You can rarely go wrong by making a product thinner and lighter. Toshiba, a company whose first foray into Android tablets was a relative behemoth, is showing the world that its designers can do "thin" better than anyone. Yes, even better than Apple.
Priced at $530 with 16GB of storage, or $600 for 32GB, Toshiba evidently feels that its tablet's iPad-besting thickness and weight deserve a slightly higher price than the competition.
The Excite 10 LE feels impossibly thin and light. After a week handling the 1.44-pound new iPad, the 1.2-pound Excite feels like it's in a different weight class. The difference may sound insignificant, but for a device that's often held for long periods in one hand, it's a difference you can feel. It's also a difference you can see, as the Excite measures just 0.3 inch thick. If most 10-inch tablets feel like a cutting board, this one feels like a knife.
For some, having the thinnest, lightest 10-inch tablet money can buy is enough to justify the $530 investment. If that doesn't describe you, then there are a number of design disappointments here to scare you off.
The first design feature that threw me was Toshiba's big honkin' charging adapter. It connects to the Excite using a proprietary dock connection on the bottom edge of the tablet, and terminates in a standard USB plug that can be used with an included charging block. Granted, Apple pulls the same stunt with the iPad, but you can probably find a replacement cable for that in even the darkest corners of the world. Samsung's Galaxy Tab 10.1 is also guilty of this crime against universal charging standards, but at least its adapter will fit easily in your pocket. For what it's worth, you can charge the Excite over its Micro-USB connection, but it takes much longer.
My other gripe about the Excite's design is a seemingly petty thing, but it's something you'll feel every time you'll pick it up. The back of the Excite is covered in a thin sheet of brushed magnesium alloy. Aside from the fact that this light, soft metal feels an awful lot like plastic, we have no problem with it. The issue is that it butts up against the rough edge of the tablet's plastic siding precisely where you naturally hold the device. It's like the prickly edge of a shirt tag that can't be ignored. For a device that sells on the strength of its premium design, it's a detail that should have been taken care of.
|Toshiba Excite||Apple iPad (2012)||Asus Transformer Prime||Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1|
|Weight in pounds||1.12||1.44||1.32||1.24|
|Width in inches (landscape)||10.1||7.3||10.3||10.1|
|Height in inches||6.9||9.5||7.1||6.9|
|Side bezel width in inches (landscape)||0.75||0.87||0.8||0.8|
Given the Excite's price and the context of other 10-inch Android tablets on the market or on the horizon, Toshiba's tablet isn't offering the best value. The honor of having the most cutting-edge processor goes to Asus and the quad-core Tegra 3 chip inside its Transformer Prime.
The Excite is also trailing behind on having the most up-to-date Android OS. It's running Android 3.2 (Honeycomb), which is a fine OS, but doesn't have the same new-car smell as Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich). Toshiba is promising a spring update to ICS, but you won't have it out of the box. In my experience, the differences between Honeycomb and Ice Cream Sandwich are negligible, but it's nonetheless a measuring stick worth considering.
In terms of hardware, Toshiba includes an impressive array of ports and capabilities considering its slender profile. On the left edge, you get a Micro-USB port for transferring media and (slowly) charging, along with a headphone output, microSD memory slot, and Micro-HDMI video output.
The tablet's 1,280x800-pixel IPS display supports 10-finger multitouch and is made from durable Corning Gorilla Glass. Up close, you can make out a unique scaly grid of touch sensors coating the glass, but they're only visible when the screen is put to sleep or displaying dark backgrounds.
You get cameras on the front and back: a 5-megapixel rear camera with 720p video recording, and a 2-megapixel camera on the front. Neither of them is particularly great, and several people we handed the tablet to mistook the front camera (circled in chrome) for a home button.
Expected features such as GPS, Bluetooth audio and peripheral support, and integrated speakers are all here. Toshiba spent a little extra to polish up the audio performance with an SRS enhancement setting, but the actual audio experience from the speakers still sounds thin in spite of it.
Overall, display quality is pretty good, though not as bright or as crisp as on the new iPad, and lacking the contrast of a Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 or Asus Transformer Prime. Screen responsiveness is also in the middle of the pack, showing some scroll lag when browsing Web pages and occasionally requiring a few jabs before registering input near the corners (where Android keeps many of its navigation and menu controls).
|Tested spec||Toshiba Excite||Apple iPad (2012)||Asus Transformer Prime||Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1|
|Maximum brightness IPS mode (Super IPS)||359 cd/m2||455 cd/m2||358 cd/m2 (570 cd/m2)||336 cd/m2|
|Default brightness||249 cd/m2||160 cd/m2||183 cd/m2||336 cd/m2|
|Maximum black level, IPS mode (Super IPS)||0.38 cd/m2||0.49 cd/m2||0.27 cd/m2 (0.45 cd/m2)||0.3 cd/m2|
|Default black level||0.26 cd/m2||0.17 cd/m2||0.15 cd/m2||0.3 cd/m2|
|Default contrast ratio||957:1||941:1||1,220:1||1,120:1|
|Maximum contrast ratio, IPS mode (Super IPS)||944:1||939:1||1,325:1 (1,266:1)||1,120:1|
Toshiba rates the Excite 10 LE's battery life at 8.5 hours. CNET Labs clocked a solid 8 hours of continuous video playback. If you tend to run your screen close to full brightness, expect the battery life to take a hit. With Apple's new iPad out there offering twice the screen resolution while still nailing a 10-hour battery life, the Excite's unexceptional battery rating and average display quality are a hard sell at $530.
|Video battery life (in hours)|
|Toshiba Excite 10LE||8|
It's tough to stand out in the world of Android tablets. With a new slate running the same Android software with more or less the same specs being pitched to consumers every few weeks, only the unique survive. Some manage to get noticed with a low price tag. Some will contort for your attention. Some are fast. And some, like the Toshiba Excite 10 LE, will try to entice you with a slender supermodel physique.
Does thin matter? Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.