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

Toshiba's Stylus-based Tegra 4 tablet costs $600, but comes up short on good reasons to actually pay that much for it.

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Eric Franklin
9 min read

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.


Toshiba Excite Write

The Good

Writing on the <b>Toshiba Excite Write's</b> 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.

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

Dive into the Toshiba Excite Write's sunny disposition (pictures)

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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.

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.

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.

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.


Toshiba Excite Write

Score Breakdown

Design 6Features 7Performance 7