A recent survey found that 62 percent of all tablets never leave the home. So why try and make them as big as possible? The Toshiba Excite 13 is targeted at that stay-at-home segment. This mammoth 13-inch tablet, which starts at $649 for the 32GB version, boasts a 1600 x 900-pixel display with support for up to 10 fingers, a quad-core Nvidia Tegra 3 processor, and Android Ice Cream Sandwich. But when you can buy a full-fledged laptop for less, the Excite 13 has a pretty steep uphill climb to win shoppers over. Does it succeed?
After such monstrosities as the Kno and the JooJoo, the Toshiba Excite 13 is borderline manageable. To be sure, at 13.5 x 8.4 x 0.4 inches and weighing 2.2 pounds, it's almost as big and heavy as Toshiba's ultrabook, the Portege Z835 (12.4 x 8.9 x 0.6 inches, 2.4 pounds). It's also about a full pound heavier than the Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 10.1 (1.24 pounds). Standing while using the Excite 13 felt ridiculous, but that's not how this slate was designed to be used.
Toshiba's supersize tablet was comfortable to hold when we were lazing around on our couch and had the device propped up in our lap. Unfortunately, the placement of the speakers along the bottom edge easily muffled the sound. A better option would be placing them on the front bezel, as with the Galaxy Tab 2 10.1.
As with most tablets, the front is dominated -- and in this case, really dominated -- by the Excite 13's massive display, which is bordered by a black bezel. Similar to the smaller 10 and 7.7-inch Toshiba tablets, the back panel is a silvery gray plastic with a 5-megapixel webcam along the top.
Along the top edge of the tablet is a rotation-lock switch and volume controls. The right side has an SD card slot that accepts cards up to 128GB, microUSB, microHDMI, a headphone jack and a power plug.
Even the power brick for the Excite 13 is larger than most; it's literally the same size as one you'd find on a notebook.
It might not be Retina-level, but the 13.3-inch Gorilla Glass display on the Excite 13 has a resolution of 1600 x 900, higher than the 1280 x 800 panels found on most 10-inch Android tablets. Still, with greater resolution comes greater expectations, and the Excite didn't quite live up to them.
HD trailers for "The Great Gatsby" and "Skyfall" showed deep blacks, but overall looked worse than on the Excite 10. Images weren't nearly as sharp or vibrant, which was a disappointment. The Excite 13's brightness of 241 lux fell well below the category average of 359, as well as other leading 10-inch tablets such as the TF 300 (331 lux) and the iPad (386).
Viewing angles were pretty good, though, allowing several people to watch the action on screen at once. When playing a game of checkers with the tablet positioned lengthwise between two players, both could see the pieces on-screen easily.
When held in portrait mode, the length of the tablet lets us view nearly the entire home page of The New York Times, and still be able to read everything comfortably. Ironically, though, in landscape mode, this same width works against you; when pages are re-sized to fit the screen, you see less of them than you would on a smaller tablet.
And, of course, we wish more apps were optimized for higher-resolution displays, instead of being stretched phone apps (such as Facebook and ESPN Scorecenter). It's particularly noticeable on this display.
The Excite 13's display also features 10-finger multitouch support, as well as haptic feedback, emitting a gentle buzz when pressed. While we found the latter handy when typing, it proved distracting at other times, such as when swiping. Fortunately, you can deactivate this feature in Settings.
Like its 10-inch counterpart, audio from the Excite 13 was less than overwhelming, despite SRS Sound enhancement technology. Music and movies sounded tinny, and, as noted, became muted when we held the tablet in our lap. We much prefer the speakers on the Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 10.1, which are on either side of the screen, and project sound directly at the user, instead of downward.
We doubt even professional basketball players would be able to stretch their thumbs to the center of the Excite 13's keyboard in landscape mode. We found it easiest to type using our index fingers, with the tablet resting flat. In portrait mode, we could reach the middle of the tablet with our thumbs, but it felt rather top-heavy when holding it down so far.
Software and User Interface
The Excite 13 runs a pretty clean version of Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich. As with the Excite 10, you get five home screens, and the system bar along the bottom with icons for Back, Home and Recent Apps on the left, and Wi-Fi, Battery life, and a clock on the right. We like the little touches, such as being able to create folders on the home screens, and the ability to take screen shots by holding the power and volume up button simultaneously.
We do wish, though, that we could open apps such as Gmail or the browser, instead of just the camera, right from the lock screen.
One thing's for sure, the Excite 13 is not lacking for apps. Toshiba apps include Book Place, which offers more than 3 million e-books, Media Player and File Manager. Third-party apps include Amazon Kindle, Amazon MP3, Crackle, Kaspersky Tablet Security, a suite of Hardwood card games, LogMeIn, Netflix SD Player, Quickoffice, Rdio and Zinio.
The problem is that many apps were obviously designed with smartphones in mind. Rdio is a great example. It looked so stretched out on this screen that it was laughable. Other apps are optimized for tablet usage, such as Netflix.
Finally, there's all the included Google apps, from the Play store to Maps, Gmail, Movie Studio, Videos and YouTube.
With an Nvidia Tegra 3 processor and Nvidia graphics, the Excite performed far above other tablets. On An3DBench, it scored 8,002, about 700 points higher than the category average, and also besting the Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 10.1 (6,779) and on a par with the ASUS Transformer Prime (8,050), which has the same CPU. The only tablet that scored significantly higher was the Excite 10 (10,006).
On the Benchmark CPU test, the Excite 13's score of 3842 outpaced the average by nearly 1,100 points, and bested the Excite 10 by 500 points, but fell short of the Prime by 200 points. Its Quadrant score of 4,143 crushed the average of 2,565 as well as the Galaxy Tab 2 10.1, and was on a par with the Excite 10.
Even more so than with any other tablet, we felt pretty ridiculous holding the Excite 13 up to take photos. Images taken outdoors using the Excite 13's rear-facing 5-MP camera were merely average. When we zoomed in on details in a building, we noticed a good deal of artifacts. However, we liked the camera's panorama feature, which stitched together a 160-degree image in just a few seconds after we panned the tablet.
The 720p video lacked vibrancy and detail. Yellow taxis had more of a pastel hue, and architectural details, such as brickwork, weren't sharp.
The front-facing 2-MP webcam had even less detail than the rear camera -- our hair was a big brown blob -- but colors were fairly accurate, and will suffice for video chats.
Toshiba claims the Excite 13 will last up to 13 hours on a charge, and up to seven days on standby. On the LAPTOP Battery Test (Web surfing via Wi-Fi), it lasted 6:42, on par with the category average, but well below the Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 10.1 (9:59).
Toshiba sells two versions of the Excite 13: The 32GB model ($649) and the 64GB model ($749).
When it comes to tablets, how big is too big? Toshiba says that the Excite 13 is meant to be used primarily around the home, but there's simply not enough here to justify the $649 price. The screen isn't as bright or as sharp as we'd like, the cameras are mediocre, and the battery life is below average. Finally, although it's not Toshiba's fault, there's a dearth of Android apps that look good at 1280 x 800 pixels, much less 1600 x 900.
It may be comparing apples and oranges, but for the price of the 64GB model, you could get any one of a number of Ultrabooks, which aren't that much different in terms of size or weight. The Excite 13 has the novelty factor going for it, but once that wears off, you'll be left wanting a device that can do more.