A small, cheap tablet is not very hard to find. But too often, there are trade-offs to be made: shoddy construction, unimpressive hardware, or features left on the cutting-room floor. The $99 Toshiba Excite Go is a shining example of this: in a race to the bottom rife with casualties, Toshiba has skimped on the most significant feature of all: the screen.
I'll be the first to admit that such a low price is enticing, but we've got to draw the line somewhere. Tablets from Amazon, and all offer competitive pricing in a small package without sacrificing the user experience. In this case, however, passable performance can't compensate for a tablet that's too frustrating to look at.
Design and specs
The Toshiba Excite Go is a narrow little thing with a bright, 7-inch display and a textured back that feels a bit slippery. While inexpensive it doesn't feel cheap, with a sturdy plastic body that weighs just over 0.75 pound (12.5 ounces). It's strikingly reminiscent of, right down to the silver trim that surrounds the bezel, though it's just a smidgen thicker (and bears the Toshiba logo).
The volume rocker sits at the top, accompanied by the headset jack, a microSD card reader -- with support for up to 128GB SDXC cards -- and the Micro-USB charging port. The tablet's single speaker is on the bottom edge, pumping sound down away from you when held in portrait mode, and easily blocked by your hand when held in landscape. The 0.3-megapixel front-facing camera is shunted off to the right side of the display, while the power button sits on the top right corner.
The Excite Go's display has a 1,024-by-600-pixel resolution, which is low, even for budget devices. But this tablet is among the cheapest you'll find. And anyway, there's a far bigger problem here: the screen is really reflective, to the point of being distracting.
Watch a video or look at images, and you'll see your reflection staring right back at you. The issue is a little less prominent when reading black text on a white background, but reflections create a shimmery sort of effect that's still really annoying. Unfortunately there isn't much that can be done here: your best bet would be to stick to dark spaces, which isn't going to be feasible all of the time.
Software and features
The Excite Go doesn't serve up much in the way of frills. It's running Android 4.4.2 KitKat, complete with all of the bells and whistles that the current version of. Saying "OK, Google" at the home screen doesn't call up Google's search functionality, which is unfortunate, but you can always tap the microphone on the search bar that lives on the top of the display. Most of the other obvious upgrades in KitKat -- including the revamped dialer and Caller ID -- are relegated to phones, but you'll still get your fair share of widgets and the like on this device.
Toshiba hasn't baked any real extra apps in here. There's an icon for a user's guide, which simply downloads a PDF manual for the tablet and prompts you to pick an app to read it with. The service station app takes control of software and OS updates, and the Toshiba File Manager, well, manages your files.
There's little other bloatware in the traditional sense, which is all too rare on budget devices. But I like my bloatware nonexistent, and some preloaded apps -- Adobe Reader, eBay and Amazon Kindle -- can't be uninstalled. That likely won't be onerous to most, but I'll always frown on unsolicited apps, even if they're fairly good ones.
The Toshiba Excite Go is equipped with a quad-core Intel Atom processor and 1GB of RAM, coupled with 8GB of storage space. You'll definitely want to supplement that meager allotment with a microSD card: the tablet's expansion slot can support up to 128GB-capacity cards.
Performance is a bit of a mixed bag. That quad-core processor generally feels pretty zippy, and general use is fine: it can zip through menus and fire up apps without issue. It'll handle just fine for reading books or articles on the Web, and watching video, barring the aforementioned display issues, of course.
Hardware-intensive tasks like gaming are less clear-cut. I generally saw decent frame rates in games like Angry Birds Go: it's not the most demanding of mobile games, but racing games really shine with high frame rates, making it easy to pinpoint stumbling blocks in hardware. In this case, races that pitted my avian kart-pilot against numerous porcine competitors tended to stutter occasionally. It doesn't ruin the experience: I played many a race and things generally moved a long at an appreciable clip, and while any perceived slowdown is irksome, you'll generally be fine -- especially for $100.
Firing up and switching among multiple apps was often smooth, but occasionally caused the tablet to become sluggish, and at worse unresponsive. This behavior wasn't predictable: sometimes, things worked without a hitch. At other times, apps would hang for seconds at a time, or unceremoniously dump me back to the home screen without warning. In those cases, I just turned the tablet off and fired it back up again and things generally went back to normal.
The tablet takes roughly two seconds to wake up once you've locked it. I'm spoiled by more responsive devices, but that 2-second delay every time you reach for the device gets really annoying. Its more than passing resemblance to the original Nexus 7 (a tablet I loved) made matters that much worse for me, as I kept reaching for volume controls on the right side of the device (they're on the top) and pressing the power button instead, locking the device.
I mentioned a speaker: it's present, but (as expected) not very good. The audio it pumps out can get fairly loud, but if you're holding it in landscape mode (ideal for videos) you'll generally block the speaker, muffling the sound. And the speaker isn't very pleasant to listen to either, eking out audio that's wispy and devoid of much in the way of depth or bass.
On the CNET video playback test, the Excite Go lasted for 4.5 hours. I saw a bit more life -- about 6 hours -- during my normal use, which consisted of Internet browsing and a spot of gaming every now and then. Toshiba battery estimates that the device will last for 7 hours. If you turn off the Wi-Fi and keep the brightness level down, this should just about get you through a cross-country flight across the US. More staying power is always appreciated, though; as it stands, you're going to want to be mindful of where the nearest power outlet is.
The Toshiba Excite Go is a case study in getting what you pay for. If you want an cheap gift for a child who wants to look a pictures and play casual games, it's a sturdy little $100 device that could fit the bill. The performance sits in that nebulous "good enough" space, and the battery life, while meager, is arguably sufficient for something you keep near a bedside table or on the couch.
But make no mistake: this is a decidedly unsatisfying experience. Theand have their issues and will cost about $50 extra, but offer better displays with higher resolutions. And that's key: a tablet is nothing without its screen, and the display that Toshiba has outfitted here is of too poor quality to be worth your time.