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

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MSRP: $599.99
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The Good Writing on the Toshiba Excite Write's screen feels fluid and smooth, and I love the useful eraser button. It also boasts an incredibly sharp screen and includes storage expansion via microSD.

The Bad There are few useful stylus features and no built-in pocket for the pen. The screen at times becomes completely unresponsive.

The Bottom Line Though it doesn't have any glaring problems, $600 is way too much for a tablet that fails to stand out in any significant way.

Visit manufacturer site for details.

6.7 Overall
  • Design 6
  • Features 7
  • Performance 7

Review Sections

I could easily forgive the Toshiba Excite Write for failing to breach much new ground in the stylus tablet department, but its $600 price is the ultimate deal breaker. There just isn't enough offered here -- whether in performance or features -- to justify that price.

The Write's biggest issue is integration. Or lack thereof. Toshiba's TruNote Stylus app is severely limited in function, and while the pen can be used to navigate the OS, its functionality pales in comparison to Samsung's Note line of tablets whose write-to-text features makes the S Pen feel like a truly integrated and essential component of the interface. The Excite Write simply feels like the Excite Pro with stylus support.

The Write isn't a bad tablet, but its offerings don't match up to the $600 asking price. Stylus tablet shoppers would do well to go with either current Samsung Note tablet, or wait for the new Note 10.1 2014 Edition, which looks extremely promising

The Toshiba Excite Write is essentially the Toshiba Excite Pro with a Wacom digitizer under its screen and follows the company's tablet house design for 2013: a black-bezeled tablet with a textured plastic gray backside. Corners are comfortably rounded, but the back texture actually does little to keep it from slipping out of your hands.

When held in landscape, you'll find the power/sleep button on the top edge somewhat toward the left. The button is actually positioned a bit closer to the middle of the tablet's body than I'm used to, and as a result it was easy to miss it when attempting a no-look press. Thankfully, it protrudes from the surface just enough that most people will have no problem finding it with a simple finger slide across the top.

Toshiba Excite Write Apple iPad (fourth gen) Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 Samsung Galaxy Note 8
Weight in pounds n/a 1.44 1.32 0.76
Width in inches (landscape) 10.3 9.5 10.3 8.2
Height in inches 7 7.3 7.1 5.3
Depth in inches 0.4 0.37 0.35 0.31
Side bezel width in inches (landscape) n/a 0.8 0.9 0.7

The Write's bezels are wide and easily accommodate my rather large thumbs as well as a 1.2-megapixel camera located in the top middle. On the left edge from the top are a headphone jack, volume rocker, microSD card slot, Micro-HDMI port, and a Micro-USB port. The latter three are tucked away behind a 2-inch-long compartment door.

An 8-megapixel camera with an LED flash sits on the back in the top-right corner with dual Harman Kardon speakers on the far ends of the left and right side.

The holy trinity of physical tablet features returns! James Martin/CNET

At 1.39 pounds, the tablet is about the same weight as most 10-inchers, but is noticeably thicker than the Nexus 10 or iPad 4. And while it doesn't come off as strictly a durable tablet, the plastic back gives it this "rough 'n tumble" feel, where you'd expect it to be able to take a drop or two. Otherwise, it's an altogether unremarkable design.

The Write is essentially the Excite Pro with a Wacom digitizer. That means -- according to Toshiba -- that the screen can detect up to 1,024 levels of pressure from the pen; however, when using Toshiba's included TruNote app, you'd never notice.

James Martin/CNET

TruNote acts as the hub of most of the Write's Stylus functionality. With it, you can write notes, edit pictures, as well as annotate screenshots. You store your work in different folders that can be accessed from a virtual desktop interface within the app.

You can choose from a few different pen styles -- including a pencil or marker -- and you can customize color, pen thickness, and transparency levels. You can also use the selection tool to draw a box around assets you've created and move, resize, or rotate them.

Manual actions are required to implement most Stylus options. Screenshot by Eric Franklin/CNET

When not in the app, there's a screenshot icon in the bottom-left corner of the screen. Tapping it takes a shot and seamlessly drops you into TruNote where you can then annotate and crop the screen and save it where further edits can be made.

Though simple and visually based, I found the TruNote interface somewhat confusing at first. There isn't much in the way of a tutorial and discovering exactly what the app is capable of took some time and research. The pen and editing options offered are adequate, but the interface isn't nearly as elegant as what Samsung offers on its current versions of the Note 8 and Note 10.1. There are no brushes to choose from in TruNote and the app doesn't sense different degrees of pressure from the Stylus; however, Photoshop Touch responds to differing levels of pressures, making lines fatter or thinner as appropriate. Also, the app frustratingly only orients in portrait mode.

An example of real-time screenshot annotation. Meaningless scribble or a hidden message? Screenshot by Eric Franklin/CNET

TruNote is surprisingly no-frills, with none of the bells and whistles of Samsung's S Note app.

The pen is mightier than its utilization
Toshiba's Stylus delivered a smooth fluid flow when scribing on the screen. Smoother even than writing with the Note 10.1, but matching the fluidity of using the Note 8. One feature Samsung's stylus is missing, however, is the handy eraser button on the bottom of Toshiba's Stylus. It's a useful and convenient extra, but its detection isn't 1:1 so don't expect much in the way of precision.

The biggest difference between the Note line and the Write is OS integration. The Note tablets include stylus functionality like cutting out a slice of the screen -- any screen, at any time -- and easily dropping the clipping in an app for editing. Also, the Note's write-to-text conversion -- where users can simply write full e-mails and have it (mostly) accurately converted into text -- puts Samsung's tablets in a class all their own. The Excite Write doesn't come near that level of integration, and the overall experience feels restricted for it. There's also no pocket for the pen on the tablet, which feels like a major oversight, given that its rotund body makes it easily susceptible to rolling off your desk, under the couch, and into some lost netherrealm where small accessories go to die.

Software features
The Excite Write ships with Android 4.2.1 and includes a few exclusive Toshiba customizations.

Chief among them is Toshiba's custom camera app, TruCapture. It's essentially an app geared toward business users and used to take improved pictures of items with white backgrounds like whiteboards, magazines, or notebooks.

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.

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