A Tegra 4 powerhouse, sure, but don't get too excited about the Excite Pro
Finally, a readily available Tegra 4-powered Android tablet — the Toshiba Excite Pro — is up for sale in the United States. Complete with a super high-res (2560x1600; 299 ppi) display, premium sound system and Android Jelly Bean, this is one worth taking a close look at if you're in the market for a 10-inch tablet.
Toshiba's been at the Android tablet game for a while, and their track record is a mixed bag. They get a lot right, especially in the looks and style department, but we've just not seen a must-have tablet from the Japanese electronic giant. They aim to change this with the Excite Pro, but is there anything there to get excited about?
That's the question we aim to answer, as I've been using this one for a bit and have a few things to say. Head past the break to find out more.
The Excite Pro has a great display, and mated with the latest Tegra from NVIDIA it's a gaming and multimedia powerhouse. Videos and movies are stutter-free in playback, and look exceptional on the ultra high-resolution screen while indoors.
The Excite Pro is thick and heavy, coming in at 10.4mm and 631 grams. The excellent sound system, provided by Harmon/Kardon, is hampered by poor speaker placement when using the tablet in landscape. The biggest issue is the software stability — it's lacking. The camera is poor, and has no auto focus in video mode.
The Excite Pro is a very well built piece of equipment. You can feel the quality when you hold it, and all the seams and places where parts mate together are precision and I'm impressed that something this well-built came off an assembly line. Toshiba deserves a bit of well-intentioned praise for this. The tradeoff is that it's heavy — too heavy. Checking in at over 1.3-pounds your wrists will soon let you know that it's heavy, and even though it's well-balanced there isn't much you can do about it.
The faux-aluminum casing wraps around the back and sides, providing smooth and graceful lines with round edges. It also wraps around and extends ever-so-slightly past the edge of the glass, and while we wouldn't recommend you rest the Excite Pro on it's 10-inch face, you probably could get away with it a few times if you did so.
"I'm impressed that something this well-built came off an assembly line ... The tradeoff is that it's heavy"
The front of the tablet houses the 1.2MP camera and the usual bank of sensors and the bezel is uniform on all four sides of the LED-backlit IPS display. Across the bottom edge, you have a small Toshiba logo on the left, and the Harmon/Kardon logo on the right. Both are small and tasteful.
The top edge houses the power switch, and two microphones for noise-cancelling purposes — a main one in the center and a smaller one in the top-right corner.The bottom edge is smooth and unbroken with no controls or holes of any sort. The left edge is where all the action is, with the 3.5mm headphone jack, volume switch, power port — a proprietary non-USB affair that reminds you of your laptop — and a small door that covers the USB data port, the HDMI output and the miscoSD card slot. The right edge has a set of slots for (of all things) a lanyard.
The rear of the tablet has the 8MP camera and LED flash housed in the upper right corner, and a pair of poorly placed speakers in the lower-third. This is a real shame, because while it's not loud, the Excite Pro delivers clear and excellent audio through the external speakers. Harman/Kardon may not be your favorite brand, but it's evident that Toshiba spent some time and money to provide premium sound for the Excite Pro, and gaming and videos are both the better for it. Unless of course, you cover the speakers with your hands. And you will, because of their placement. I don't know where the best place to put the speakers would have been (the front bezel comes to mind — hello Nexus 10) but I do know where these ones are is not it.
The display is a nice 10.1-inch backlit IPS LCD, checking in with an ultra-high 2560x1600 resolution. this puts the Excite Pro at just about 299 pixels per inch, and your eyes will appreciate the quality and color. The digitizer supports 10-finger multitouch, and touch response seems accurate and fast. One thing we're not seeing with the display on the Excite Pro that we did on the Nexus 10 is lag from the high-resolution used. We're going to chalk that up to the Tegra 4 under the hood, which packs some serious power in there.
Overall, the Excite pro looks good and feels like a very premium product. The weight is a real issue in both portrait and landscape viewing, so be prepared with ideas how you're going to handle it.
We'll drop this in it's own special section, both because it's an important statistic, and because the Excite Pro isn't very good at it. There's a 33Wh Lithium polymer battery encased in the unit, and Toshiba advertises 11 hours of screen-on usage, which is about four more than I'm seeing. The big, bright screen really sucks down the juice, and with the
ridiculous power supply setup, you'll not want to use it while charging if you can help it. If long battery life is at or near the top of your tablet wish list, the Toshiba Excite Pro shouldn't be.
- CPU: Quad-core 1.8GHz NVIDIA Tegra 4
- RAM: 2GB
- Storage: 32GB; microSD card
- Display: 10.1-inch backlit IPS LCD; 2560x1600 resolution; 299 pixels per inch
- Android version: Jelly Bean 4.2.1
- Wifi: 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac; dual-band 2.4GHz and 5GHz
- Bluetooth: 4.0 with A2DP
- Dimensions: 261.6 x 177.8 x 10.2 mm
- Weight: 630.5 g
- Front camera: 1.4 MP; 720p with timelapse recording
- Rear camera: 8MP; 1080p with timelapse recording
- Sensors: Accelerometer; gyroscope; compass
- Battery: 33Wh; advertised 11 hours of use
There's not a lot to say here. Toshiba has taken basic, "Stock" Android and added a few new settings for the screen and audio. On top of this, they have added a handful of their own applications — some good, some bad — and media assets like wallpapers and system sounds. It's a basic Android experience, much like you would get from the Nexus 10. There are a couple issues, though, and they may be serious enough to look elsewhere.
" If long battery life is at or near the top of your tablet wish list, the Toshiba Excite Pro shouldn't be."
The easy one to talk about — and I'm not above reaching for that low-hanging fruit — is that you've got the stock Android experience, but two versions behind. Things have progressed along where I can accept that version numbers don't matter much when a manufacturer replaces the UI and most of the system with their own take on things, like Samsung or HTC does with their products, but what you have here is the stock experience that you would have gotten from the Nexus 10 when it launched, and about $200 cheaper. There is nothing wrong with preferring the stock Android look and feel, but if that's what manufacturers want to give us, they need to keep things recent.
The second issue, and this one really bugs me, is that the software itself seems poorly built and is unstable. The launcher and home screens stutter and lag, often-times locking up completely for a few seconds or spontaneously rebooting the system. Factory resetting doesn't help, not installing any apps doesn't help, and shaking the tablet and muttering obscenities under your breath doesn't help. We're not exactly sure why things are this way, but they are and the experience is bad. Really bad. Don't buy this tablet.
The good things that happen when you launch an optimized game for the Tegra platform, or watch a video on the gorgeous screen just don't make up for it. Using the Excite Pro has been frustrating, and the poor software performance is completely the reason why.
There are more than a few. If you've ever bought a Toshiba laptop and noticed that the Windows installation was riddled with crap that you would never install yourself, you know what I'm talking about here. Some of it is useful, but nobody would ever appreciate or use all of it.
Of course you can disable and hide the apps that you'll never use, but I still think it would be easier to put them in the Play Store and let folks decide for themselves which they want, and which they don't.
There's nothing special here. The 8MP rear camera does an adequate job, but you won't be replacing any camera with a Toshiba Excite Pro any time soon. The small sensor on a mobile device's camera means to get a good one, you need great post-processing software and logic, which is neither cost-effective or practical on a 10-inch tablet. We've all seen that guy who holds up his tablet at an event to get a picture. It works, and sometimes it can work well, but it's just not what the device was designed for. That's not specific to the Excite Pro — all tablets from all companies are lacking when it comes to the camera.
There is an interesting application named TruCapture included that supposedly reduces reflection, and is ideal for capturing images of a whiteboard. it didn't seem to do much in my testing, but if you need to try and get a glare free image it's worth trying at least.
What I look for in a tablet camera is what goes on around front. Mobile videoconferencing is a legitimate use-case on a high-spec'd device like the Excite Pro, and a front-facing camera that can do the job well is important. The 1.4MP camera here won't win you any awards for image quality, but it is bright with great contrast — exactly what I would want in a front-facing camera. It's grainy and a bit washed out, but if I'm talking to my family on a Hangout, they can see me just fine.
The rear video camera is officially the worst camcorder on the planet. It's 1080p (though you'll never know) but it doesn't auto focus. It. Doesn't. Auto. Focus. Never turn it on unless you want to be really, really disappointed.
Here's some samples of the still camera and a couple videos to look at.
The same picture as above, edited with the TruCapture utility
The bottom line
"We're not exactly sure why things are this way, but they are, and the experience is bad. Really bad."
As much as I hate to say it, I can't recommend anyone rush out to spend $500 on the Excite Pro. The great screen, exceptional build materials and quality, and pure muscle to play Tegra-optimized games can't overcome the two major shortcomings — the weight and the poor software performance. Maybe tablets like the Nexus 7 have me jaded, but when I think of a great tablet experience I think of a light, easy to carry device that works well most of the time. I don't get that feeling from the Excite Pro.
If Toshiba were to send out an update that brought the software to the current version, and one that was better optimized and addressed the stutter, lag and lock-ups I'm experiencing with the unit as it is now, I may feel differently. Weight is a trade-off when using a full sized 10-inch tablet, but poor performance isn't — at least not one I'm willing to make. Spend your money elsewhere guys and gals. You'll be glad you did.