Toshiba Excite Write 10.1 review

Pros

  • Blazing-fast Tegra 4 processor
  • Impressively sharp display
  • Android 4.2

Cons

  • Expensive
  • Relatively thick and heavy
  • Oversized power adapter

The Toshiba Excite Write is an absolute beast. Its quad-core Tegra 4 processor is the fastest we've seen, its 2,560 x 1,600-pixel display is tack sharp, and it even packs in a stylus with an active digitizer for good measure. The bad news? This beast costs a whopping £450.

You almost have to respect the sheer gall of Toshiba here. I'm not sure anyone ever was or ever will be willing to pay this much for an Android tablet. This is a niche product through and through, thanks to its thick build, lack of compelling pen integration, and exorbitant price. It may be the most powerful Android tablet yet, but you'd be better off with the Google Nexus 10 or Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1. And Apple's fourth-gen iPad remains our top pick for large-screen tablets with its superior app selection and overall tablet experience.

Design

At least Toshiba’s previous Excite 10 looked and felt the part of a premium tablet. Not so with the Excite Write – instead of a sleek aluminium build, you get the bland textured plastic that Toshiba used in its budget friendly Excite 10 SE. On top of that, the Write is a relatively thick and heavy tablet at 180 x 10 x 260mm (WxDxH) and 670 grams. It's quite clunky compared with the 7mm thick and 495 grams vital stats of the Sony Xperia Tablet Z, and it makes the 9mm thick and 600 grams Nexus 10 feel pretty sleek. This is not what £450 should feel like, not by a long shot.

Around the tablet's edges you'll find Power and Volume buttons, while a flap covers a microSD card slot, microHDMI port, and microUSB port. The latter is used for data transfer and USB OTG – there's a separate DC power jack next to the flap. That alone is a bit of a nuisance, but to make matters worse, Toshiba threw in an unusually large AC adapter that resembles a laptop power brick.

Apparently full HD isn't enough for today's top-end tablets. The Excite Write, like the Nexus 10, is rocking an impressively sharp 2,560 x 1,600-pixel IPS display. That's 300 pixels per inch, besting the iPad's 263 ppi. This is the crispest tablet display available, but Android's software limitations and poorly optimised tablet apps mean things still look better on the iPad. Colours are mildly oversaturated, with yellows skewing a bit green, but whites look clean white. It's also not the brightest display, as it looks noticeably dimmer than the iPad or the Asus Transformer Infinity TF700.

There are two Harman Kardon-branded stereo speaker grilles on the back of the Write, but they sit right where your hands naturally grasp the slate, so they’re easy to cover. While they don't sound terribly tinny, maximum volume just isn't all that high. That's exacerbated by the rear-facing speakers – the Nexus 10's front-facing stereo speakers sound clearer. There's also no bass to be found at all, but that's typical of all tablets. Harman Kardon makes some superb headphones and audio equipment, so it was a bit of a let-down to see its name stamped on average tablet speakers.

Performance

The Excite Write is the first Nvidia Tegra 4-powered tablet we've had an opportunity to test, and if you go by our synthetic benchmarks alone, it doesn't disappoint. The quad-core 1.8GHz chip is one of the first to use the new ARM A15 architecture, and it's coupled with 2GB RAM in the Excite Write.

It handily beat the Nexus 10 and Tablet Z in the Geekbench overall system benchmark, notching up a 3,937 compared to the Nexus 10's 2,480 and the Tablet Z's 2,099. Graphics and gaming performance was equally impressive, with smooth gameplay and fast load times in NOVA 3 and Real Racing 3. On the graphics benchmark Taiji, the Write turned in a respectable 40 frames per second (fps), despite its much higher resolution display, where the Nexus 10 only managed 26 fps.

It also turned in top marks on our web browsing benchmarks, but not by a huge margin, just about matching the Tablet Z on Browsermark and Sunspider tests. In real world usage, the Excite Write was equally impressive; switching between multiple running apps is a breeze, web pages render quickly, and scrolling and swiping animations are exceedingly smooth.

This is a Wi-Fi only tablet that connects to 802.11b/g/n networks on both the 2.4GHz and 5GHz frequencies. Also on-board are GPS and Bluetooth 4.0, which both worked fine in my tests. The Write is available in a single 32GB model, and our 32GB and 64GB microSD cards both worked without issue.

In our battery rundown test, which loops a video with screen brightness set to maximum and Wi-Fi switched on, the Excite Write lasted 6 hours and 4 minutes. That's good compared with the Nexus 10's 5 hours and 9 minutes, and the Tablet Z's 4 hours and 41 minutes in the same test, but still short of the 7 hours and 17 minutes of the Asus TF700.

The Write comes with an 8-megapixel rear-facing camera and a 1.2-megapixel front-facing camera. This tablet is about as big as they come these days, which makes using the rear-facing camera seem all the more ridiculous. Still, the Write takes respectable shots in favourable light. It's on par with the Transformer Pad Infinity and Tablet Z, with decent detail and colour, but it struggles with low dynamic range and things get pretty bad in low-lighting scenarios.

The rear-facing camera captures 1080p video at 30 frames per second both indoors and out, but footage shouldn't be relied on for anything but spur of the moment capture. The front-facing camera suffices for video chat, and that's all I'd recommend it for.

Android and pen support

Toshiba serves up a relatively clean version of Android 4.2.1 Jelly Bean with this tablet. I'm all for close-to-stock builds of Android, but the Excite Write is almost barebones to a fault. It just feels like Android, in its stock state, and doesn't take advantage of all the extra pixels or processing power at work here.

For one thing, there are no enhanced multitasking features like those you'll find with Sony's Small Apps or Samsung's Multi Window. Instead you get vague customisations like "video enhancement" and "audio enhancement," the former making almost no discernible difference while the latter is more or less a Beats approximation. There are multiple Power Management profiles that let you adjust things like Wi-Fi behaviour and sleep timers, and these are useful touches but nothing to write home about.

Then there's the truly lacklustre pen support. The Excite Write's main selling point is its bundled stylus with active digitiser. It's not Wacom-branded like Samsung's Note line, but Toshiba boasts of 1,024 pressure points and a true "pen and paper" feel. The latter point is actually accurate, as Toshiba's "TruPen" stylus tip feels less plastic-on-plastic than Samsung's.

Unfortunately, there aren't any compelling apps or native features that take advantage of the stylus input. Toshiba's own TruNote app is a pretty barebones note taking and mark-up app, which pales in comparison to Samsung's. Writing and palm rejection work great, but for some strange reason, the pressure sensitivity doesn't come through. All lines are the same thickness, regardless of how hard you press. You have to manually adjust pen width, which sort of defeats the purpose of having a pressure sensitive stylus.

Pen input feels accurate and responsive in TruNote, but when you use a third-party app like Autodesk Sketchbook, pen input lags just enough to be annoying. That might not be Toshiba's fault entirely, but the company should have done a better job integrating the pen features into Android itself. As it stands, it seems like Toshiba threw the pen in as an afterthought to market the Write against the Galaxy Note 10.1.

As usual, you get access to Google Play and the hundreds of thousands of apps, movies, and music tracks within. The situation is definitely getting better, but as usual, most of these apps look pretty bad on large tablets. They don't take advantage of the extra real estate, especially on high resolution tablets like the Excite Write. Phone apps that still work on 7in screens look comical on 10.1in screens. It's not Toshiba or Google's fault here, but Android's tablet experience just doesn't come close to matching the iPad and its hundreds of thousands of tablet-optimised apps.

Verdict

There's likely a small cadre of consumers out there who would be willing to shell out £450 for an Android tablet. They're not wrong, but they might be overly optimistic. You just don't get the same value, in terms of optimised apps and overall experience, as you do with the £399 Apple iPad.

The Toshiba Excite Write is a fine tablet, even the most feature-packed by many standards. Its performance is second to none, its display is sharper than Apple's Retina displays, and it comes with an active digitiser pen. With low-end tablets, often the hardware can't keep up with the software, but the reverse is true with the Write. The Android operating system and lacklustre customisations just don't take advantage of the excellent hardware.

If you're considering the Write for its bundled active digitiser pen, I'd recommend going with the Galaxy Note 10.1 instead. Samsung's TouchWiz may seem bloated to many, but the multitasking and built-in pen support are far better than what Toshiba offers.

If you're more interested in getting a taste of Nvidia's Tegra 4 power, then Toshiba makes the Excite Pro, which ditches the pen support and comes at a more reasonable price than the Write – it’s £100 less for the 16GB Excite Pro (we’ll have a full review of the Pro model soon).

For now, though, the Apple iPad remains our top pick when it comes to large screen tablets, due to its tried-and true design and its superior collection of tablet apps.

Specifications

Manufacturer and Model

Toshiba Excite Write 10.1

Screen Resolution

2,560 x 1,600 pixels

Operating System

Google Android 4.2.1

Dimensions

180 x 10 x 260mm (WxDxH)

Weight

670g

Screen Type

IPS LCD

RAM

2GB

Camera Resolution

8-megapixel

Storage Capacity

32GB SSD

Screen Pixels Per Inch

300 ppi

Additional Storage

MicroSD

Video Camera Resolution

1080p rear

Processor Speed

1.8GHz

Bluetooth Version

4

Screen Size

10.1in

CPU

Nvidia Tegra 4

Ports

microHDMI, microUSB

Wi-Fi Compatibility

2.4GHz/5GHz