Toshiba Excite 7.7 review

In its sophomore attempt at cranking out Android tablets, Toshiba has unleashed the Excite series, a trifecta of thin tablet terror, upon Terran territory. The tiniest of the Thrive-topping trio is the Tegra 3-toting Excite 7.7, a close competitor to the Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.7. It's portable, sports a gorgeous AMOLED display and packs plenty of processing power. Unfortunately for consumers, there aren't too many tablets this small with this nice a display, which means it'll be much easier for Toshiba to be noticed.

Coming to the US on June 24th, the WiFi-only version of the 7.7 -- also known as the AT270 -- will be available for $500 with 16GB and $580 for 32GB. It's not the most flattering price tag, but the Tegra 3 and brilliant display help ease the pain your wallet may experience. But is it worth it? You know what to do: head on past the break for our detailed review.

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Toshiba Excite 7.7

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Toshiba

Toshiba Excite 7.7

Pros

  • Excellent graphics and gaming
  • Thin, light and easy to handle
  • Stock Ice Cream Sandwich

Cons

  • The camera might as well not exist
  • Lackluster audio quality
  • Slightly overpriced
Summary

The Excite 7.7 is a huge improvement over the Thrive series and offers tantalizing features for gamers, but its price won't be a good fit for casual users.

Hardware

The Excite series offers improvements over last year's Thrives in componentry, no doubt, but there's no area where this is more evident than in the new tablets' design. Toshiba's goal here was to make its latest slabs more attractive than its predecessors, and we'd say the Japanese manufacturer succeeded in its quest. All three -- the 13-inch, 10-inch and 7.7-inch models -- are nearly identical in shape, material and build, likely in effort to maintain a brand identity. In the case of the Excite 7.7 -- also known as the AT270 or AT275, depending on if you have a need for mobile data -- the device edges out its competitor, the Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.7, with an impressive thinness of 7.6mm (0.3 inches). It also beats the pants off its 11.9mm-thick Thrive predecessor. Unfortunately, it's slightly heavier than the aforementioned Korean rival; at 380g (13.4 ounces), it loses that particular battle by about 40 grams (1.4 ounces). It may not look overly tough, but it at least acts the part: the Excite 7.7's display is covered with Gorilla Glass and the device is encircled by a band of plastic, but it's backed by a solid helping of aluminum textured with thousands of tiny dimples. The inclusion of these materials adds peace of mind as you make your purchase decision. It's not waterproof, dustproof or any other kind of proof, but if the tablet suffered a drop from your kitchen table or similar heights, it's quite likely that your newfound gadget will have made it through the nerve-wracking journey relatively unscathed (save some minor bruises and scratches, perhaps). It's a comfortable tablet to hold: the textured back and squared-off edges make it just as easy to keep in your hands as the Galaxy Tab 7.7. The top edge houses the power / standby button, volume rocker and a multi-function toggle. This particular switch can be used to mute your tablet, lock the screen orientation or lock the power / volume buttons, and you can change the functionality back and forth in the display settings. On the right side of the tablet, you'll find a 3.5mm jack, a microSDXC slot and a micro-USB port. The slate's left side is bare, which leaves the bottom as the residence of the monstrosity known as the charging port, flanked by two external speakers.

The back of the Excite offers a minimalist design consisting of two different shades of grey: the dimpled material occupies most of the rear, while the lighter-shaded aluminum sits on the right side of the back and houses the camera and LED flash. We're happy that the tablet's thinness is the same from edge to edge and humps are nowhere to be found on the device. The front is graced with a 1280 x 800 "AutoBrite" Super AMOLED Plus panel, which places the pixel density at 196ppi. It's a beautiful display, certainly. It's easy to see in daylight (provided you have it cranked up to the brightest setting), and it offers wide viewing angles that allow you to take in content nearly edge-on. HD-quality video was impressive with the display's attention to clarity. Haptic feedback is ever-present on the Excite, which means the screen will vibrate near your fingers to let you know it's recognizing your touch. The vibrations are actually strong and audible, which may cause some annoyance, but you can turn them off if they get to be too much. If you're looking for a competitive advantage between this and the Galaxy Tab 7.7, you'll have trouble finding one in this department: they use the same type of display with the same resolution. Curious about what else is under (or on top of) the hood? We've compiled the Excite 7.7's essential specs in an easy-to-read table for your perusal:

Toshiba Excite 7.7
Pricing $500 (16GB), $580 (32GB)
Dimensions 8.1 x 5.3 x 0.30 inches (127.4 x 64.8 x 7.6mm)
Weight 13.4 oz. (380g)
Screen size 7.7 inches
Screen resolution 1280 x 800 pixels (196ppi)
Screen type "AutoBrite" Super AMOLED Plus
Gorilla Glass Yes
Battery 15Wh
Internal Storage 16GB / 32GB options
External Storage None included, MicroSDXC compatible
Rear camera 5MP, AF, LED flash
Front-facing cam 2MP
Video capture 720p HD
NFC No
Network speeds WiFi-only (in US; AT275 will sport HSPA+ internationally)
Bluetooth v3.0
CPU 1.3GHz quad-core NVIDIA Tegra 3
GPU ULP GeForce 2
RAM 1GB LPDDR2-800
MHL No
WiFi b/g/n
Supported multimedia formats AAC LC, 3GPP, MP3, AVI, MIDI, AMR-NB, AMR-WB, WAVE, WMA, H.263/H.264, MPEG-2, MPEG-4, WMV/VC-1

Software

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Much to our delight, the Excite 7.7 ships with Android 4.0.3, also known as Ice Cream Sandwich -- and a very lightly-skinned version at that. While there is the typical smattering of manufacturer customizations and pre-loaded apps, it ends up staying true to the pure vanilla user experience. This makes for glad tidings if you aren't a TouchWiz fan: which will be a key differentiator for the Excite over the Galaxy Tab. Face unlock isn't included, however -- we don't use this low-security feature on a regular basis, but we imagine a few people who like to show off the feature at parties will be disappointed that it's missing. Sorry, you'll have to find some other way of impressing your friends -- might we suggest telling jokes? If you're not a proponent of the stock Android keyboard, Toshiba has added Swype to your list of choices -- though it's easy to find several other keyboards through the Play Store. Additionally, the company threw in a balanced power mode and a toggle switch for SRS audio enhancement (more on this later).

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Toshiba Excite 7.7 screenshots

In terms of pre-installed applications, the Excite comes loaded with Quickoffice, LogMeIn, PrinterShare, Adobe Reader, Crackle, Rdio, Amazon MP3, five card games, News Place, Book Place, Media Player, Toshiba File Manager, Zinio and Kaspersky Tablet Security. Fortunately, most of these programs can be disabled in the event that you have no need for them. In fact, you can clear nearly every piece of Toshiba-supplied software off your app tray -- the only apps that won't disappear are Google+, Flash Player, Maps, Messenger, Navigation and Rdio.

Camera

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The Excite's rear camera is definitely worth writing home about, but only to warn your family about how bad it is. We seldom put much faith in images captured by tablets, since many manufacturers seem to throw them in as a last-minute consideration instead of focusing on quality, but the shooter on the Excite widely misses the mark. By the numbers, it uses a 5-megapixel sensor, and its performance lends credence to the "megapixels aren't everything" argument -- especially since the Galaxy Tab 7.7's 3.2-megapixel cam took better images. If it sounds like we're being harsh on this particular sensor, there's plenty of reason for it. First, the camera's autofocus feature caused our targets to be even blurrier than they would have been otherwise. After taking the first few shots with the Excite, we began frantically looking through the settings to find out what we were doing wrong. We even triple-checked the lens to make sure there weren't telltale fingerprints causing the images to be out of focus. But this concern was confirmed to us as we reviewed the device's 10-inch sibling -- sure enough, it offered up eerily similar results, giving us pause to wonder if there is a glitch in the software. The distance between the camera and the target object didn't appear to be a factor, as both close-up and faraway shots had a tendency to come out incredibly fuzzy. When faced with this situation, we found the best way to combat the problem was to use the tap-to-focus feature on different parts of the viewfinder until it eventually righted itself somewhat. On occasion the autofocus would work as intended without this strange workaround, but unfortunately that was the exception more than the rule.

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Toshiba Excite 7.7 camera samples

Even when the focus did its job appropriately, we still found ourselves looking at images with washed-out colors, overexposed lighting, a lack of detail and an absurdly high amount of noise. Shutter lag time is roughly three seconds, a step backwards for an Ice Cream Sandwich device. As odd as it seems, we discovered that in some instances we were more satisfied with the amount of detail in pictures taken with the 2-megapixel, forward-facing fixed-focus camera. Historically, tablets have built a reputation for being furnished with subpar sensors, but Toshiba's effort exemplifies this notoriety to the nth degree.

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As you can imagine, low-light performance isn't any sort of improvement over your overall memory-documenting experience. Though the camera offers a Night Scene, don't expect to capture much errant background light. Toshiba has thrown in an LED flash, which helps capture objects in the dark to a small extent, but it's pretty weak in comparison to most LEDs we've reviewed in the past. The user interface of the camera remains mostly stock, though some customizations have been made to the image playback screen. In terms of functionality, Toshiba put in some of the basics but didn't splurge on extras that may have potentially saved its camera's underwhelming performance. All you're given to tweak here are five white balance options, five scene modes and simple exposure adjustments.

Video capture on the Excite 7.7 allows for 720p HD resolution, but prepare to be disappointed with the results. While footage was fluid enough for our satisfaction and the mic picked up our voice well enough, the videos we took were void of detail and lacked any amount of sharpness. Autofocus isn't available in this mode either. Watching the movies played back had us wondering if we actually had the camcorder on the 720p setting.

Performance and battery life

The Toshiba Excite 7.7 is no weakling when it comes to computing power and graphics performance, thanks to its 1.3GHz quad-core NVIDIA Tegra 3 chipset with GeForce GPU (the same chip you'll find in the ASUS Transformer Prime). In most circumstances, the processor is fast, responsive and smooth. Multitasking is a breeze: we were able to fly through several apps with only the occasional hiccup. We noticed that the tablet had a few struggles trying to load websites in a timely manner, and when scrolling up and down the pages, we would experience a short, one-second delay in reaction time. Gaming is where the Tegra 3 truly shines: graphics were among the most highly detailed we've seen on an Android tablet, and we didn't experience any lag or stutter. We also played a few Tegra 3-optimized titles, such as Shadowgun THD and, as expected, it was an impressive sight to behold. We're suckers for graphics that take physics into consideration, and we were impressed by how well the water reacted to our character as he walked (and switched directions) in the middle of a shallow pool. Offering a perfect benchmark comparison between tablets of this size can be rather difficult, as there are so few 7.7-inch slates on the market. The Excite's main competition at this size is the dual-core, Exynos-powered Galaxy Tab 7.7, and we also threw in benchmarks from the 10.1-inch, Tegra 3-packing Transformer Prime.

Toshiba Excite 7.7 Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.7 ASUS Transformer Prime
Quadrant 3,942 3,363 4,317
Vellamo 1,418 1,215 1,418
AnTuTu 10,264 6536 10,269
SunSpider 0.9.1 (ms) 2,145 1,993 1,861
GLBenchmark Egypt Offscreen (fps) 60 47 68
CF-Bench 11,689 7135 11,861
SunSpider: lower scores are better.

Earlier we mentioned that how satisfied we were with the video playback. It's a shame, then, that the audio didn't meet the same level of quality. The tablet, which features two speakers on the bottom edge, is reinforced with the SRS Premium Voice Pro Suite and other Toshiba sound enhancements. We discovered that these augmentations to the device's sound profiles make for a decent headphone listening experience, but don't do anything to help the awfully quiet external speakers. Attempting to watch a Netflix movie, for instance, was a frustrating scenario: within the first minute we found ourselves trying to crank up the volume even though it was, in fact, already bumped up to the maximum setting. With a standard pair of in-ear headphones, volume wasn't a problem -- everything came through much louder, and perhaps slightly clearer than the flat audio we were hearing on the external speakers. When using the Play Music app, we were able to adjust the equalizer to customize the sound a little, and turning on the built-in audio enhancement feature helped. But let's add a little context to this: it helped the music sound less tinny and muddled, but the level of clarity was still nowhere close to what we'd like.

The Excite brandishes a 15Wh battery, which seems rather insignificant when compared to the ASUS Transformer Prime's 22Wh juicepack. Don't forget, though, that the latter device contends with more screen real estate and (in some models) HSPA+ radios, whereas the Excite we tested is WiFi-only. As a result, Toshiba is able to offer more bang for your battery buck: it churned out 10 hours and 34 minutes in our video rundown test, which consists of running a video on an endless loop at 50 percent brightness, WiFi turned on and regular push notifications on. If you're using your tablet for consuming content (i.e., surfing the web, playing games and checking your email and social networks regularly), you'll easily get between a day and a half and two days. As usual, your mileage will vary based on factors like screen brightness and how often you play games. Here's how the Excite compares with several other tablets we've reviewed.

Tablet

Battery Life
Toshiba Excite 7.7 10:34
Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.7 LTE (Verizon Wireless) 12:42
Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.7 12:01
Apple iPad 2 10:26
Acer Iconia Tab A510 10:23
ASUS Eee Pad Transformer Prime 10:17 / 16:34 (keyboard dock)
Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 9:55
Apple iPad (2012) 9:52 (HSPA) / 9:37 (LTE)
Apple iPad 9:33
Toshiba Excite 10 9:24
Motorola Xoom 2 8:57
HP TouchPad 8:33
ASUS Transformer Pad TF300 8:29 / 12:04 (keyboard dock)
Acer Iconia Tab A200 8:16
Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus 8:09
Amazon Kindle Fire 7:42
Galaxy Tab 2 7.0 7:38
Acer Iconia Tab A500 6:55
Toshiba Thrive 6:25

Wrap-up

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It's great to see manufacturers learn from the past, and Toshiba has certainly done just that with the Excite. It's a definite win over the first-gen Thrives in that it's thinner, lighter, more powerful and just plain better-looking, to boot. The slate will also be a good fit for mobile-gaming junkies who don't want to lug around a 10-incher on the bus, train or any other form of travel. But with Tegra 3 comes a price: $500 for 16GB and $580 for 32GB may not appeal to most casual tableteurs. Overall, the Excite 7.7 may be worth the cost for a beautiful display in a portable form factor. The question is: Does Toshiba have enough brand recognition in the US to best similarly priced tablets from Samsung, Acer and ASUS that offer comparable outputs in performance? Not yet, but at least it's on the right track with the Excite -- so long as it does something about that camera.