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.
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.
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.
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.