We’re reviewing the Toshiba Excite 7.7 a bit late, and that’s good and bad. It’s good because we now know that Google has upped the 7-inch tablet game with its Nexus 7 tablet, but bad for Toshiba because it now has to justify why its 7.7-inch Excite is $500 instead of $200. Below, we’ll review the Excite on its own merits and compare it to Google’s new tablet. Toshiba has several advantages. Whether they’re enough to justify its expense will be up to you.
Look and feel
We have a soft spot for Android tablets with 8- to 9-inch screens. If it’s not an iPad, it’s better to shed a couple inches. 10.1-inch Android tablets are too wide, bulky, heavy, and difficult to type on, while 7-inch tablets feel slightly too small. They often don’t have a large enough screen resolution or big enough screen to accomplish tablet-like tasks. Toshiba, like Samsung, has chosen to try out a 7.7-inch screen. We wish it were ever-so-slightly larger, but it’s a good compromise. The 1280 x 800 pixel resolution is just high enough that using tablet apps and Google’s tablet Android interface isn’t a burden.
From a design perspective, there’s nothing innovative about Toshiba’s approach, but it’s simple and it works. The Excite 7.7 looks exactly like its larger siblings, the Excite 10.1 and Excite 13, with rounded corners and a silver-ish plastic casing. The back is textured for grip and the cameras are both set in the corner, out of the way of your hands. The power, volume, audio jack, screen lock, microUSB, stereo speakers, and proprietary docking/charging port all line the sides of this thin .31-inch tablet. The whole shebang is a pleasure to hold and is remarkably light at only 12 ounces.
The speakers cannot compare to the iPad’s, but are made a bit louder by SRS sound enhancement settings. There are a number of settings, and some of them do improve the listening experience. Unfortunately, turning everything on and listening to your favorite tunes without headphones is still something you’ll just have to dream about. Like most mobile devices, the audio end of the Excite 7.7 is not something Toshiba can brag about.
AMOLED has gained a few haters as of late, but we like it. Looking at a vivid screen without a backlight has not gotten old to us. Like the Galaxy Tab 7.7 and its AMOLED screen, from the moment you turn on the Excite and see the Toshiba logo appears, you know you’re looking at something amazing. Instead of seeing a box of light outlining the “black” screen, you see nothing. When the Excite shows blacks, they are actually black – the screen’s pixels turn off entirely. It’s beautiful and only enhances the vivid colors AMOLED pixels produce.
The downside of AMOLED – it’s visible subpixels – are here as well, but thanks to the high 1280 x 800 resolution, only screen buffs will care. Then again, who are we kidding Most people probably don’t notice the difference in AMOLED, either. Perhaps it takes staring at screens for a living. Still, AMOLED is a great technology, and on a tablet it improves the experience over many LCD screens (except maybe Apple’s Retina display).
The Excite 7.7 comes with Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich) as its operating system. We’re secretly hoping that Toshiba upgrades the tablet to Android 4.1 (Jelly Bean) so that it looks more like the Nexus 7 interface, but Android 4.0 isn’t bad. Its pop-up menu is awkwardly built and doesn’t serve smaller screens especially well, but you’ll get used to it quickly.
A big downside of picking an Android tablet over the iPad is its incredible lack of applications built for tablets. You’ll hear people whining about this a lot, and it’s a legitimate problem. Despite being out for a year and a half now, there still aren’t more than a few dozen great tablet apps available for the platform. (If there are more, we can’t find them.) But you’re in luck. Because the Excite 7.7 is smaller, most Android phone apps and games will run and look good on your tablet. A few card games and some light media software is included here, but it’s not too intrusive. Toshiba has mostly left Android alone, and that’s fine with us.
Here’s the section for geeks. The Excite 7.7 runs on a 1.5GHz quad-core Nvidia Tegra 3 processor and has 1GB of RAM, 16GB or 32GB of internal storage (12.5GB accessible), a 5-megapixel rear camera with LED flash, and a 2-megapixel front camera. There is also a microSD slot, a proprietary charging port (you’ll have to remember to bring your charger everywhere), an audio jack, bottom-facing stereo speakers, a microphone, and Micro USB. Common features like Bluetooth 3.0, a digital compass, accelerometer, gyroscope, Wi-Fi, and GPS are included. There is currently no 3G or 4G option, only Wi-Fi.
In the Quadrant benchmark test (available on Google Play for free), the Excite 7.7 got about 3,750 — higher than the Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.7 LTE we tested earlier this year. which hovered around 3,000. Still, it cannot match the top phones of today like the HTC One X, Galaxy S3, or LG Optimus 4X. These devices all score between 4,000 and 5,000 on this test. Older dual-core tablets scored about 1,900 to 2,500. But in the end, the scores don’t matter. The Tegra 3 is a great processor and you shouldn’t have trouble gaming or using any currently available apps.
Finally, the battery life is decent for a small tablet. The Excite 7.7 enjoys 6 to 8 hours of active use from a charge. For reference, the third iPad gets about 9 hours, but it is much larger, and the Galaxy Tab 7.7 gets around 12 hours. These are just estimates, of course, and actual battery life varies wildly depending on what you’re doing.
Nexus 7 vs. Excite 7.7
There is no doubt that the new tablet to beat is Google’s Nexus 7. Here are the strengths and weaknesses of the Excite compared to the 7. (We have not yet had hands-on time with the Nexus 7, so these comparisons are made only based on information we’ve learned.)
- Large 7.7-inch screen > Nexus 7’s has 7-inch screen
- AMOLED screen > Nexus 7’s LCD
- 2-megapixel front camera > Nexus 7’s 1.3-megapixel front cam
- Excite has a microSD slot
- Excite has a rear camera
Nexus 7’s advantages
- New Android 4.1 user interface with Google’s Siri competitor
- Roughly equal specs and screen resolution as Excite 7.7
- Price is $200, less than half of the Excite’s $500 price
While we’re happy that the Excite 7.7 has a rear camera at all, it hasn’t performed well. Though all our photos were legible the Excite’s 5-megapixel rear camera seems to get, well, over-excited. Most of our shots came out a bit too bright and washed out. The camera didn’t seem to be able to handle much sunlight. In dark conditions it certainly lightened things up more than usual, but sometimes went too far, lightening areas that were meant to be dark.
The results were some grainy, discolored photos. In one trial, the camera wasn’t able to focus on a dark area, so it actually shot a completely black photo, and this was not in that dark of an area. Outdoor photos lacked detail in the leaves and had a sky that glowed too bright. We don’t recommend you buy the Excite 7.7 for its camera, though it might help you out in a pinch.
Toshiba hasn’t skimped on the Excite 7.7. It is a fantastic tablet that hits the mark in almost every way. The battery life isn’t the best, but everything else about this tablet is great, especially its screen and build. It’s one of the lightest and best-feeling tablets we’ve used. The Excite 7.7’s only sin is its price ($500), which was a bit high a few weeks ago, but now seems prohibitively expensive when you consider that the Google Nexus 7 is priced at $200 and matches most of the Excite’s high-end features. In a bid to fight against Amazon’s Kindle Fire and the iPad, Google has inadvertently gone to war with every Android tablet on the market. Bottom line: if you can afford the Excite 7.7, it’s a great tablet and has some advantages over the Nexus 7, but Toshiba may find that it’s difficult to sell a tablet for $300 more than its direct competitors.
- Gorgeous AMOLED screen
- 7.7 inches is a good screen size
- Super thin and super lightweight
- microSD slot
- On paper, it’s nicer than the Nexus 7
- Expensive (starts at $500)
- Android tablet apps are sparse
- Battery life doesn’t impress
- Proprietary charging port