Toshiba is aiming to get the first Tegra 4-powered Android tablets out on the market. Unveiled in London this morning, the company's new line of Excite Android tablets target Samsung and Asus tablet lines with slim, well-built cases and the latest Nvidia Tegra 4 processors. We got some hands on time with the trio to see what they’re made of.
The most striking detail about the Excite Pure, Excite Pro, and Excite Write is that from the front, they all look exactly the same. They're all smallish tablets with 10.1in screens that feel very similar, in size and weight, to the latest Toshiba Excite 10 SE, with the same black front and textured silver back.
The difference is in the components that go into the similar cases, of course. The Excite Pure keeps things basic to achieve its £249 price point. It looks like a somewhat-updated, price-reduced version of the Excite 10 SE: a 1,280 x 800 screen, Nvidia Tegra 3 processor, 1.2-megapixel front-facing camera, 3-megapixel rear camera, Android 4.2, and 16GB of storage with MicroHDMI, MicroUSB, and MicroSD ports.
Toshiba keeps its version of Android pretty clean, which will please purists and speed updates; there's some bloatware, including a Toshiba-branded app store, but no skinning of the OS. The company guaranteed me that the new tablets will receive updates to Android ‘Key Lime Pie,’ which hasn't even been announced yet.
Kick things up to the £349 Excite Pro and you get a state-of-the-art Android tablet. This one has two Harmon Kardon stereo speakers on the back edges to deliver more powerful sound; they'd be better on the front, but at least the back edges are angled up so they aren't flush against the surface on which the tablet is sitting. The Excite Pro runs Nvidia's new Tegra 4 processor with a 2,560 x 1,600 screen, Android 4.2, an 8-megapixel rear camera, 32GB storage and MicroHDMI, MicroUSB, and MicroSD ports.
The Excite Pro's most immediate competitor is Asus's brand-new Transformer Pad Infinity, which has the same screen and processor as the Pro. Toshiba's tablet has a potentially better camera, but Asus's entries often have much nicer body designs, so it'll be very interesting to let these two face off.
The top-of-the-line £499 Excite Write adds a pressure-sensitive Wacom pen, offering a pen-tablet alternative to the popular Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 (which is, admittedly, starting to look a little old.) The problem here is that the pen feels slapped on: it doesn't dock into the tablet the way the Galaxy Note's pen does, and currently only one app is supported, Toshiba's own TruNote note-taking app.
I doodled a little with TruNote and didn't feel a lot of lag on the pen, which was nice. That app has a lot of neat tricks, including handwriting and shape recognition, and the ability to export notes in either image or recognized formats to other Android apps. But it's a fairly weak attempt when compared to Samsung's robust S Pen ecosystem, with dozens of supported apps. Toshiba said it's distributing an SDK so third parties can write "Tru Apps" that work with its version of the pen. But given that Toshiba and Samsung are using the Android OS and Wacom technology, I think the two should try a little harder to get along for the good of everyone who likes pressure-sensitive apps.
The Excite Write beats the Galaxy Note on screen and processor, though, with its Tegra 4 and 2,560 x 1,600 screen. Its other specs are the same as the Excite Pro. I didn't feel like I got a good measure of the processor's performance, though, as the pre-production firmware made some UI transitions visibly jittery.
But I wonder if any of these products will be enough to get Toshiba past its major challenge, which is differentiation. As we found with the Excite 10 SE, Toshiba prices its tablets in the premium group but has trouble outdoing Asus on design, Amazon on price, or Samsung on pen capabilities. It remains to be seen whether the Excite trio can change the status quo.