You'd think that being the first tablet with Nvidia's Tegra 4 processor would be impressive enough, but the Toshiba Excite Pro has much more to offer. This 10-inch tablet also boasts a Retina-like 2560 x 1600-pixel display, impressive speakers and Android 4.2. But do those features make it worth its $479 price tag?
The Excite Pro is a handsome tablet that's easy to grip, but its materials and portability don't exactly match the premium price. The slate sports rounded edges and a silver, plastic back with a textured finish. The 10.1-inch display is framed on all sides by a 1-inch-thick black bezel that makes it easy to hold the device without your hand accidentally touching the screen.
A power button sits atop the Excite Pro, while the left side of the device houses a microphone/headphone jack, volume rocker and power jack. Also on the left is a nook with an attached cover that contains microSD, micro HDMI and microUSB ports.
On the rear, an 8-MP camera and LED flash sit at the extreme top-right corner, while two harman/kardon speakers lie on opposite sides at the bottom.
The Excite Pro weighs 1.4 lbs., which is pretty hefty compared to the Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 10.1 and Sony Xperia Tablet Z, both of which weigh just 1.1 lbs. The Toshiba is also slightly heavier than the Google Nexus 10 (1.3 lbs.) and just a tad lighter than the iPad 4th Generation (1.44 lbs.).
Click to EnlargeMeasuring 10.3 x 7.0 x 0.4 inches, the Excite Pro is larger and thicker than the $399 Galaxy Tab 3 10.1 (9.57 x 6.93 x 0.31 inches). The superslim Xperia Tablet Z is longer and narrower, at 10.47 x 6.77 x 0.27 inches. The Nexus 10 is almost the same size but noticeably slimmer, at 10.39 x 6.99 x 0.35 inches.
Click to EnlargeThe Excite Pro joins the Nexus 10 as the second Android tablet with a Retina-like resolution of 2560 x 1600. The Pro's 10.1-inch LED-backlit TFT LCD screen displayed vivid colors with great contrast and fine details.
We watched a 1080p HD trailer for "The Wolverine" and found it to be immensely enjoyable. Details were so clear that we were able to see the scaly, reptilian texture of Viper's skin as she peeled it off her face, and the rich colors on the screen remained true at up to 178 degrees.
Although the Excite Pro's screen easily beat the displays on the Xperia Z (1900 x 1200) and the Galaxy Tab 3 10.1 (1280 x 800), it did not match the superior quality of the iPad 4th Gen's Retina display (even with a lower resolution of 2048 x 1536) nor the Nexus 10's 2560 x 1600 HD PLS display.
The same trailer for "The Wolverine" on the Nexus 10 and iPad 4th Gen delivered brighter, richer colors. The yellow and purple lights on the streets of Tokyo were fuller, compared with the green and blue overtones we saw on the Excite Pro.
When we pulled up a 2560 x 1600 image of two clown fish surrounded by green anemone on the iPad 4th Gen, the Nexus 10 and the Excite Pro, the Nexus 10 clearly had the best quality, beating the other two in brightness, color, clarity and contrast, with the beautiful orange of the fish standing out against the softer greens of the anemone. On the iPad 4th Gen, the image was almost too bright, with greens and oranges that seemed unnatural. The Excite Pro could barely hold a candle to the other two, as the clown fish were almost lost in the shadow of the anemone.
Unfortunately, the Excite Pro's screen is also the dimmest of the 10-inch tablets in the same price range, which made outdoor viewing almost impossible. At 323 lux, this tablet scored lower than the category average of 360 lux and trailed the iPad 4th Gen (346 lux), the Xperia Tablet Z (354 lux), the Nexus 10 (376 lux) and the Galaxy Note 10.1 (455 lux).
Keep in mind that there aren't any apps in the Google Play store that take full advantage of this high resolution. While the graphics in "Riptide GP2" were beautiful and high-quality, images on many other games, such as "Zombie Frontier 1," looked grainy. Diner Dash, though, offers the option of HD graphic downloads to improve the image quality.
A search in the Google Play store for "Retina-optimized apps" turned up 48 apps, of which only a handful were interesting titles, such as "Cows vs. Aliens" and "Elf Defense."
The Excite Pro packs two impressive harman/kardon speakers on the bottom sides of its back that play beautifully distinct and rounded notes. We played the "Les Misérables" 10th anniversary concert version of "One Day More" and were impressed to hear the resonance of the cast's voices echoing in London's Royal Albert Hall.
The Galaxy Tab 3 10.1 delivered more volume on the same track, but layers of the music sounded flat, and the echo seemed to come from within the Tab, not from the hallowed concert hall.
After playing two rounds of "Riptide GP2," we found that the back of the Excite Pro got uncomfortably warm. The region around the camera on the back of the tablet heated up to 114.5 degrees Fahrenheit after about five minutes of gameplay.
Click to EnlargeThe keyboard on the Excite Pro was easy to type on, and responsive haptic feedback and native support for Swype-like gesture typing improved the experience. Keys were roomy and spaced comfortably apart, increasing typing accuracy.
The Excite Pro runs a mostly stock version of Android 4.2.1 Jelly Bean. The lock screen is bare, except for clock and calendar widgets next to an unlock panel. You can choose to unlock using Swipe, Pin, Pattern or Face Unlock. We wish there were an option to add shortcuts to frequently used apps on the lock screen, which is already available on the Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 10.1.
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The Excite Pro supports up to five different home pages, and each screen has a Google search field at the top. A narrow black bar at the very top of the screen displays indicators for Wi-Fi, battery, time and alerts.
Click to EnlargeSwiping down from the top right of the screen brings down a quick-settings panel for connectivity, brightness and battery. Doing the same from the top left pulls down a notifications drawer displaying your alerts.
Tiled along the bottom of the home screen are nine customizable shortcuts, which are, by default, Chrome, Gmail, Google Maps, Play Store, Apps, News Place, Books Place, Toshiba File Manager and Settings. You can also create folders on this bar by dragging any app over another.
We also wish the Excite Pro had support for multiwindow multitasking, which is available in the form of Small Apps for the Xperia Tablet Z. The Galaxy Note 10.1 goes even further with Multi Window, allowing users to view multiple apps on the screen at once and resize the app icons.
As the first tablet to use Nvidia's Tegra 4 quad-core ARM Cortex A15s mobile processor, the Excite Pro promises faster performance than its counterparts. Our real-world testing confirmed this tablet's truly speedy results. Apps opened and closed quickly, and the camera app loaded within 2 seconds. We played such games as "Zombie Frontier 1" and "Riptide GP2" without experiencing any lag.
The Excite Pro loaded "Riptide GP2" in a mere 8 seconds, 2 seconds faster than the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1. The Excite Pro also took a much shorter time than the Note 10.1 to perform more heavy-duty tasks. Converting a 204MB 1080p .MOV file to 480p using VidTrim took only 4 minutes and 27 seconds on the Excite Pro, far less than the 7 minutes it took the Note 10.1.
On synthetic benchmark tests, the Excite Pro far surpassed its competitors. On Quadrant -- which measures CPU, graphics and I/O performance -- the Excite Pro scored a whopping 11,540, more than tripling the category average of 3,480. It also blew past the Intel Atom-powered Galaxy Tab 3 10.1 (6,153) and the Snapdragon-S4-powered Xperia Tablet Z (7,513). The Nexus 10 (4,467) also lagged behind with its Exynos 5 dual-core processor, as did the Note 10.1 (5,259), which uses an Exynos quad-core processor.
Graphics performance on the Excite Pro was also strong. It scored 11,728 on the 3DMark Ice Storm test, almost double the category average of 5,898, while also outperforming the Galaxy Tab 3 10.1's 6,203, the Nexus 10's 7,853 and the Xperia Tablet Z's 10,203.
The Excite Pro comes with 32GB of onboard storage, of which 25.83GB is available to users. You can also add up to 64GB of storage via the microSD card slot.
Click to EnlargeThe Excite Pro comes with a truckload of preinstalled apps. In addition to the standard Google and Android software, Toshiba packed its own passel of utilities into the tablet, including TruCapture, which turns pictures of whiteboards or notes into flashcards; Toshiba's Book Place, an e-reader similar to Amazon's Kindle; news aggregator News Place; and App Place, Toshiba's curated app store. Unfortunately, you can't uninstall these proprietary apps from your tablet.
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The list of preloaded apps reads as a leaderboard of top apps in every category on the Play store. Many of the apps simply add to the clutter, with similar music apps -- like eMusic, Rdio and iHeartRadio -- as well as video streaming apps Crackle, Hulu Plus and Netflix all competing for your attention. Other options include Amazon's Kindle Reader, Mobile and MP3, and a host of traditional games such as Solitaire, Hearts, Spades and Backgammon by Silvercreek Games.
Some of these apps are pretty useful. You might consider keeping PrintHand for wireless printing directly from your device, ThinkFree Office Mobile for increased productivity and the popular note-taking app Evernote.
Click to EnlargeThe Excite Pro's 8-MP rear camera took sharp pictures and really shined in close-up shots. Pictures of computer monitors and handwritten notes were satisfyingly sharp, and the camera's autofocus worked quickly in macro situations. Colors were distinct, though somewhat muted, and in group pictures, we could make out light-colored hairs on our co-worker's forearms. Pictures taken on the Galaxy Tab 3 10.1's 3-MP camera were less sharp and had poorer contrast, but had brighter and richer colors.
The rear camera supports image stabilization, which may be its own undoing, as it takes a whopping 8 seconds from the time you tap the shutter button till the camera is ready to take another shot.
Video mode is problematic, as the camera refuses to focus on medium-to-distant objects when its resolution is higher than 480p. Toshiba's product-development team has acknowledged the issue and said it is working on a fix.
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The front 1.2 MP camera takes somewhat grainy pictures and comes with a neat face-detection feature that adjusts the brightness in order to keep your face visible in most conditions.
The Excite Pro uses the stock Android camera app. It works well, but lacks advanced features such as voice-activated shutter, metering adjustments and scene modes, which can be found on the Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 10.1. The Xperia Tablet Z offers Superior Auto, Burst and Picture Effect. Even the Nexus 10's stock Android camera has a fun Photo Sphere feature that allows you to take a 360-degree panorama that the Excite Pro doesn't have.
Click to EnlargeToshiba says the Excite Pro's prismatic lithium-polymer battery is supposed to provide up to 11 hours on standby and up to 9.5 hours of video playback.
On the LAPTOP Battery Test, which involves continuous Web surfing over Wi-Fi with the display on 40 percent brightness, the Excite Pro offered the shortest battery life in its category, clocking just 6 hours and 14 minutes.
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That's almost an hour less than the category average of 7 hours and 7 minutes. The Galaxy Note 10.1 did better, lasting 8 hours and 57 minutes, while the Nexus 10 (8:18), Xperia Tablet Z (9:51) and iPad 4th Gen (12:22) also lasted much longer than the Pro.
Click to EnlargeAlthough the Toshiba Excite Pro is a speedy Tegra 4 tablet with a high-res display and great audio, it lags behind similarly priced competitors when it comes to design and battery life. For just $20 more, you can get the ultraslim and water-resistant Sony Xperia Z, which has much longer endurance and more features, such as the ability to control your TV. And if you want an Android tablet for productivity, the pen-enabled Galaxy Note 10.1 is a better choice. Overall, the Excite Pro doesn't quite measure up to the competition