In August of 2013, I wrote a in-depth review of the new 13″ Toshiba Kirabook laptop that was one of the better Windows travel laptops at the time. However while it was lightweight, portable and contained a gorgeous 2560×1440 screen, it wasn’t perfect. Battery life was ok but not great, Windows 8 didn’t support high resolution very well and Intel had just pushed out its Haswell processor that offered much better battery life and stronger CPU performance which left the Kirabook feeling a touch out of date on the day of its launch. Fast forward to April of 2014 and Toshiba has finally released an update to the Kirabook line.
Does the new Kirabook fix last years model’s issues? Does Windows 8.1 make much of a difference? Is it enough of an update in features to warrant a upgrade if you bought last years model? Read my mini review below to find out if it is still in my gear bag…
Unlike the 2013 Kirabook, there are now only two models of the laptop, with the main difference between the two being an Intel i5 Haswell processor (4200) in the $1,499.99 version and Intel i7 Haswell processor (4500) in the $1,699.99 version, saving a few hundred bucks off the top of the line model from last year. Additionally the 10 point touch screen is now standard between the two models where it was an upgrade in the 2013 Kirabook which essentially means that the screen recognizes 10 simultaneous interactions points (so all the fingers on both your hands) . Additionally Toshiba moved to a more future proof wireless chip, the faster Intel 7360 802.11ac which supports the newer ac WiFi standard that allows for faster data transfer if you are on a wifi network that supports the newer protocol. In terms of build quality, the Kirabook is still incredibly sleek looking with its AZ91 magnesium alloy enclosure, that is said to be much stronger then the enclosure used on Macbook Air and Macbook Pro laptops.
The following specs are based off the i7 version of the 2014 Kirabook that I have…
- CPU – Intel i7-4500U processor
- Operating System – Windows 8.1 Pro
- Memory – 8GB DDR3L 1600MHz
- Display – 13″ WQHD PixelPure LED w/ 10 point touch screen (2560×1440 resolution)
- Graphics – Intel HD 4400 Graphics
- Hard Drive – 256GB SSD
- Wireless LAN – Intel Dual Band Wireless-N 7260 2×2 AC
- Bluetooth – Bluetooth v.4.0
- Battery – 52Wh 4 Cell (not user replaceable)
- Battery Life – 7.75 – 8.5 hours
- Card Reader – SD Card Slot
- USB Ports – 3 USB 3.0 ports
- HDMI port – 4k Ultra HD output capability
- Free Software – Adobe PS Elements & Adobe Premier Elements + 1 month trial of MS Office 365 (+ others)
- Weight – 2.97lbs
- Warranty – Premium 2 year warranty (Similar to Apple Care)
Performance & Battery Life
The upgrade to an Intel i7 Haswell processor is a welcome touch as it was one of my biggest complaints with last years model. While the laptop feels smoother and more responsive, I wouldn’t say the jump to Haswell dramatically increased performance, although there is certainly an improvement. From the time you press the power button, you can expect roughly 9 to 10 seconds for boot time to the Windows Start screen. Both Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Lightroom ran smooth 95% of the time, with the exception of trying to edit large 60mp Phase One images, which caused it to slow down on occasion (not unexpected on a portable laptop).
The biggest benefit from the Haswell processor upgrade came in terms of battery life, which now officially sits at 7.75 hours according to Toshiba. Truth be told, I was occasionally getting close to 9 hours a charge on mine, especially when I was particular on selecting the right power mode: Balanced, Eco or High performance. Battery life with most laptops is usually my sore point. The original Kirabook barely got 4.5 hours and now I am getting a little less the double that on occasion, which I am happy with. Regardless, I can’t wait for 2 or 3 years from now when all of these laptops are getting 15hr to 20hrs a charge or more.
When it comes picking a laptop for my travel needs, the display is generally the first thing I focus on after checking out the battery life and processing power. Luckily the 2014 doesn’t disappoint, although I say that with a slight caveat. Like its 2013 older brother that I own, the 2014 Kirabook comes with the same 2560×1440 WQHD PixelPure LED touch screen. The resolution is fantastic, I love the touch interface (especially when browsing the web) and the screen itself has bright vibrant colors and nice deep blacks. That being said, there are two issues with the screen. 1.) It has a glossy finish. I wished more laptops, especially those geared toward creatives, come with a matte display option to help cut down on reflections. 2.) While the PixelPure LED display has decent viewing angles, it is not an IPS (In Plane Switching) screen which tends to offer near 180 degree quality viewing angles. Once you get the Kirabook’s screen situated right, it looks gorgeous, but if you tilt it back to far or bring it too close to you, you will notice a loss of contrast, which will slightly wash out colors. If I had to pick one gripe with this laptop, this would be it. However to be fair, it is something that is easily overcome.
I will be the first to admit that sometimes…it feels like I am the only one on the planet that actually genuinely likes and enjoys Windows 8. Near the time that Windows 8 was coming out, I was still using nearly all Apple laptops and desktops for my various photography companies but I just didn’t like the direction that OSX was headed. While I was still scarred from my experience with Windows ME and Vista from years ago and even though Microsoft wasn’t at the top of my “favorite companies” list at the time, I decided to give it a try….and ended up loving it. Once I got used to how it works, I realized that it is such a great OS. It boots fast, runs smooth and doesn’t crash (atleast for me). What more could I want?
Now the reason I have a section dedicated to Windows 8.1 in this review is because this was a pretty important update for Windows 8, especially for the Kirabook laptop. While Windows 8 had many features I liked, its lack of high resolution monitor support was frustrating. Text and applications looked small when taking advantage of the near retina like display in last years Kirabook laptop. With Win 8.1, nearly all of that has been fixed. Windows now does a better job handling high resolution screens and when it comes to the Kirabook itself, Toshiba provides the app “Display Utility” that allows you to make system adjustments in order to have the best viewing experience for your needs.
The 2014 Kirabook has taken nearly all of my qualms with last years model and pushed out an incredibly capable professional travel laptop. It is light weight, has a small footprint, a beautiful touch screen and it lasts for over 8hrs a charge. The two main applications I use for photo editing, Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Lightoom, both run incredibly smooth and contrary to popular opinion, I actually love Windows 8 (especially since the 8.1 update). I say it has “nearly” addressed all of the issues because I still wish that Toshiba had moved to a true IPS panel with a matte screen. This years model can suffer from issues with glare when working outside or near bright windows and the viewing angles could be better.
Even with its imperfections, I enjoyed using last years Kirabook for close to 6 months while on the road until my wife finally decided to commandeer it, which she picked over her Macbook Air. As for my gear setup, the 2014 Toshiba Kirabook certainly has its place. When I head out on a trip where I know I will be purely doing heavy photo editing, I still usually opt for my Wacom Cintiq Companion, as that is what it was built for. However the Cintiq is nearly a pound heavier, has half the battery life and takes up more much more space. When I am looking to go fast and light or when I know I am going to be doing a lot of writing along with some photo editing, you will find the Kirabook in my messenger bag every time.
Toshiba did not pay or ask me to write this review. They did however send me the laptop to use as I pleased.