Toshiba’s New KIRAbook Is an Ultra-Ultrabook

The notebook kingpin's new machine looks good and has the first Retina-class display on an Ultrabook.

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One of the things I like about Intel‘s Ultrabook concept is that it’s surprisingly elastic. As long as a PC maker builds a laptop that’s relatively thin, relatively light and relatively fast-booting, it has wiggle room to go off in its own direction.

With the KIRAbook, which was announced today — I got a sneak peek in person last week — Toshiba has moved aggressively upscale. The company’s been making Ultrabooks all along, but this is by far its highest-end model to date. Actually, it may be the highest-end Ultrabook anyone’s made: even its cheapest version is $1599.99, a hefty starting pricetag for any computer, and $700 more than the cheapest MacBook Air.

Then again, Toshiba hasn’t stinted on the specs and industrial design. The KIRAbook’s most impressive feature is its 13.3″ displasy, with 2560-by-1440 resolution and 221 pixels-per-inch. It’s in the same league as Apple‘s Retina-display MacBook Pros and Google‘s ChromeBook Pixel; a resolution that high is something new for Ultrabooks and for Windows notebooks in general. Even Apple’s MacBook Air, from which the KIRAbook, like all Ultrabooks, draws inspiration, doesn’t have it.

Toshiba says that it color-calibrates every KIRAbook by hand before it leaves the factory, then stores those settings at the BIOS level so they can’t be accidentally erased. One downside to the display, as reported by PCWorld’s Michael Brown: the system supports video output to an external screen at a relatively low maximum of 1920-by-1080 resolution via HDMI.

In person, the KIRAbook doesn’t look quite as much like a MacBook clone as it does in the photograph above, though it’s certainly reminiscent of Apple’s design, down to the wedge shape. It’s made of AZ91 magnesium, not aluminum (Toshiba says it’s twice as strong) and at 2.6 pounds, it’s lighter than the Air. From what I saw, the build quality looked impeccably premium.

The trimmings are upscale, too: the machine ships with full versions of Photoshop Elements and Premiere Elements, two years’ worth of Norton security services and a two-year warranty with 24/7 phone support based in the U.S.

The $1599.99 KIRAbook has an Intel Core i7 processor but doesn’t have a touchscreen; a $1799.99 version adds touch; and the $1999.99 one uses a zippier Core i7 chip. All run Windows 8, of course, and have 256GB of solid-state storage. They’ll be available at Microsoft Store locations — which are by far the best places to see the nicest Windows computers in person — but will otherwise be sold mostly online, where there’s more space for Windows machines which aspire to greatness rather than a particular price point.

When Toshiba showed me the KIRAbook, the first thing I was struck by was that this new computer had a new name. Generally speaking, the company likes to stick with product lines it’s had since the 1990s: Satellite, Tecra, Portege. It’s not officially saying whether we might see other KIRAbook PCs — but it’s already talking about KIRA as a brand and using the plural when speaking of the products that it will include, so it sounds like it hopes the nameplate is here to stay.