The keyboard has isolated chiclet-style keys that people may find too springy, although we found we could touch type at normal speed. There's no flexibility in the keyboard, so heavier-handed typists should find it as usable as those with a more delicate touch.
The keyboard is recessed, which meant that, annoyingly, the back of our thumb hit the edge of the recess whenever we tapped the space bar. Some keys are also very small — the arrow keys are half height, for example, as are PgUp and PgDn, which are squished into the far right of the keyboard below the Enter key. The Fn keys are half height too. People with stubby fingers might find these compromises irritating.
The trackpad is flat with an almost invisible raised section denoting the presence of two mouse buttons: it's much easier to feel this than to see it, which is probably as it should be. The buttons are responsive and light-touch, and the whole trackpad is smooth and comfortable to use.
The trackpad can be disabled with a simple key combination, but annoyingly the cursor stays on-screen after it's disabled; and while some notebooks have a status light to indicate that the touchpad is disabled, there's no such sophistication here. We can see a situation where you might think the trackpad is broken when in fact it's simply disabled.
The Kira 101's fourth-generation (Haswell) Intel Core i7-4500U processor is clocked at 1.8GHz, rising to 3.0GHz in Turbo Boost mode. Toshiba has married this powerful dual-core processor with 8GB of RAM. Graphics are handled by the integrated Intel HD Graphics 4400 GPU and the operating system is Windows 8.1 Pro.
Data storage is catered for by a 256GB SSD, which, while less capacious than a physical hard drive, is both fast and power frugal. The slimline ultrabook format lacks the space for an optical drive.
There are three USB 3.0 ports — two on the left edge and one on the right. The left edge also houses an HDMI port and the main power input, while on the right you'll find an SD card slot and a headset/microphone combo jack. Corporate users who need either wired Ethernet or legacy VGA will be disappointed. For wireless connectivity there's dual-band 802.11a/b/g/n/ac wi-fi and Bluetooth 4.0 LE.
This is a Windows 8.1 Pro computer, and there's no optional downgrade to Windows 7 as you find with many purely business-focused notebooks. If you don't want Windows 8.1, look elsewhere.
The Windows Experience Index (WEI) is still available on Windows 8.1 system, although it's a little trickier to find these days. The Kira 101's component scores, which are out of 9.9, are as follows:
CPU (Processor score) 7.3
D3D (3D graphics score) 5.4
Disk (Hard disk score) 8.1
Graphics (Graphics score) 5.7
Memory (Memory throughput) 7.5
The top-performing subsystems is Disk (8.1/9.9, thanks to the SSD), while the slowest is 3D graphics, or D3D (5.4/9.9, thanks to the integrated GPU). Overall, though, the Kira 101 is a strong performer capable of handling a wide range of business workloads.
Toshiba includes its Eco mode power management system, and we found that with this selected the Kira 101 was good for a day's-worth of standard business usage without worrying about the proximity of a source of mains power. Toshiba claims battery life of "up to" 9 hours and 10 minutes.
There are no speaker grilles adorning the keyboard surround, but if you're thinking that the high-resolution screen might be good for delivering multimedia presentations you'll be happy to know that sound output is both loud and of reasonably good quality.
The Toshiba Kira 101 is a thin, lightweight and stylish ultrabook that would not look out of place in a business meeting. The high-resolution 13.3-inch touchscreen is a highlight, alongside 8GB of RAM, a dual-core Core i7 processor and a 256GB SSD. Some business users may bemoan by the absence of VGA and Ethernet ports and the lack of an optical drive, but these are rare components on an ultrabook. The £1,082.50 (ex. VAT) price is high, though.