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Toshiba Excite 10 SE review: Not really exciting at all

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MSRP: $349.99

The Good Comfortable feel, and a solid set of basic features for an Android tablet.

The Bad Lacks any higher-end feature sets, has a reduced set of features compared with the Excite 10, and has a cheap plastic feel. It also feels priced too high for what it is.

The Bottom Line The Toshiba Excite 10 SE looks like, and is, a generic budget-range 10-inch Android tablet...nothing more, nothing less.

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6.5 Overall
  • Design 6
  • Features 7
  • Performance 7

Buying a tablet, when you realize that tablet already feels dated before it ever leaves the box, is a tough proposition. Toshiba's history in Android tablets started at the high end with the Excite 10 LE, continued into a respectable middle end with the Toshiba Excite 10, and has taken another cost-cutting step with the Toshiba Excite 10 SE. Unfortunately, the trimmed features and build quality don't seem to be translating into much savings for you, the customer.

The Excite 10 SE (or, as Toshiba also calls it, the AT305SE) has a plastic body, replacing the aluminum one of the Excite 10. It has a Tegra 3 processor, just like its predecessor...but we reviewed that Excite in the middle of last year. The other internal specs are largely the same, but features have been removed: it has lower-resolution cameras, no HDMI port, and a microSD card slot instead of SD.

At about $349, it's more expensive than the Asus MeMo Pad Smart 10, an otherwise similarly powered Tegra 3 tablet. The MeMo Pad 10 has HDMI, too. Also, incidentally, this tablet is only currently upgradable to Android 4.1.1, not to the most recent version of Android, version 4.2, aka Jelly Bean.

Sarah Tew/CNET

With Google I/O just around the corner, and newer processors on the horizon, this 10-inch tablet just doesn't feel like the wisest Android investment. It's old news, and has too many cut corners. It works...just not as well as the competition.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Design
At 1.4 pounds, the Excite 10 SE feels right around the same weight as the Asus MeMo Pad Smart 10, or the 9.7-inch Retina Display iPad. The Toshiba Excite 10 LE was a slim, sexy metal tablet. The Excite 10 after that was thicker, but still metal. The 10 SE is another step down the budget ladder: it's clad completely in plastic. A rosy-silver "Fusion"-finish plastic covers the edges and dot-textured back instead of aluminum, and there's glossy plastic on the front instead of Gorilla Glass. It gives the tablet a much more budget-laptop feel.

Sarah Tew/CNET

I did, however, like the smaller footprint of the Excite 10 SE, at least as compared with the thinner, longer Asus MeMo Pad Smart 10. It's thicker (0.4 inch), but feels like it'll slip a bit more easily into a small bag. The slightly reduced bezels make more sense.

Sarah Tew/CNET

It's hard to wax too poetic about the Excite 10 SE's design. It's functional, but it's decidedly less sexy than previous, closer-to-high-end Toshiba tablet offerings.

Hardware
The Excite 10 SE comes with a 1.6GHz Nvidia Tegra 3 processor, 1GB of RAM, and only 16GB of onboard storage. It has a Micro USB 2.0 port that doubles as the charge connector, and a microSD card slot. The tablet has Bluetooth 3.0 and 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi connectivity, plus GPS, a gyroscope, an accelerometer, an ambient light sensor, and a digital compass.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The 10.1-inch 1,280x800-pixel-resolution display is serviceable and looks good in regular indoor conditions, but there's some light bleed when tilting the tablet at certain angles. At others, it looks fine. This used to be the standard resolution for 10-inch tablets, but devices like the iPad, Nexus 10, and Kindle Fire HD 8.9 have raised the bar.

Stereo speakers with grilles on the bottom edge of the tablet pump out SRS-enhanced audio, but the volume level is somewhat low and the sound quality is less than impressive.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The Excite 10 SE lacks few small but significant features that the Excite 10 had: gone is the Micro-HDMI port, and the SD card slot has been downgraded to microSD. The front and rear cameras are lower-resolution, too: 1.2 megapixels for the front instead of 2MP, and 3MP for the rear rather than 5MP. Of all those changed features, the downgraded camera quality bugs me the most. The cameras can record 720p video, and the rear camera has autofocus, digital zoom, and LED flash. Camera quality's just so-so.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Performance and software
The Nvidia Tegra 3 processor's been out for a while, and running Android 4.1 it seemed to produce a less than lightning-quick user experience. Navigation wasn't buttery-smooth, and certain apps didn't zip the way they do on premium tablets. The Tegra-optimized game Dead Trigger looked suitably playable, but EA's Real Racing 3 had noticeably downgraded graphics quality and a sometimes-choppy frame rate, much like it did on the Asus MeMo Pad Smart 10.

Toshiba's included app offerings are minimal: a custom media player, an app store and portal called App Place, and a file manager. The file manager's useful, but the App Place is less so; I'd rather just go straight to Google Play for any apps I needed.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Battery life
The Excite 10 SE played a video on continuous loop in our CNET battery test for 7 hours and 55 minutes. The Excite 10 lasted a similar amount of time (7.8 hours). That's good, but the Asus MeMo Pad Smart 10 fared even better at over 9 hours, and many Android tablets have cleared 10 hours. The nearly 8 hours the Excite 10 SE gets feels suboptimal.

Conclusion: You can do better
The older Excite 10 started at $450 for 16GB onboard storage, in May 2012. The Excite 10 SE's starting price of $349 doesn't seem like that much of a bargain almost a year later, especially since the older Excite 10 was overpriced for the Android tablet market. If you end up with an Excite 10 SE, it's a serviceable Android tablet: it's just not a great one, and its numerous corner-cut features, including an older processor and lower-res display, don't add up to anything special in 2013. Better bets would be to spend more for a Nexus 10, or less for a Nexus 7; to get a more fully featured bargain tablet like the Asus MeMo Pad Smart 10; or to wait a month or so and see what tablets are around the corner.

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