Toshiba KiraBook Hands On: Is an Amazing Screen Enough to Make a Computer Great?

Toshiba is taking aim at the MacBook Air. We know this not because its new KiraBook ultraportable, with its 13-inch 2560x1440 display, resembles an MBA—it doesn't, really—but because, over and over, Toshiba referenced ways it's better than or on par with a MacBook Air, as reps explained how the company's focus with the Kira revolves around design.

That's even true in places. But it might not be enough. Mainly because of the price.

The Kira is better at nearly everything than any other Toshiba laptop by almost comical margins. That's not as impressive as it might sound, considering Toshiba's been bringing up the middle-rear of the pack lately. Still, Kira is legitimately good. The magnesium frame and aluminum base are sturdy, and the trackpad is big and responsive. The hi-res screen looks great, and it's accentuated by big, beautiful visuals in Windows 8, though it's a little darker than the equally hi-res Chromebook Pixel when examined closely. And while the rounded design might not be as eye-catching as the starker lines of an S7 or Pixel, it at least feels like a valid design decision based on ergonomics, not a screwup.

Yes, it's thin and light. And Toshiba also did a good job of limiting stickers and bloatware. It even comes with free, full versions of Photoshop Elements and Premiere Elements.

The other guts in the Kira are what you'd expect from a high-end ultrabook. All configs start at 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD. They'll also have third-gen Ivy Bridge i5 and i7 processors, with upgrades to Intel's next-generation Haswell guts as the new architecture rolls out. It's 2.6 pounds, and 0.7 inches thick. And the Harman Kardon sound, which is traditionally not a big deal for laptops, is just about as loud as the super duper loud Pixel.

Toshiba KiraBook Hands On: Is an Amazing Screen Enough to Make a Computer Great?

But it's also clear that "good" is relatively new ground for Toshiba here. The keyboard is improved from other Toshiba laptops, but is still a little rigid, with keys that aren't quite as comfortable to type on as the best out there, like the Pixel's or a MacBook's. The finish on the lid and makes it more comfortable to hold because it doesn't get cold, but it also robs it of the satisfying cool metal feeling of other laptops. It has the effect of making the premium material feel less premium than it really is. The touchscreen version has a black edge-to-edge glass display, but the non-touch has a black plastic bezel that looks downright tacky. And while the hinge is improved—Toshiba increased its imprint from 2mm to 5mm—the lid still wobbles some when poked, which you don't see, really, from the Pixel or a MacBook.

We didn't get a chance to compare the Kira to a retina MacBook Pro, but side-by-side, the screen does hold up to the Pixel's. Text especially looks crisp, and Toshiba has used its first party software (puke, usually, I know, but welcome here) to make the magnification and text scaling options in Windows more easily accessible. That's a start; it was a big issue with the Surface Pro. But the larger problem is still Windows itself. Unlike OS X's quad scaling or even Chrome OS's web-based approach, too many Windows 8 UI elements are either unaffected by magnification or blown up to look fuzzy and terrible. This is something that will hopefully be addressed at some point in the future, but for now, it leaves super hi-res displays on Windows a less than optimal experience. Which is a real shame.

Toshiba KiraBook Hands On: Is an Amazing Screen Enough to Make a Computer Great?

Toshiba only has three configurations of the Kira. It'll start at $1,600, and the highest config, with an i7, is $2,000. That's asking a lot. First, it is literally asking for a lot of your money. But more so, it is asking for your trust. To that end, Toshiba's offering two years of complimentary 24-hour phone support for both the computer and Windows 8 in general. But it's still asking for you to jump in with two feet and lots of cash for the first super-high-end laptop Toshiba's made in quite a while. One that's not quite as elegant as it wants to be.

That doesn't mean the Kira sucks. It's a very good laptop. But just like the Vaio T was mostly fine last year, the Kira feels like an amazing first step into making legitimately good computers. It just comes a little late. Other companies have already taken that step, and the second leg almost always feels much more complete than the first.

So, keep your eyes out. This is the first super hi-res Windows 8 laptop that you can buy. And it might end up being the best of the year. But you should probably hold out for similar from companies that have a riper track record on "good."