Toshiba is moving upscale with the introduction of the KIRAbook, to take on the Macbook Air and the rest of the ultrabook market. (Courtesy of Toshiba/Courtesy of Toshiba)

Toshiba is changing its strategy in the laptop market, going aggressively upscale with the introduction of new, fully-loaded ultrabooks. The first in what the company plans to be a bigger line of devices is the KIRAbook — a retina-quality, 13.3-inch, magnesium alloy-clad ultrabook that will start at $1,599.99.

That’s a hefty price tag, particularly for Toshiba, which has spent the last couple of years selling laptops that start at $329.99 and $699.99. But the company hasn’t seen great success with that strategy and has decided to return to its engineering roots to make higher-quality computers.

According to figures from IDC, Toshiba was the fourth-place PC maker in the United States in the first quarter of the year with nine percent of a declining market. The company’s shipments dropped 5.2 percent from the same period last year, the firm reported. Overall, PC sales in the United States dropped 12.7 percent from the same period last year.

It could be a smart time, then, to switch strategies. In a briefing with Toshiba representatives last week, it was clear that theKIRAbook is meant to take on the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro. And the company has spared no effort in making it look like a truly premium device.

The KIRAbook has all the standard features of a premium laptop. Its display, Toshiba says, is on par with the retina-quality displays Apple touts for its laptops, and comes in touch and non-touch options — handy for the Windows 8 system that the KIRAbook is running. The carefully designed chiclet keyboard comes backlit, and the company has even paid special attention to strengthening the laptop on either side of the trackpad, where other laptops have the tendency to crack or bend. Toshiba has even put some extra thought into the hinge on the laptop by beefing it up on the touchscreen models to prevent too much screen wobble when you navigate through the Windows 8 menu.

There are three models of the KIRAbook going on sale May 12, with pre-orders starting May 3. The base model has an Intel Core i5 processor and non-touch display. Adding a touchscreen brings the price to $1,799, while picking up a touchscreen and an i7 processor raises the price to $1999.

That puts the KIRAbook prices above those of the MacBook Air, which could be a tough sell for the company, but representatives said they there’s a market for the KIRAbook among highly-productive Windows users who are willing to pay for quality.

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