Toshiba Excite Write review: An overpriced tablet lacking in stylus features

Say you're in a meeting where the person running it is using a whiteboard to illustrate important items. Instead of actually paying attention, you simply wait until the end of the meeting when all the information is on the board and you snap a quick pic you can look at later. Unfortunately, you also capture a giant glare spot from one of the lights in the room and now part of the information in your pic is illegible.

Antiglare accomplished. Pretty much. Eric Franklin/CNET

Toshiba attempts to address this with an antiglare option that requires you to take two pics: one head-on pic with the glare and another from an angled position, preferably without the glare. The app then attempts to combine the two pics into one head-on pic with no glare. It works fairly well and is kind of an interesting way to go about solving the issue, but I'm still having a difficult time deciding how useful this would be in an actual real-world situation.

More useful is a feature that enhances the white in pics you've taken of magazines or printouts in order to make text more legible; however, there's still that inkling feeling of "Who's going to use this again?" I mean I'm sure some people will, but it doesn't feel like something worth sinking any significant amount of development time into.

Autocropping in action. Thankfully, you can change the crop region. But then, why even include autocropping? Screenshot by Eric Franklin/CNET

Lastly, there's an autocropping feature that attempts to predict how you'd want your picture to be cropped and then zooms in the relevant info. Unfortunately, it's pretty bad at predicting, and you end up having to adjust the cropping area manually, anyway.

Honestly, the whole app feels cobbled together, and unless you have very specific needs, is pretty useless.

Harmon Kardon means very little in these parts. James Martin/CNET

Hardware features
The 10.1-inch Excite Write houses a 1.8GHz Nvidia Tegra 4 quad-core processor with a 72-core GPU. It has 2GB of RAM and includes support for 802.11 a/b/g/n (2.4GHz and 5GHz) Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0, and a GPS. A gyroscope, accelerometer, and a digital compass are included as well.

The tablet starts at $600 for 32GB of storage, and there's unfortunately no cheaper 16GB version. Its microSD card slot supports up to 64GB cards, and its Micro-USB can only be used for file transfers, not charging. It instead features a small power-brick-style AC adapter for charging the battery.

Enhancing sound and video
The Excite Pro's Harman Kardon speakers are loud, but still fairly tinny when playing bass-heavy music at high volumes. Toshiba's audio enhancement feature allows you to control certain aspects of the sound like surround quality and voice clarity, but to my non-audiophile ears, it simply makes music sound a lot less muffled when switched on.

Toshiba's audio enhancement options. Screenshot by Eric Franklin/CNET

Resolution Plus, which is designed to enhance standard-definition videos, didn't seem to enhance them all that much, other than making the colors a bit more saturated.

Performance
The 2,560x1,600-pixel screen delivers text virtually as sharp as any tablet; however, screen colors have a hollow washed-out quality that gives everything a sort of pastel-like look. Maximum brightness is also noticeably lower than other high-end tablets like the iPad 4 and Galaxy Note 8.

Tested spec Toshiba Excite Write Apple iPad (fourth gen) Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 Samsung Galaxy Note 8
Maximum brightness 335 cd/m2 398 cd/m2 411 cd/m2 458 cd/m2
Maximum black level 0.20 cd/m2 0.49 cd/m2 0.47 cd/m2 0.47 cd/m2
Contrast ratio 1,675:1 812:1 795:1 974:1

Performance was stable for the most part, but once the tablet had been on for a while, opening lots of apps, it did began to bog down and experience its fair share of app crashes. Also, the screen became temporarily unresponsive to the pen for no apparent reason on a number of occasions.

Gaming performance surpasses the Excite Pro and new Nexus 7, but is a few levels lower than the the Nvidia Shield. It still delivers smooth frame rates in even some of the more-demanding games. Also, the Excite Write thankfully has none of the overheating problems we saw on the Excite Pro.

Device CPU GPU RAM OS tested
Toshiba Excite Write 1.8GHz quad-core Nvidia Tegra 4 72-core GPU 2GB Android 4.2.2
Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 1.4GHz quad-core Exynos 4 Quad (4412) Mali T400MP4 (quad-core) 2GB Android 4.1.2
Samsung Galaxy Note 8 1.6GHz quad-core Exynos 4 Quad (4412) Mali T400MP4 (quad-core) 2GB Android 4.1.2
Toshiba Excite Pro 1.8GHz quad-core Nvidia Tegra 4 72-core GPU 2GB Android 4.2.2


(Longer bars indicate better performance)
3DMark (Normal)  

The 1.3-megapixel front camera is easily one of the grainiest cameras I've ever seen on a tablet this expensive, but the 8-megapixel back camera is actually really good. It takes sharp pics, video, handles colors pretty well, and has an LED flash.

Conclusion
The Toshiba Excite Write is endlessly puzzling to me. On the one hand it has this powerful Tegra 4 processor with equally impressive gaming performance, and one of the sharpest screens around. It's also packed with plenty of features. On the other hand, compared with Samsung's elegant and purposeful implementation of the S Pen into the very fiber of the Galaxy Note line, it's clearly amateur hour for the Write and its Stylus integration. Toshiba's Stylus feels like an afterthought, not a thoughtful integration of an essential tool.

And that's even before you get to the price; $600 is a lot of money, and it's strange that the company would charge so much and do so little to make the Write unique in any significant way.

Budding artists or those intrigued by a tablet stylus interface, would be better off with the Galaxy Note 8. Sure it's smaller, but it's also a lot cheaper and as mentioned, its stylus is a thoughtful essential tool to getting the most out of the tablet. If you need something bigger, the Galaxy Note 10.1 is still a good buy. Its speed can't match either the Note 8 or the Write, but it sports Samsung's latest Android 4.1.2 features. If you have the patience, I recommend waiting a month or so to see how the new and very promising Galaxy Note 10.1 2014 Edition turns out. For non-stylus enthusiasts, the Nexus 10 and iPad 4 are currently the best large tablets around.

If it were half the price, I could easily recommend the Excite Write, but at its current price it simply doesn't do enough to warrant your attention.

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Quick Specifications See All

  • Wireless Connectivity IEEE 802.11a
  • Type Android 4.2.2
  • RAM 2 GB
  • Weight 23.7 oz
  • Operating System Android 4.2.1 (Jelly Bean)
  • Storage 32 GB
About The Author

Eric Franklin is a section editor covering how to and tablets. He's also co-host of CNET's do-it-yourself and how-to show, The Fix and is a 20-year tech industry veteran.