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Toshiba Excite 13 Review
The huge, pricey Toshiba Excite 13 tablet doesn’t offer enough content to fill its vast screen.
(3 out of 5)
- Giant screen is good for watching videos
- Excellent Tegra 3 performance.
- So big it’s unwieldy
- Too expensive
- Not enough HD content
Toshiba’s new 13.3-inch tablet isn’t a desk, or a serving tray, or even really a tablet. After a couple of days of using it, I realized what it is. It’s a TV. The Toshiba Excite 13 ($649.99 for 32GB, $749.99 for 64GB) would make a great portable TV. But it’s too expensive to become a mainstream hit, and it’s missing the apps which could deliver good-looking HD content to its huge screen.
Physical Design and Networking
The largest tablet we’ve ever seen, the Excite 13 is awkward to hold, and even a little awkward in my lap. There’s a reason this thing comes with a stand, a completely separate squarish chunk of metal that the tablet sits in. The tablet is slim, though, and slides easily into a backpack for transport.
As for actual numbers, the Excite 13 is 13.5 by 8.5 by .4 inches and 2.2 pounds. It’s very well-built, with the same aluminum body found on the Excite 7.7 ($499, 3.5 stars) and Excite 10 ($449.99, 3.5 stars) tablets and a flat glass screen. There’s a micro USB port for syncing, but to charge the tablet, you need the included unique, laptop-style power brick. The tablet also has a microHDMI port, full-sized SD card slot and headphone jack.
You have to think differently to figure out where to use the Excite 13, but once you get into the mindset, it becomes easy: You’d prop it up in the kitchen for recipes, you might stick it on a side table in a hotel room, or prop it up at the end of a dorm room bed.
One thing you don’t really want to do is put it in your lap. The Excite 13 is a long, skinny rectangle, and it’s just awkward to hold. When I put it in portrait mode on my lap to play a game, the end of the tablet went off the edge of my knees.
Other than video playback, there’s another potential market for this tablet. Because the 13.3-inch, 1,600-by-900 LCD screen packs a relatively low 133 dots per inch, text is pretty large, and the touch keyboard is just plain huge. That makes the Excite 13 a good choice for people with mildly impaired mobility or vision. The flip side of that, of course, is that some graphics (especially in games) look jaggy if you have your nose right up to the screen.
The Excite 13 is a Wi-Fi-only tablet and connects to 802.11b/g/n networks, albeit only at 2.4GHz. You also get Bluetooth and GPS, although the idea of tacking this monster to your dashboard is pretty funny.
Apps and Performance
Running on Nvidia’s latest quad-core Tegra 3 processor, the Excite 13′s benchmark results are absolutely killer. This is one of the fastest Android devices we’ve tested, and performance is impeccable. Tegra-enhanced games like Zen Pinball THD and Riptide GP play very smoothly.
But, as I mentioned earlier, the large, relatively low-DPI screen can make some graphics look poor. Some of this is the developers’ fault; I downloaded some games from Nvidia’s Tegra Zone, and it became painfully obvious that some of the images in the game Princess Punt THD were being scaled up, for instance. But I also found diagonal lines on the Zen Pinball flippers a bit jaggier than usual.
The 133 pixels per inch is actually higher density than the iPad 2′s 9.7-inch 1024-by-768 131-ppi screen. But it’s lower than most 10-inch Android tablets, which have around 150 ppi, and much lower than most phones, smaller tablets, and the New iPad, which generally clock in between 215 and 330 ppi. Whether you see the screen as low-res depends on where your expectations are, and devices like the 215-ppi Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.7 ($699, 3.5 stars) and upcoming 224-ppi Asus and Acer tablets have raised my expectations. None of this mumbling about pixels per inch matters if you’re sitting more than about two feet away from the tablet, though.
Toshiba didn’t do much to alter Android 4.0 here, only adding some pre-loaded apps, most of which you can ignore. There’s a Flipboard-like news app, a Blio-powered book store, a file manager, and a custom DLNA-enabled media player with a better file viewing layout than the standard Android media player.
The Excite 13′s size means it can pack a very large battery, and we got excellent battery life results—8 hours and 38 minutes playing a video with the screen on maximum brightness and Wi-Fi turned on. That’s longer than the new iPad, which only managed five and a half hours on max brightness. The difference? The new iPad’s super-high-res screen is a power hog.
The Excite 13 as a TV
The Excite 13 practically begs to be used to watch video, with its blaringly loud bottom-ported stereo speakers, included stand, and giant display. Admittedly, the screen is glossier (and thus more reflective) than I’d prefer, but that’s common to most tablets nowadays.
If you’re playing your own ripped files, life is pretty good here. The Excite 13 could handle all of our sample audio and video files at up to 1080p resolution. And the full-sized SD card slot makes it easy to transfer files from a PC. There’s 26GB of on-board storage along with support for cards up to 64GB. The stereo speakers are extremely loud, if rather bassless.
The problem is trying to find legal, HD content that looks good on this big screen. Netflix is your best bet. The video streams show some compression artifacts, but they’re perfectly good enough. YouTube has gorgeous HD content, but little of it is professionally produced. Ditto for Vimeo: Videos viewed in the Vimeo app look great, but they’re a real grab bag.
Other apps didn’t perform as well. TV.com has many great CBS TV shows, but they’re decidedly low-res. SPB TV has low-res but smooth video from various international networks. Qello’s concerts are melodious but blocky. Ditto for Vevo’s music videos, which were so low-res I couldn’t make out facial features. Hulu and HBO GO just spit out error messages about how the Excite 13 isn’t an authorized device.
Want to rent movies? Google Play has a decent selection, but none of its movies are in HD here. Amazon and Blockbuster movie services don’t even show up in the Google Play market for this tablet either.
This is a typical Android tablet experience: Offer the hardware, but then make the user go hunting for the content. The market here is frustrating enough that I’m sure many people will think step one, Netflix; step two, BitTorrent.
There’s a 5-megapixel camera on the back of the tablet, but who are you kidding? Are you going to shoot photos with a 13.5-inch-wide device? Who do you think you are, Henri Cartier-Bresson?
Holding the tablet up to take photos is a uniquely awkward experience. The photos themselves are decent, with good colors indoors and somewhat washed-out-but- otherwise-adequate images outdoors. The video camera mode records 720p videos at 30 frames per second indoors and out.
You’re more likely to use the 2-megapixel front camera, which is designed for video chatting. It’s not very good indoors; photos I took were greenish and noisy, and videos were stuck at 640-by-480 and 12 frames per second.
If you think the 13.3-inch screen isn’t big enough, you have a serious problem. There’s an HDMI port that outputs everything on the screen smoothly to a TV, including 1080p video. But really. Get your head examined.
We evaluate tablets in two size groups; small (7-8 inches) and large (10 inches). The Excite 13 is a new category in itself: huge. It’s not practical for gaming, and even a little awkward for Web browsing, but wow, is it good for playing videos.
If there was an easy way to get a wide range of big-name, HD video content onto this platter, I’d give the Excite 13 a more positive review. As it is, we’re in the typical Android realm of having to do your homework to find the right apps. Netflix works well, but that should be the start, not the end-all, of the video experience.
Then there’s the price. It’s hard to justify a $650 tablet when you can get a much more powerful laptop at the same price. Even just for video use, the $600 Gateway ID47H07u laptop (4 stars) brings a bigger (if lower-res) screen, far more storage, and compatibility with more HD video services. Apple’s far higher-res New iPad (4.5 stars), meanwhile, checks in at a mere $499 and integrates more tightly with Apple’s well-stocked HD video rental store. And I might as well mention that a 13-inch LCD TV costs around $180 at Amazon, although you’ll probably need to attach a cable or satellite connection to that.
The Toshiba Excite 13 is an expensive outlier. If you want to look at Web-based recipes from across the room or play Netflix on the largest possible portable screen, it’ll satisfy you. But most people will be better served by a laptop, a less-expensive tablet, or even a small TV.
By Sascha Segan, PCMag