We're used to Samsung selling every conceivable permutation of every conceivable device, seeing what works and what doesn't, and it appears Toshiba's now adopting the tactic as well. The company's just announced three new models in its Excite lineup of Android-powered tablets, each closely emulating the price and feature set of one of its biggest competitors. The cheapest new option is the Excite Pure, a 10-inch tablet powered by a Tegra 3 processor, a 10.1-inch, 1280 x 800 display, and nearly-stock Android 4.2. It's well-made, with a stippled back and a rigid, firm build quality, but it's an incredibly unspectacular tablet. At $299.99, it's also a hard sell over a Kindle Fire HD, the Nexus 7, or a host of other tablets.
$499.99 buys you a much more compelling device, though the price may still be wrong. The Excite Pro, as it's called, looks just like the Pure but comes with a huge spec bump — the 10.1-inch screen is now 2560 x 1600, the processor is upgraded to a Tegra 4, the RAM and storage are doubled, and even the camera is improved. It feels like a modern tablet, responsive and smooth in our brief time with the device, and the screen looks fantastic. But $499.99 is $100 more than the Nexus 10, and the same price as the iPad — can Toshiba compete at such a mature, crowded price point?
You pay for specs, then for features
Toshiba's high-end tablet is the $599.99 Excite Write, and it once again looks and feels just like the other Excite tablets. The Write adds a Wacom-made digitizer and pressure-sensitive stylus, along with some first-party software that helps you take advantage of the pen. The TruNote app is designed to replicate pen and paper on the screen, and TruCapture will photograph, say, a whiteboard, and then optimize it for annotating or saving. Both are handy to have and seemed to work well. Along with a new keyboard dock that fits all three models, the Excite Write seems to be an impressively capable tablet for actually getting work done. This may be where Toshiba has a real chance, too, since Samsung's Galaxy Note tablets haven't yet solved the writing-on-tablets equation yet.
Toshiba's tablet history is hit-and-miss, from the awful Excite 10 LE to the more palatable Excite 7.7, 10, and 13. The new models show Toshiba looking for yet another avenue into the tablet market, one with fewer gimmicky sizes and more genuinely useful specs and features. But every year the tablet market gets a little better and a lot more crowded, and making a dent looks harder and harder.