April 16, 2013 photo provided by Toshiba shows
the Toshiba Kirabook, a newly-released laptop
line with a Retina-level display.
YORK — Last year, Apple added a visually stunning
option to its MacBooks: screens with ultra-high
resolution. These "Retina" displays reveal
four times as much detail as any Windows laptop screen
... until now. Toshiba just released a new laptop line
with a Retina-level display.
this mean Windows users can let go of MacBook envy?
Sort of. The jump in resolution with the Toshiba
Kirabook comes with significant compromises, however:
Most notably, it's LOUD.
you tax the processor on the machine by firing up, for
instance, a 3-D game, the cooling fan at the bottom
starts revving up like a jet plane about to take off.
Not only is it distracting to the user, it can be
heard across an office landscape. Having a private jet
confers status; sounding like one does not.
loud fan probably has something to do with how Toshiba
has jammed a powerful Intel processor into a slim
body. Small fans tend to be whiny when cooling a hot
supermodel turned rapper, the Kirabook sounds bad but
looks good. It's beautifully done in magnesium, a
tougher metal than the aluminum found in MacBooks and
some other laptops. Magnesium is rarely used in
consumer electronics, but when it is, the results can
be spectacular: I had a magnesium-bodied
point-and-shoot camera that didn't show a scratch
after 10 years of use.
Kirabook starts at $1,600 for a model with a mid-range
i5 processor and a non-touch screen (a comparable
MacBook Pro with Retina costs $1,700). Two hundred
dollars more gets you a touch screen. For $2,000, you
get a touch screen and a top-line i7 processor. All
come with 256 gigabytes of solid-state storage. The
model I tested was the most expensive one.
Kirabook has a screen that measures 13.3 inches
diagonally, just like the "13-inch" MacBook
with Retina display, but the screen is actually
slightly wider, shorter and smaller overall. The
resolution is 2,560 by 1,440 pixels, compared with the
MacBook's 2,560 by 1,600 pixels.
other words, you can fit 10 percent less detail
vertically on the Kirabook's screen, but images look
just as crisp and smooth as on the Retina screen. The
big deal with the Retina, and now the Kirabook, is
that its individual pixels are so small that they
blend together imperceptibly. It doesn't sound like a
big deal until you try it. After that, other screens
look coarse and barbaric.
Kirabook screen is excellent in other ways, too: It
looks good from almost any angle. One of the sample
units loaned to me suffered from uneven brightness,
but this was rarely an issue.
problem with quadrupling the resolution of the laptop
screen is that you have to make sure that you're not
shrinking the size of everything that's shown on the
screen. A character that's 28 pixels high on a regular
screen is a quarter of an inch high — easily
legible. If you show a 28-pixel character on the
Kirabook screen, it's one-eighth of an inch high, or
some instances, the Kirabook will gracefully scale up
text and buttons to a legible and useful size. In
other cases, it won't, and it's time to bend in real
close to the screen.
problem is made more aggravating by the fact that the
Kirabook comes in touch-screen variants. Touching tiny
buttons is hard — you want a big fat button for your
big fat finger. The problem was not acute in
applications designed for Windows 8, but there aren't
many of those. It was worse in the familiar
"Desktop" environment, where the buttons to
close or minimize a window are so small, they're tough
to hit with a finger or a mouse.
has a big advantage over Toshiba here, given that it
has control over the hardware, the operating system
and many of the most popular Mac applications. That
means it can create computers with high-resolution
screens and modify its software to suit. Toshiba, on
the other hand, has to work with software it gets from
Corp. chose to make the Kirabook substantially lighter
than the 13-inch MacBook, at 2.8 pounds rather than
3.6 pounds. In fact, it's even lighter than the
13-inch MacBook Air, which doesn't have a
trade-off for the light weight is that the Kirabook's
battery life is relatively short. I played back movies
for four hours before it went dark. Unfortunately, the
high-resolution screen draws more power than regular
ones, which is why Apple stuffs a much larger battery
in its Retina models to get about seven hours of run
light weight, handsome exterior and beautiful screen
should appeal to many, and it's possible that software
updates will help with the screen-scaling issue. While
waiting for that, you can always downgrade the
resolution of the screen, though that defeats the
purpose of having such a nice display. The biggest
failing is the loud fan — there's just no point in
having a powerful processor if using it makes it sound
like you're picnicking on the airport tarmac.