In the Windows 8 world there are high-end laptops, and there are thin laptops, and never the twain shall meet. But Toshiba's new Kirabook, the first in a new line of laptops from the Japanese company, is very much both, and in doing so provides a legitimate Windows-based competitor to the MacBook Pro with Retina Display and the MacBook Air, in a single package.
Its spec sheet is where the Kirabook competes most with the MacBook Pro — and Toshiba's reps said as much, over and over. The Kirabook has a Core i5 or i7 processor, 256GB of solid state storage, and 8GB of RAM. You may need that i7 chip, too, because the Kirabook's 13.3-inch display's 2560 x 1440 resolution is going to require some horsepower — that kind of pixel density is rivaled only by the MacBook Pro with Retina Display and the Chromebook Pixel.
In person, it's gorgeous. Toshiba reps showed us the same Timescapes trailer that so many companies use to show off their high-res wares, and the color reproduction and sharpness were stunning. Viewing angles are unfortunately pretty bad, but as long as you're sitting in front of your computer the Kirabook's screen is a winner. Its touchscreen was responsive, too, running Windows 8 Pro smoothly. Toshiba's bundling a simple tool for managing all that display real estate, too, making it easy to toggle between larger text and more available screen real estate — though in our time with the machine the default option seemed to be about right, and unfortunately these tools can't make the Windows 8 desktop's tiny buttons any larger.
The most impressive thing about the Kirabook is that its impressive power fits into a wedge-shaped magnesium shell considerably smaller than the 13-inch MacBook Air — and it kind of looks like the Air, too. The whole machine weighs 2.6 pounds, and feels more like an 11-inch device than a 13-inch model. Reps made repeated mention of the Kirabook's build quality — it uses a honeycomb pattern in the palmrest to make it more resilient when carried in one hand, and the whole design started with the battery — and said that the Kira line represents a move back to a focus on quality from Toshiba, a company that lost that focus during a race to the pricing bottom.
The machine is sturdy and rigid, and definitely doesn't feel fragile or cheap in any way. It has a decent keyboard, though it felt a little shallow during our time with the device, and a smooth, glassy trackpad. It also has no stickers, few logos — Harmon Kardon for the surprisingly powerful speakers, plus Toshiba and Kira in case you forget what your device is called.
It doesn't feel cheap because, well, it isn't cheap. The Kirabook starts at $1,599.99 — firmly MacBook Pro territory — and can go up to $1,999.99 when you bump up its specifications. Part of Toshiba's justification for the price is a support team dedicated to Kirabook owners, there to help 24 hours a day with any problems — reps called them "our Geniuses." Customers' calls will be answered in 45 seconds, and they can call with everything from problems to simple questions.
Whether or not the Kirabook sells at MacBook Air levels is less important than what the device represents, though. This is the first truly premium Windows 8 laptop we've seen in a long time, competitive across every spec and feature with the best of what Apple can offer. It's not perfect — the hinge is still a bit wobbly, and the screen's bezel looks cheap next to its metal parts – but it's a high-end, high-res laptop. The Windows 8 desktop desperately needed that.