Toshiba’s 10-inch Excite 10 LE tablet is definitely attractive. At 0.3 inches thick and 1.8 pounds, it’s lighter and thinner than any other tablet on the market, and runs the tablet-friendly Android 4.0 “Ice Cream Sandwich” system software. So why don’t I love it?
This $549 Android tablet has much of the sex appeal many other Android tablets lack. Plus, it’s larger than the leading Android-based Kindle Fire, which might make it a better choice for those seeking an Apple iPad alternative.
The Excite has the power to please, though not always the performance. Inside its magnesium alloy and glass chassis is a TI OMAP 1.2 GHz dual-core processor and a full 1GB of RAM. Mostly, that makes it zippy, but for some apps, like Autodesk Sketchbook, there’s a bit of lag.
I really do like the Excite’s looks, but also worry the company made a couple of poor decisions to make that svelte frame work. In an effort to keep the design as clean as possible, Toshiba has placed all three of the tablet’s buttons (power, volume and rotation lock) along one outside edge of the device. They’re all black, just like the black piping that wraps around the tablet. As a result, the buttons blend into the device. At a glance, I could never tell where they were.
These rather small buttons help maintain the Excite’s sleek looks, but they don’t all work that well. The volume button has to be pressed extra hard to lower the volume and power feels uncomfortable to push — it’s so thin that the meat of your index finger wraps around it and presses into the surrounding edges of the tablet.
Sometimes the Excite’s plusses turn to minuses. It’s one of the few tablets with a built-in memory card slot (it also has micro USB and HDMI-out ports). As a result, the Excite ships with just 16GB of storage. You can update with a 32GB micro SD card, but who has one of those lying around? You can buy one for as little as $34, but once you install it, it’s unlikely you’ll ever take it out. So why didn’t Toshiba simply build in more storage space?
Where It’s Good
Toshiba chose to make the Excite a Wi-Fi-only device. Personally, I don’t mind the lack of a 3G or 4G option. My iPad 1 has AT&T 3G build in, but I’ve never turned it on. Seems like I can always find Wi-Fi when I need it.
With two cameras (a 5-megapixel one on the back and 2MP facing you), the Excite matches the latest iPad‘s camera gear. The 5MP camera is quite capable of taking great shots — it even comes with a built-in panorama mode, which helps you quickly stitch together an 180-degree arc of photos into one incredibly wide shot. That feature works well, but the camera quality is only meh. Photos were grainy and featured too many inaccurate colors. 1080p video capture looked good, and if you have a mini-HDMI cable (the Excite does not ship with one — how many of you have mini-HDMI cables in your drawer?) you can play the video on your big-screen HDTV.
The 1,920 x 1,080 screen also features an odd pattern on it that’s evident when using it with apps featuring dark backgrounds. It’s not a big problem, but I’ve never seen anything like it on other, competing tablets.
Battery life is, more or less, on par with other 10.1-inch tablets and the iPad. On occasion, it seemed to drain faster on standby, but other times, it gave me nearly 8 hours (the iPad Retina is rated for 10 hours). I did run into one into one disconcerting issue, though. After draining the battery down to almost empty, I plugged the tablet in for an overnight charge. The next day, a small white light on the edge was shining brightly. However, when I pressed the power button, I could not turn on the tablet. Nothing I tried worked. Finally, I held power and volume down for 30 seconds or so to force a reset. The tablet came back to life. This only happened once, but that would be one time too many for any consumer who doesn’t know how to force a reset.
Android 4.0 Versus the Other Guys?
The most difficult thing about reviewing an Android tablet today, though, is that it has to be done in a world where the Apple iPad is already dominant. Using Android 4.0, even on a device as attractive as the Excite, I can’t help but compare the platforms, and to be honest, I still prefer Apple’s iOS.
Most of this has little to do with the Toshiba Excite. Toshiba’s decision to run stock Android, as opposed to the overlay you’ll find on some Android tablets (including the Samsung Galaxy Tab which adds “Live Panel” and “mini Apps”), is a good one. Ice Cream Sandwich is a good tablet OS. It doesn’t fix all of Android’s issues, but overall it makes for a far more cohesive experience than ever before (thank you, Google, for putting “Settings” right on my home screen). Adding e-mail and social accounts like Twitter is easy, though some of the screens still don’t look as if they were designed for a tablet.
All that said, I eventually run into Android quirks that leave me longing for my iPad. I still, for example, prefer a physical home button to the graphical one that eats up a tad of lower-screen real estate. Android is also still not entirely consistent when it comes to common actions like copy and paste. Sometimes I can perform the action near whatever I’m doing, but other times, copy and paste reside in the upper left-hand corner of the screen.
Android is still apt to tell consumers too much about what’s going on under the hood. In the “Apps” area under “Settings” there’s a heading called “Show Cached Processes.” Likewise, each running app is listed with its number of “Processes” and “Services.” I and other tech nerds know what all this means, but consumers don’t and likely don’t care. There’s even a “Developer Options” area under settings. Fun for us, but most people should ignore.
Android is, by now, a relatively mature platform, with a lot of great apps, and some of them are even designed for a tablet interface. Netflix, for instance works as smoothly here as it does on every other platform (and sounded particularly good on the Excite’s SRS Stereo Speakers). On the other hand, when is the Android Market…er…Google Play going to start organizing apps by device form factor? I still have a heck of a time finding any tablet-ready apps. It’s tremendously frustrating to download what you think is going to be a tablet app and end up with a portrait-view-only piece of junk.
Overall, the Excite is not a bad tablet. It’s light, attractive and generally works well, but I would not trade in my iPad for it. It’s hard to recommend a product that feels very much like Version One hardware. Perhaps more worrisome is the fact that Toshiba has chosen to put zero marketing muscle behind this product. I have yet to see a single ad, print, web or TV for “the world’s thinnest tablet.” If Toshiba isn’t willing to get behind its own product, why should you?