First it was the Toshiba AT200, then it was the Excite X10, and now it's the Excite 10 LE. Toshiba's latest tablet has a very distinct claim to fame: it's the thinnest 10-inch tablet on the market. At 7.7mm, it really is impressively thin, slimmer than any tablet we've seen regardless of screen size. It's also an interesting departure from Toshiba's Thrive tablets, which bordered on comically thick but were designed to be rugged and full-featured, with plenty of ports and protection. The Excite is geared toward a more average tablet buyer, and while its spec list isn't exactly standard-setting, it's solid: a TI OMAP 4430 processor, 1GB of RAM, and a 1280 x 800, 10.1-inch display. The tablet costs $529 for 16GB of internal storage, or $599 for 32GB.
Rather than addressing a particular user with particular needs like it did with the Thrive, Toshiba's now gunning for the iPad, the Transformer Prime, the Galaxy Tab 10.1, the Xyboard, and every other tablet out there. Is thinner better? Read on.
Hardware / design
Being thin isn't all it's cracked up to be
I remember picking up an iPod touch two years ago and thinking, "I don't know if I'd want something any thinner than this, and this might even be too thin already." Apple's device was so slender that it was difficult to hang on to, and volume buttons were harder to use on such a thin edge. I had that same feeling picking up the Excite 10 LE. I certainly can't find anything to best its 7.7mm frame — it's actually thinner than the bump at the top of the Droid RAZR, which is kind of insane — but unlike the RAZR or iPod touch, which feel sturdy despite lean dimensions, the Excite feels like I could snap it in half without much effort. It bends easily, and creaks pretty loudly as you press or twist. The edge piece connecting the front and back panels actually hangs over the edges a bit rather than being tightly fitted, so there's a sharp lip on the back — it almost feels like you could dig your fingernail underneath and pry the tablet apart. The Excite doesn't feel cheap — the magnesium alloy body and Gorilla Glass screen are certainly made of high-end materials — but it doesn't feel well-assembled at all.
Good materials, badly assembled
Toshiba designed the tablet a little differently than most, opting for flatter edges instead of tapering them toward the back. The corners are rounded, though, so it's still pretty comfortable to hold. Despite the flat edges, you can't prop the Excite up on its side, which is a bummer — it'll stand up briefly if you balance it just right, but the slightest movement or breeze will knock it back down.
|Dimensions (in.)||Thickness||Weight (lb.)|
|Toshiba Excite 10 LE||10.1 x 6.9||0.3||1.18|
|Motorola Xyboard 10.1||10 x 6.9||0.35||1.32|
|Motorola Xoom||9.8 x 6.6||0.51||1.50|
|Asus Eee Pad Transformer Prime||10.4 x 7.1||0.31||1.29|
|Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1||10.1 x 6.9||0.34||1.20|
|Apple iPad (2012)||9.5 x 7.3||0.37||1.44|
As you hold the tablet horizontally, there's a headphone jack on the left side next to Micro USB, Micro HDMI, and microSD ports. I like how easily accessible all the ports are, but I don't like that they're placed right where your left hand naturally goes if you hold it in landscape mode (which is how you'll use any 16:10 tablet most of the time). The tablet charges via a proprietary port on the bottom that looks like Apple's dock connector, only it's even larger and requires a humungous power cable. On the right side are the power and volume controls, plus a rotation lock / mute slider. These buttons are all crammed together, and are both hard to press and near-impossible to distinguish with your finger; I almost always pressed the Volume Up button when I meant to hit the power button. The front has a camera lens up top with an oddly large and ostentatious silver bezel, and the brushed metal back has another lens at the top, plus a huge cut-out Toshiba logo and some Google and Toshiba fine print legalese lining the bottom.
Display and speakers
Nice to look at, not to touch
10.1-inch, 1280 x 800 displays are relatively standard fare for Android tablets, and the Excite's IPS screen is mostly par for the course. It's bright and accurate, viewing angles are excellent, with virtually no discoloration even far off-axis, and while you can definitely make out individual pixels and see some jaggies on small text, it's not enough to be a huge problem unless you're really looking for it. Of course, it pales (both literally and figuratively) in comparison to to the incredible 2048 x 1536 display on the new iPad, but it's good enough. There's a weird effect to the screen, though: you can see an alligator skin-like pattern on the display, likely a result of the touchscreen mapping, whether it's on or off. It's really, really noticeable, and makes the screen much harder to look at or interact with. The Gorilla Glass coating is a nice touch, though, since it lets you throw the Excite into a bag or backpack without worrying about scratches — I did just that, without any problems.
The display has some serious responsiveness issues, particularly on the omnipresent bottom bar. It always took me two or three tries to get the Home button to respond — ditto with Settings, or Back — regardless of orientation or what apps I had running. The screen was otherwise fairly responsive, so it seems like there's just something wrong with the edges, but it's enormously frustrating to have to poke the screen over and over to exit an app.
There are two speakers on the bottom of the Excite, which put out decent stereo sound — it's not particularly loud, but it's relatively wide and clear. Toshiba and SRS Labs added a few software and EQ tweaks that supposedly improve the experience a bit, though I can't say I noticed a huge difference as I changed settings — mediocre speakers are mediocre speakers. The speakers are smartly placed away from where your hands naturally go, so unlike with some tablets you won't accidentally cover the speakers, though if you prop it up or hold it against your legs it'll muffle the sound a bit, and laying the device flat on a table quiets the sound as well. You won't fill a room with the Excite's audio, but it's fine for sitting on your couch and watching YouTube videos.
I can only think of one good use case for a tablet's camera, and that's augmented reality apps. Those are relatively few and far between, though, and I still can't help but wonder who wants to use such a giant device to take pictures. If you're one of those people, the Excite 10 LE does have two cameras, a 5-megapixel shooter on the back and a 2-megapixel model on the front. They're... well, they're exactly what you'd expect from a tablet camera.
The rear camera is slow and takes noisy pictures in anything other than ideal lighting, but it's fine in a pinch if your tablet happens to be the only thing available to you. It also shoots 1080p video, which looks okay too — colors are washed out a little, and there's some noticeable noise, but as with still shots it's usable when necessary. The front-facing camera is extremely noisy in any situation.
Toshiba placed both lenses dead-center at the top of the device when held horizontally, so framing a picture while holding the Excite in landscape mode finally makes sense — too many other tablets have off-center or cockeyed lenses that make taking pictures difficult. Neither is the worst tablet shooter I've ever seen, and normally I'd just chalk it up to tablet cameras not being good in general. However, Apple and a few other manufacturers have shown that a tablet can have a half-decent camera, so there's really no excuse anymore for such mediocre efforts from other manufacturers.
The iPad proved tablets can have decent cameras
Honeycomb's problems are on full display
Every new tablet that launches without Android 4.0 makes me a little bit angrier. As far as I'm concerned, there's no excuse at this point to ship a Honeycomb tablet, but that's what you get with the Excite 10 LE. It's Android 3.2.1, virtually untouched by Toshiba except for a few bloatware apps like Media Player and Register, plus some third-party apps like Netflix and Quickoffice. Some of the bloatware can be removed, though, and I'll always take extra apps over UI customization, so I'll take this tradeoff.
Honeycomb has always had performance issues, and they're even more noticeable on the Excite. It frequently stutters as you scroll through apps or home screens, and even the browser has more trouble when you're zooming and scrolling, often leaving whole sections of a page blank for several seconds while it renders. Add that to the display's responsiveness issues, and it makes for a really frustrating experience trying to do much of anything with the device.
You get full access to the Android Market (now known as the Play Store), but as we've said over and over the app situation for large-screen Android devices is an ugly one. More and more games are being updated to take advantage of the larger, higher-res displays, but there are still only a small number of apps that look good and function better on screens larger than a phone.
Toshiba has promised an update to Android 4.0, saying it's coming sometime "this Spring." I'm more inclined to believe that promise than most, because of how little customization the company needs to do to the OS — though I can't help but wonder why Toshiba wouldn't just ship the tablet with ICS, since it's not changing much anyway.
Performance and battery life
Nothing seems to work right
Android may have more games than ever that are able to run on the bigger screen, but that doesn't do the Excite much good, because it just can't handle anything graphically intensive. Playing Grand Theft Auto III, for instance, was an infuriating experience riddled with skipped frames, delays, stutter, and Force Quit messages. Oh, so many Force Quit messages. That experience translates to the tablet as a whole, too — everything from the camera app to the browser always seems to be on the cusp of collapse.
The 1.2GHz TI OMAP 4430 processor does fine in tablets like the Droid Xyboard, but here it either can't overcome the Excite's software problems or is being grossly underutilized. Nearly everything takes a beat (or several) longer than it should, and as I've mentioned before some things take a few tries to work at all. Our benchmarks mirrored my experience, showing a tablet that's a long way behind its competition: Quadrant results were less than half of those of the Galaxy Tab 10.1, and its Sunspider results were seriously sub-par as well — that is, when it could actually complete the whole test without failing.
All the hiccuping and crashing seems to take its toll on the battery, too. Toshiba claims the Excite 10 LE lasts eight hours, and when things were working properly that seemed to be accurate. But all it took was one GTA session for the Excite to heat up (the back's bottom left heats up when the tablet's working hard, so it's also pretty obvious where the internals are), and the battery starts to drop. It seemed to kick into an even higher gear when an app crashed, and that was when battery life really started to drop. In practice, largely because frequent crashes are a fact of life with the Excite, I got more like four hours of battery on a charge. Our battery test, which cycles through a series of websites and high-res images, killed the battery after three hours and one minute, all of a third of the iPad's result and less than half the Transformer Prime's.
Thin isn't worth the tradeoffs
I can't help but imagine the meeting at Toshiba where an executive demanded "the world's thinnest tablet," no matter what. Toshiba hit the mark with the Excite 10 LE, but the costs are staggering: it feels poorly built despite its excellent materials, performs as poorly as any "high-end" tablet I've tested recently, and does it all in a package that's more expensive than much of its competition. I can't think of a single reason to recommend the Excite 10 LE over the Transformer Prime or the Galaxy Tab 10.1, not to mention the new iPad — you're even far better off saving $130 and buying an iPad 2.