Overview, Hardware & Software
A Wacom Pen, NVIDIA Tegra 4 and High-Res Display - Exciting?
In a nutshell, the above three phrases will be the exact words we would use to describe the Toshiba Excite Write. So does the trinity of features come together on this 10.1-inch tablet to propel user experience to the next level? Well, it depends and we'll get down to the details real soon.
Despite the several tablet variations out in the market, those that come with a dedicated stylus are still somewhat uncommon. Of them, we've only seen four major devices with stylus implementation: the HTC Flyer, Microsoft's Surface Pro, Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 and Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet. It will be interesting to check out what Toshiba brings to the table with its Excite Write.
NVIDIA may have announced the Tegra 4 processor 7 months ago, but devices powered by the processor have barely trickled down to the mass market. Therefore, the opportunity to test out the Tegra 4-powered Excite Write really piqued our interest to put it through its paces and compare its performance with the tablets using Intel and Qualcomm processing platforms. More such devices are definitely on the way, but Toshiba can safely lay claim to being one of the earliest NVIDIA Tegra 4 devices on the market.
The Excite Write is also one of the three tablets besides the Samsung Nexus 10 and ASUS Transformer Pad Infinity (2013) to sport an ultra-high resolution display at 2,560 x 1,600 pixels. At this resolution, it has a slightly higher pixel density than the tablet leader, the third and fourth generation Apple iPad (but so does the earlier released Nexus 10). While the display resolution race isn't going to end anytime soon, sporting one of the highest resolutions for its product type counts as a plus point for any device.
We've got the 3G version of the Toshiba Excite Write in our lab, so let's take a quick look at its specs, and how it compares with the existing competition: -
Key highlights of the Toshiba Excite Write (3G)
Design & Hardware
The hardware design of a device is important in crafting the all-important first impression. While we generally had no complaints about the design of Toshiba's tablets (the Regza Tablet AT270 and AT300) last year, we do have something to say about this year's Excite Write.
The playing field has changed drastically this year compared to 2012. Tablet vendors are increasingly focusing their efforts on delivering the best possible hardware; for example, the Sony Xperia Tablet Z is easily the best looking Android tablet we've seen to-date. ASUS has also made great strides in offering its tablets in new flavors such as its MeMO Pad HD 7, MeMO Pad FHD 10 and Transformer Pad Infinity (2013). Compared to the new tablets from its competitors, the Excite Write looks dull and dated.
Among the recent 10.1-inch tablets we've reviewed, the Excite Write is the thickest (10.5mm) and one of the heaviest at 630g. When placed beside the 6.9mm Xperia Tablet Z (the world's thinnest tablet), the Excite Write feels like a brick! There is no reason to blame it on the high resolution display as the Nexus 10 is nearly 2mm thinner. Furthermore, the Nexus 10 has a larger battery capacity of 9,000mAh compared to the Excite Write's 4380mAh battery.
While most Android tablets generally use the micro-USB port for charging, Toshiba opted to go for a proprietary charging port. If you forget to bring the charging cable out, you are out of luck as the micro-USB port cannot be used to charge the tablet.
Beyond Retina - PixelPure PLS Display
The Excite Write sports a 10.1-inch PLS display with a resolution of 2,560 x 1,600 pixels, which is on-par with the Samsung Nexus 10 and the ASUS Transformer Pad Infinity (2013). All three tablets have a pixel density of 299ppi, which is higher than the third and fourth-generation Apple iPads (264ppi).
Number crunching aside, the pixel density advantage is something really subjective for the average consumer. More often than not, it is hard to differentiate the differences between the Apple iPad and the Excite Write although Toshiba touts the superiority of its PLS display. It claims that images are 10% brighter, 30% richer and has 10% wider viewing angles compared to an IPS display. Nonetheless, we found the display to be crisp and vibrant.
While Samsung has its S Pen for the Galaxy Note devices and Lenovo has the ThinkPad Tablet Pen for its ThinkPad Tablet, Toshia has also come up with its own branding of the stylus for the Excite Write - TruPen. The TruPen works in conjunction with the Wacom technology digitizer which supports 1,024 levels of pressure sensitivity.
Shaped thicker than a pen but thinner than a marker, the TruPen is made up of plastic and feels light in the hands. This makes it comfortable for you to write, sketch or doodle with over long periods of time. The TruPen is optimized to work with two apps on the Excite Write: TruNote or Stylus Mobile. Besides these two apps, you also can use the TruPen for general navigation on the tablet in a similar way you would use your finger on the touch-based interface.
We wonder why Toshiba did not include a slot to keep the TruPen secured with the tablet. Both the Galaxy Note series and ThinkPad havea slot within the tablet to house their stylus within the device, which makes it convenient for the user to whip it out as and when it's needed. The lack of a stylus slot also makes it easier to lose the TruPen while on the move.
Harman Kardon Speakers
The Excite Write has a pair of Harman Kardon stereo speakers on its rear (one speaker on the bottom of each side). If you don't know, Harman Kordon is a manufacturer of home and car audio equipment. Its audio equipment is also fused in a variety of car models from BMW, Mercedes-Benz and more.
However good the audio output may be, the audio experience is ruined by the poor placement of the speakers. In addition, having rear-facing speakers means that sound is directed away from the user. Of course, this is sometimes used to the device's advantage where rear firing speakers are designed to bounce audio off the desk or a cupped hand to project audio louder. However, as much as we would like to cut it some slack, the location of the speakers are exactly where your hand or palm will rest when holding the tablet, and this will muffle the sound. We were also disappointed with the maximum volume output of the speakers as it was simply too low for an optimal audio experience - even though it was generally clean and crisp.
Android 4.2 Jelly Bean with Toshiba's Customizations
Pre-loaded on the Excite Write is the Android 4.2.1 Jelly Bean OS. Toshiba leaves the stock Android interface largely intact, but adds a few of its own apps onto the tablet.
As the Excite Write is positioned as a productivity tablet, ThinkFree Office Mobile is preloaded on the device. If you're curious, the Thinkfree Office Mobile app is priced at S$11.25 on the Google Play Store. It allows you to view and/or edit many file formats including DOC/DOCX/DOT/DOTX/RTF/TXT (Word 97/2000/XP/2003/2007/2010) and comes with a PDF viewer.
Mentioned earlier in the article, the Excite Write comes with two pre-installed apps, TruNote and Stylus Mobile which are optimized for use with the TruPen. In addition, it has another app, TruCapture which will come in handy for those who attend board meetings regularly. More details of how each app functions after the photo break.
TruNote is Toshiba's exclusive note-taking app that mimics real-life note-taking with different writing tools and folders. Depending on how you see it, the simple interface of the TrueNote can be a good or bad thing.
On a positive note (no pun intended), the simple user interface makes it easier to use without all the bells and whistles of competing offerings such as S Note and S Memo. The tools and options available should suffice for those who want to quickly jot down notes on the Excite Write.
On the other hand, advanced users who are looking for more sophisticated note-taking apps may find TruNote to be too basic for their needs. In all honesty, having more doesn't necessarily mean better. As this is the first version of TruNote, we aren't faulting Toshiba too much for falling short of matching its rivals' offerings.
Stylus Mobile is essentially an input option, not an app. Confusingly, Toshiba displays it as an app alongside TruNote. As with third-party keyboards that you download on your Android device, you have to set up Stylus Mobile for use on the Excite Write.
Once enabled, Stylus Mobile works with almost all applications on the Excite Write which requires text input. Some of the apps include Gmail, Chrome, Hangouts, Google Play and Thinkfree Office Mobile.
Generally, we were satisfied with how the TruPen stylus worked with Stylus Mobile and TruNote apps as it was able to recognize this reviewer's messy handwriting. There is also palm-rejection software in place so that you can rest your palm on the display while 'writing' without incurring erroneous inputs. An interesting feature of the TruPen is that you can flip the stylus around and use it like an eraser. Alternatively, you can cross-out a word or phrase to remove it.
Finally, TruCapture is a camera app with special features to take improved photos of whiteboards, printed material and notebooks. The main purpose of TruCapture is help provide the best image from the different editing tools it has.
For example, you can enable Reflection Reduction to reduce bright highlights caused by reflections when taking photos of a whiteboard in a brightly lit room. TruCapture will recommend you to take the same image from slightly different angles so the area affected by the reflection differs. The software will automatically process the image to remove the reflection and straighten it.