The Tegra 3 tablet battle is in full swing now, with four full-featured tablets on the market at the current moment (ASUS Transformer Prime, Transformer Pad 300, and Acer Iconia Tab A510 being the other three). Today, we're going to take a look at the newest one of the bunch: the Toshiba Excite 10. This is the first device to come out of Toshiba's newly announced Excite line, with 7.7" and 13.3" models coming in early June.
Toshiba has come a long way and changed up its philosophy on Android tablets quite a bit since the original Thrive, but is it enough to take the Tegra 3-tablet-crown? That's a tough call, because at this point in the game, it's hard for many users to put one device above the others - it could be the keyboard-sporting Transformer Prime or Transformer Pad for some, or the all-day-battery-life-packin' Acer A510 for others. It's difficult to say where the Excite 10 fits into all this, as its high price tag and questionable build quality left me scratching my head. While there are things that I absolutely love about the Excite, it definitely has its fair share of downsides.
With that, let's get into it.
- Display: 10.1 1280x800 TFT LCD with Gorilla Glass
- Processor: 1.3GHz quad-core NVIDIA Tegra 3
- RAM: 1GB DDR3
- Storage: 16GB/32GB (64GB version coming soon); full-size SD card slot
- Cameras: 5MP rear shooter with flash, 2MP front camera
- Ports: microUSB, microHDMI, 3.5mm headphone jack, Toshiba proprietary
- Battery: 25 Wh
- OS: Android 4.0.3
- Dimensions: 7" x 10.3" x 0.35"; 1.32 lbs.
- Material: Aluminum
- Price: 16GB: $449; 32GB: $529; 64GB: $650
- Buy: Direct from Toshiba or on Amazon (16GB, 32GB, 64GB pre-order)
- Thin and light. This tablet's form factor is reminiscent of the Galaxy Tab 10.1, and that's definitely a good thing.
- The aluminum back looks (and feels) great. Upon taking it out of the box, one of the first things I noticed about this tablet is how impressive the back looks. And, while it is aluminum, it's nothing like the Transformer Prime's body (that's a good thing).
- The speakers sound fantastic. Toshiba incorporated some software tweaks that drastically enhance the audio. It's a lot like the Dolby Digital settings on the Acer A510, but on steroids.
- Full-size SD card slot. This is a unique feature among Tegra 3 tablets, and a welcome addition to anyone who frequently uses full-size SD cards, like photographers, for example.
- Front-facing camera has a light that lets you know when it's in use. There's a little blue light right beside the front-facing camera that turns on when the cam is in use. It's a small detail, but those are often the best kind.
- Lots of light bleed around the display. This is one of my biggest pet peeves on any device. It makes me question the overall build quality when there is any amount of light leakage, and there is an insane amount on the Excite 10.
- Sub-par battery life. It's not bad, per se, but I would like to see a few more hours from a single charge.
- No full-size USB port or host cable. If you want to use a USB mouse, keyboard, or gamepad with the Excite 10, you'll either have to shell out the money to buy a USB host cable or do without. Toshiba could've at least included one in the package (much like Acer did with the A510).
- Absolutely massive charging cable. Seriously, this thing's ridiculous. It's like an ASUS adapter ate another ASUS power adapter. And a pound of donuts. No, I'm not exaggerating.
- The power button is hard to find without looking. The power button doesn't stick out as far as the volume rocker or orientation lock, so it's a bit hard to find without looking.
- No charging light. Trivial? Perhaps, but most tablets have some sort of charging indicator on or around the power button. I tend to just glance at this to see if the tablet in question is still full, and I can't do that with the Excite 10.
Build Quality, Design, and Feel
The first thing I noticed about the Excite 10 is its attractive aluminum back. It feels nothing like the aluminum on the Transformer Prime; in fact, I initially though it was plastic. While that may sound like a negative, it's actually one of my favorite things about the device: since it's aluminum, the shell is stronger than plastic; however, it doesn't have the cold, metallic feel of the Prime. With that said, though, the backing of this device doesn't feel as "sturdy" as the Prime (but doesn't scratch as easily, either).
At a mere 0.35" thick and 1.32 lbs., the Excite 10 is one of the thinnest and lightest tablets I've ever held. That doesn't take away from the feeling of a premium tablet, though; it feels solid and well-made. There's little-to-no flex on the back of the device, no "creaking," and none of the buttons have any play in them whatsoever.
On the left side of the device you have the power button, orientation lock, and volume rocker. The top is clear of any and all buttons - the only thing you'll find here is the microphone. The right is adorned with the 3.5mm headphone jack, microHDMI port, microUSB port, and the full-size SD Card slot. The stereo speakers are located on the bottom of the device, with the proprietary charging port in the center.
Speaking of buttons and ports, the power button is recessed more than I would like; both the volume rocker and orientation lock switch extend out from the side of the device quite a bit farther than the power button, making it difficult to find without actually looking at the device. This is something that may go away over time, but after about a week of using the Excite 10, I still have to look nearly every time I need to toggle power.
It's a little difficult to see, but the power button (far right) doesn't extend from the body of the tablet as much as the orientation lock and volume rocker.
The speakers are located on the bottom of the device, and while they produce pretty fantastic sound for a tablet this size (more on that later), they're easily muffled if the tablet is placed in a stand that puts the tablet directly on the surface below it. Adversely, if placed in a stand that angles the speakers down towards a hard surface but still lifts the tablet off of it, it actually bounces the sound upward, resulting in a bit more volume.
You can almost see how scared the ASUS charger is of the Toshiba monster.
The proprietary charging port is located in between the two speakers. While a device with a proprietary port is nothing new, you should see the adapter for this thing. It's HUGE. Like, I'm afraid to bring it around my other chargers because I fear it may eat them-huge. The overly-large adapter is complimented by an overly-fat cable, too.
Overall, the build quality is pretty good, but there's an overall lack of polish and attention to detail, which I find bothersome. Speaking of lack of attention to detail...
This is where my biggest issue with this device shows its ugly face: I'm talking about light bleed. I can't stand to see light bleed on a device - it screams of shoddy build quality, rushed production, and cut corners. And my Excite 10 has it worse than any device I've ever seen. There are, quite literally, no less than ten areas of light bleed all around the edges of the display. Granted, this may not affect every single Excite 10 unit in existence, it's hard to imagine that there aren't quite a few more out there with a similar issue.
Past the light bleed, though, the Excite 10's display is actually pretty nice. Like the Acer A510, the Excite 10 has a TFT display; however, the color reproduction on the Excite 10 appears to be quite a bit better than the A510. In fact, it's pretty comparable to the IPS panel on the ASUS TF300 (it may even be a bit more vibrant). It's not oversaturated like many displays can be - reds and pinks are crisp without being overbearing, blacks are black, and whites are bright enough that they don't look like light gray.
As far as durability is concerned, the Excite 10 features Gorilla Glass, so you don't have to worry too much about it getting scratched up. With that said, it also collects fingerprints worse that other tablets I've used. Don't get me wrong here - all tablets collect fingerprints, but they seem to be more noticeable and harder to wipe off on the Excite 10. Instead of easily coming clean with a microfiber cloth, you'll find yourself doing little more than smearing the prints all over the screen, which can be quite frustrating.
Hardware, Performance, and Battery Life
The guts of the Excite 10 have all the makings of a great Android tablet: quad-core Tegra 3, 1GB DDR3 RAM, full SD card slot, microHDMI out, microUSB, fantastic speakers, etc. How that translates into everyday usage, though, is a bit wishy-washy. When opening programs, there's a certain amount of lag on the Excite 10 that's not present on other Tegra 3 Android tablets. Similarly, I noticed a lot of hiccups when streaming videos on both Netflix and YouTube. The video would briefly pause for a second or two at sporadic intervals, regardless of which video or service I was using at the time. I've encountered this anomaly several times during my use with the Excite 10, so I definitely think it's an issue with the device itself, not the service in question.
For watching movies and listening to music, though, the Excite 10's speakers are outstanding... for a tablet. This is mostly due to an array of software tweaks incorporated by Toshiba, which I'll cover in detail in the 'Software' section of the review.
Despite its few hiccups here and there, the Excite 10 actually performs very well. Transitions are fluid, switching between apps is incredibly fast, and there's almost zero lag (aside from the aforementioned issue, which only happens occasionally).
One area where I'm not impressed, though, is battery life. It's... well, not good. In fact, I only got about 6.5 hours of screen-on time. That's Gmail, web browsing, typing up notes for this review with a Bluetooth keyboard, streaming music, and one episode of River Monsters on Netflix. Throw in some heavy gaming (like Shadowgun), and you'll see that drop below the six hour mark, which is beyond sub-par by today's standards. To be fair, I feel like this is likely due to the fact that Toshiba stuck a smaller battery in the unit to cut down on size and weight, as the Tegra 3 processor has proven time and time again to be extremely battery efficient.
Still, if you're not a heavy user, you can probably make it through a day with this device. If, however, you plan on using it for a full day of work/school, you may want to bring the charger along for the ride, which will take up at least half of your bag.
One really nice feature of the Excite 10 is that Toshiba decided to forego the microSD card slot in lieu of its full-size brother. This is perfect for anyone who uses full-size SD cards often, like photographers for example.
Are you ready for this? The Excite's 5MP rear shooter is... not very good. That really shouldn't surprise anyone - it's the common story with basically every tablet on the market today. Reds and pinks are ridiculously over-saturated, while other colors are dull and bland. I seriously wonder why manufacturers even bother putting rear-facing cameras on tablets. Like my Dad always says, "if you're not going to do it right, don't do it at all!"
Enough of that, though; I'll let the pictures do that talking.
See? Told you they were pretty crappy.
When it comes to software, Toshiba left stock Ice Cream Sandwich mostly untouched. I say "mostly," because they did add a few software tweaks, many of which are actually pretty nice additions.
For starters, there are a few new entries in the notification area: Audio enhancement, auto-rotate, screen, and "Enable Balanced Power." While all three are simple toggles, "audio enhancements" has a variety of options available in the Settings menu, including SRS wide surround, SRS volume boost, SES voice clarity enhancement, Toshiba Audio Enhancement, Toshiba Auto Ambient Noise Equalizer, and Toshiba Auto Volume Adjustment. Basically, all these combine to make the audio experience better - and they actually work. Quite well, in fact.
While many of the aforementioned options are pretty self-explanatory (SRS wide surround, volume boost, etc.), there are a few entries with ambiguous names - mostly the Toshiba-specific offerings. The Toshiba Audio Enhancement, for example, is supposed to "optimize audio quality according to speaker characteristics" - still pretty ambiguous, huh? From what I can tell, it dynamically adjusts the audio according to what you're listening to/watching. The differences are pretty subtle, but it does make a difference. I think.
Along those same lines, Toshiba's Auto Ambient Noise Equalizer "increases faint audio components above ambient noise for more clarity" - again, a subtle difference that gives whatever your listening to more detail and crispness. Finally, Toshiba incorporated an auto-volume adjuster so you can let your tablet decide how loud things need to be. I found this setting to be quite annoying, as it often turned the volume down lower than I wanted it, but I guess it could be helpful if using headphones.
The fact that these audio enhancements have a quick toggle makes it very easy to hear the difference, which can be quite drastic in some cases. Of course, each setting has to be tweaked to the liking of the listener, but I love the fact that these are in place to begin with. And, when combined with the 'sound effects' in Play Music, they can really make a difference to how good your tunes (or movies) sound. So, just to make it clear: this is the best sounding tablet I've ever heard.
As for the other two additional toggles, auto-rotation is pretty self-explanatory, but what about enable balanced power? Honestly, I'm not sure. I know that it has something to do with improving longevity of battery life, but the only noticeable difference is in the way that the display renders color. With EAB toggled, everything is more dull. Otherwise, I can't say what changes are being made. I've reached out to Toshiba for more details and will update when I hear something back.
There is also an entire section for haptic feedback settings on the Excite 10, which allows you to change when you feel vibrations, as well as how strong they are. I elected to disable this feature, because there's no way I want to feel my tablet vibrate every single time I touch it. Fortunately, this doesn't disable haptic on things like the software keyboard, so you'll still have that (which I can't live without). While were on the topic of haptic, I have to say that I love the vibration motor in this tablet. The vibrations are very crisp and precise while typing, which makes a huge difference in the overall experience. I can't stand the slow, "chunky" vibrations of the Transformer Prime, so this Excite 10 is a breath of fresh air in that department.
Of course, Toshiba just had to include a metric ton of bloatware on this device - in fact, it's more than I've seen on any other tablet:
- Book place
- File manager (not bad)
- HW Euchre
- HW Solitaire
- HW Hearts
- HW Spades
- WildTangent (called "Games" after an update)
- Media Player
- Quickoffice Lite
- News Place
- Printer Share
- Service Station (software updates)
- User's Guide
Yeah, that's twenty pieces of bundles software on this device. Granted, not all of it is bad and most can be disabled, it's still bloat-y. Speaking of bloatware that's not too bad, let's take a closer look at Toshiba's proprietary additions.
File Manager and Media Player
Like many manufacturers are doing nowadays, Toshiba decided to include its own file manger in the Excite 10. At first glance, it looks pretty useful. After actually using it, though, it's very limited, and in some cases, downright annoying. Why? Because it defaults to Toshiba's other proprietary junk, like Media Player.
For example, if you tap an image in the 'Screen Capture' section of the File Manger, instead of being prompted to open the image with the Gallery or other options, it defaults to Toshiba's Media Player. That's just the first annoyance, though; when opening an image directly in the Media Player with this manner, it's not aware of the rest of the contents of the folder. Ergo, it has no idea there are more images located in the same folder as the one currently being displayed. Therefore, you can't just swipe through all the images and will have to navigate back to the file manger each time you want to look at a something different, which can be very annoying. If, however, you disable the Media Player in the Settings > Apps > All apps menu, you will be prompted to select an appropriate app (including the stock Gallery).
Speaking of the Media Player, it's Toshiba's way to listen to music and watch video from other devices on your home network. But... I couldn't get it to work. Even if I could've, though, it's so ugly that I'm not sure I would've actually used it. However, if you choose to use it, the 'Photos' category will be aware of the rest of the folder's contents, so you can actually swipe through like in the stock Gallery.
News Place and Book Place
As their names suggest, News and Books Place(s), are Toshiba's answer to news aggregation and a bookstore, neither of which are very good efforts.
News Place is basically the most boring, un-customizable news aggregator that I've ever laid eyes on. Is it useless? Not entirely. Is it the best method of consuming news? Not a chance. It offers absolutely no features at all, and I mean that in most literal sense possible. Basically you are presented with a pre-selected batch of news in a psuedo-Pulse format with no way of customizing what you see. Once you read an article, that's it - there are no other options; no sharing, opening in the browser, nothing. At all. However, for casual news reading, I actually kind of like it. Granted, I use Pulse for most of my news browsing, News Place's simple and straight-forward format is slightly refreshing. Will it be the first app that I launch when I want to check the news? No. But I could see myself firing it up every once in a while just to see what's going on in the rest of the world.
In the same sense, Books Place is Toshiba's bookstore thingy. It's powered by Blio, so it's basically just a frontend to that service, which aims to change the way we read books, blah blah blah. If you're interested in books, there's a good chance you already have an e-reader service. Otherwise, I'm not really sure what sets this apart from the others.
Register, User's Guide, Demo, and Service Station
As far as the rest of Toshiba's bloatware, most of it is borderline completely useless. "Register" is basically nothing more than a browser shortcut that takes you directly to Toshiba's warranty registration page, while 'Demo' is a weird video guide that "highlights" features of the Excite 10 - clearly something that was designed to be used in a retail environment. The User's Guide is also pretty self-explanatory - it's a PDF of, you guessed it, the user's guide.
And then there's the Service Station. This 'app' actually replaces the stock Android "System updates" panel and serves as central place to find Android version number information, tablet model number, part number, and serial number. I was slightly shocked to see this screen the first time I went into System updates, but after looking it, I'm pretty indifferent to its existence.
Despite its downsides, the Excite 10 is actually a very nice tablet. It has a premium look and feel, solid performance, and some pretty fantastic and useful software tweaks. Of course, it's a bit on the pricey side compared to the competition, and the amount of light bleed on my review unit is absolutely absurd. If this is an issue across all units, then Toshiba really needs to step up its quality control game, because this type of carelessness is unacceptable.
Then there's the question of battery life - it isn't horrific, but considering the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 (original) gets roughly nine hours of battery life in a similar size chassis, six-ish hours is definitely on the weak side. This means that you'll have to carry that atrociously huge charger with you more often than you would with other tablets.
However, if you don't need all day battery life from a tablet and can deal with a bit (or perhaps a lot) of light bleed, then the Excite 10 is a very functional, fast tablet that feels fantastic in the hand.