Toshiba Excite Pro 10.1 review

4 out of 5
£475

For

Slim design, huge screen resolution looks great, comfortable grip, Android system suitable for work and play, solid battery life

Against

Speaker position, runs hot, somewhat vanilla design doesn't stand out, screen reflections, not inconsiderable price (32GB), bunched up keyboard, slow camera

There's such a huge variety of tablets in the market right now that it can be hard to know where to look. Fire, Arc, Note, Nexus, to name but a few, are names to try and entice you in. And now Toshiba's take on the 10.1-inch tablet, the Excite Pro, goes for the more literal naming approach. 

Whether a fan of the name or not, dig into the specs and there are exciting things on offer. A super-high resolution screen delivers a 2560 x 1600 pixel resolution over its 10.1-inch diagonal surface, while the Tegra 4 processor supplies the same power as an altogether different "surface" - the Microsoft Surface 2.

The Toshiba Excite Pro runs Android rather than Windows 8 and, unlike the surface, the 32GB kit reviewed here - known by its roll-off-the-tongue AT-10LE-A-10D name - also comes with a Bluetooth keyboard and case included.

But it comes at a price - we've struggled to locate many retailers selling the Pro, and when we have found this specific model it's around the £475 mark. Elsewhere there's a more reasonable £320 16GB tablet-only version that comes without the accessories. Is the price point a barrier in keeping us from getting excited about what could otherwise be a great tablet? We've been living with the Excite Pro to see whether it lives up to its name.

Business pro?

Straight out of the box and the Excite Pro we were provided with had a certain whiff of business about it. That didn't give us the wave of excitement we'd hoped for. But, actually, it only took a matter of minutes for us to get over our initial assertions. It's down to that case-meets-keyboard combination, you see, that our review device came wrapped in. It just has a certain air about it - it grips the tablet screen in nice and tight, but once released from its clutches the tablet itself is a far more handsome beast.

At a slither under 10mm, the Excite is trim and relatively lightweight in the hand for a tablet of this scale. The silver-colour rear has a textured finish for better grip, and although the upper left side gets a little hot when running - that's where the chipset is working its hardest - it's comfortable in the hand. No slip-ups here.

To the front there's ample bezel surrounding the 10.1-inch panel, perhaps a little too much in the interests of keeping the tablet even smaller than it is, but it's not an offensive amount. There's nothing particularly distinct about the way the Excite Pro looks, but that unassuming look gives it a certain appeal too. Bar a small Toshiba logo to the bottom corner it's straightforward black and silver fare, finished off well for the price point.

To the side is a panel that covers up the microSD, mini HDMI and mini USB ports, next to which is a volume up/down control and 3.5mm mic jack for plugging in headphones. Other than an on button to the top side, the other edges remain bare of controls.

The speakers, provided by renowned audio brand Harman Kardon, are positioned to the rear more towards the edges. Even if they're manufactured by a big name it doesn't matter, because the positioning is foolish: when holding two handed the audio is cupped by fingers, muffled, and just sounds wrong. Nay good.

We can't throw huge fault at the Excite Pro in the way it looks. But then it's the same price as a more premium built iPad Air 32GB, and a chunk more cash than other similar two-in-one models. It's not crazy money like the Surface Pro 2, mind, but then it's still a lot.

Android workhorse

Although we alluded to business, the Pro is well equipped for most tasks from fun to casual accounting to out-and-out work projects that you'd care to throw at it.

The Android operating system might conjure up images of smartphones first and foremost, but as a tablet or laptop-esque platform to run a variety of tasks on it's great. Similar to the Asus Transformer Pad - a product the Toshiba shares a number of features with - it's easy to get along with the on-board software for word processing, photos, emails, movies, even gaming.

READ: Asus Transformer Pad TF701T review 

Where the Toshiba differs from the Asus is in one main areas: its keyboard dock lacks a trackpad and its keys are all bunched up. So the cheaper Asus wins there.

But that screen is very good. The resolution is so high that there's no sense of seeing any pixilation at all - everything looks incredibly crisp - and the viewing angles are super-wide too. It's only at extreme obtuse angles there's a fall-off in colour and contrast. And who reads a tablet side-on? No, nobody. It's the screen that commands much of the Excite Pro's price tag.

Brightness tended to err on the side of dim when in auto, but we went into Android's easy-to-access settings and bumped it up a notch to deliver an image that we were very happy with. After that tweak it shone and spilled plenty of light out for a great picture. However, the screen's coating is a little reflective - working next to a window (we do enjoy the limited light of day that the UK has to offer) has meant often staring back at a silhouette of our own head, and some reflections have been fairly considerable. We've not been able to test in what we'd call "proper sunlight" though as that doesn't seem to exist in the UK during winter.

Know your Jelly Beans

You may not know much about Android, or you might - it doesn't really matter - but Toshiba is now running Jelly Bean v4.3 after a software update. That's not far behind the latest v4.4 KitKat.

If you don't know one sugary name from another then fear not, the simple fact is that the operating system is up there with the more streamlined, faster versions that have ever been on offer. And it shows in use. We've not had any problems with our test tablet and we've been using it as a work replacement in the evenings to get a good feel for it. 

Angry Birds Go! runs smoothly thanks to the 1.8Ghz quad core Tegra 4 processor and 2GB of RAM, showing that far from being a businessy bit of kit you'll get all kinds of performance from the decent specification. Nvidia's system on chip solution comes with a 72-core GeForce graphics processor to cater for all kinds of specific tasks, and is particularly good for gaming.

With 32GB of storage on board in this review model there's a reasonable wedge of space to store such games and goodies too, and as games need to be stored on the system due to the way Android works it's a good job there's a microSD expansion for all those additionals you might want to pull in too.

Wi-Fi only

As is the case with most tablets, the Toshiba Excite Pro only offers Wi-Fi rather than mobile connectivity via a SIM. We don't see a distinct problem with that, although the designation of 802.11n Wi-Fi isn't the fastest offering on the market today, but is a standard among its peers.

There's also Bluetooth on board that we've been using to ping some music over to a Bluetooth speaker with no issues at all. Sight, sound, work and play - we think the Excite Pro has a wide remit that it handles well.

Even with all these features on the battery life has really impressed us. We wouldn't say its significantly better than the near competition, but we were easily getting a full working day from a fully charged battery. And we work long days. Excess gaming will trim the around-9-hour mark down a fair chunk, but that's a given with any tablet. If there was 3G/4G/LTE connectivity then we'd see that life drop even further - so we can live with the Wi-Fi only build.

The last notable feature is the pair of built-in cameras. The front-facing 1.2MP one is fine for 720p Skype calls, while the rear 8-megapixel one is fine for, well, not much really. We only say that because tablets aren't cameras and shooting with one just feels plain wrong - the results from the Toshiba are passable but not great, but that might come in handy if you simply need to snap something for reference. There's 1080p video too.

The biggest problem with the camera, though, is how slow it is. The autofocus is a reasonable enough Android standard, but after taking a snap using the rear camera it takes some eight seconds before it's ready to fire off a second shot. The screen just hangs with a preview showing up, and no amount of tapping will get it to shoot again. Not great.

Verdict

As we initially touched upon, the keyboard and case combination of the Excite Pro makes for a viable laptop replacement - albeit a businessy looking one - but one less elegant than the likes of the Asus Transformer Pad TF701T.

As a standalone 10.1-inch solo tablet the Excite Pro is slim, light, comfortable to hold and boasts an epic screen resolution. Even if we weren't excited at first, extended use of the Excite Pro has proven what a versatile tablet it can be. Android 4.3 paired up with Tegra 4 is not only great for gaming, it's also a decent partner for movie playback, picture editing, and those less fun work-related tasks. Battery life lasts for an more-than-ample amount of time too.

So what's the catch? Nothing so huge it's a major problem. It's small things like speaker placement, the rear left of the device running hot all too quickly, a screen that can't quite surpass the best-in-class competition because of reflections, and the simple fact that the market is so busy with competition.

Toshiba has made a good, solid product in the Excite Pro, but it's not one that makes us want to jump around abound with excitement because, while decent, where's the unique selling point? What is likely to shift it is the association of a super-high resolution screen - the same resolution as the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 2014 - at a price that is just about on par with its competitors.

We're happy, we're satisfied, but at this price we're not quite excited.