A year ago, Android tablet manufacturers built and priced their high-end options to compete with the Apple iPad. That ill-fated endeavor has largely come to an end. A more common trend these days is repackaging and repurposing what were once high-end models and offering them at more palatable prices. The Toshiba Excite 10 SE is a perfect example, with nearly identical specs as last year’s $600 Toshiba Excite 10, but now at a more reasonable price ($349.99/16GB, $399.99/32GB list). Some sacrifices had to be made, like ditching the aluminum build for plastic, but the quad-core Tegra 3 chip remains, and it’s now running Android 4.1 “Jelly Bean.” That said, the Excite 10 SE is a fine Android tablet, but there are still better options, like the versatile Asus Transformer Pad TF300 or the easy-to-use Amazon Kindle Fire HD 8.9″, for those who don’t need a traditional Android experience.
Design and Features
The Excite 10 SE is nearly identical to the original Excite 10, except for one key feature: The SE swaps out the aluminum back for a plastic one. Even the texture is the same, and the plastic is rigid enough to keep the Excite 10 SE from feeling flimsy. At 10.3 by 7.1 by 0.4 inches (HWD) and 1.41 pounds, the 10 SE is also a bit thicker and heavier than the original (10.3 by 7.0 by 0.35 inches and 1.32 pounds). Another key difference is port selection: The Excite 10 included micro USB and micro HDMI ports, as well as a full-sized SD card slot, while the 10 SE has only a micro USB port and a microSD card slot. It’s still nice to have storage expansion options, but the omission of micro HDMI out, for connecting the tablet to an HDTV, is a bummer. On the bright side, the 10 SE sheds the proprietary power connector, using the micro USB port for charging and data transfer.
You still get two stereo speakers along the bottom edge, which get loud for tablet speakers, but still sound harsh and lack bass punch. There’s a front-facing 1.2-megapixel camera centered above the screen and a rear-facing 3-megapixel camera on the top left corner of the back.
The 10.1-inch display is the same 1,280-by-800-pixel IPS panel found on the original Excite 10. That’s a good thing, as the screen looks sharp, colors are vibrant, and viewing angles are wide. It’s also not as sharp as the Nexus 10’s 1080p display, and it’s not the brightest display; the Asus TF300 trumps the Excite 10 SE here. Like some other features of the Excite 10 SE, the display is good, but it doesn’t truly excel against the competition.
The Excite 10 SE is a Wi-Fi-only tablet that connects to 802.11b/g/n networks on the 2.4GHz frequency. Not only is access to the faster 5GHz frequency omitted, but during testing I noticed that the Excite 10 SE sometimes took a long time to reconnect to Wi-Fi networks when woken from sleep. You also get GPS, along with Bluetooth 3.0, which let me pair the tablet with wireless headphones easily.
Toshiba offers 16GB and 32GB models for $349.99 and $399.99 respectively. For expansion, the open microSD card slot accepted our 32 and 64GB SanDisk cards without a problem.
Performance and Android
The Excite 10 SE is equipped with the same quad-core 1.3GHz Nvidia Tegra 3 processor found in the original Excite 10. That was the fastest chip available last year, but SoC’s have progressed since then, with tablets like the Nexus 10 powered by the faster Samsung Exynos 5250 1.7GHz dual-core ARM Cortex-A15 processor. The Excite 10 SE slightly edged out the Asus Transformer Pad TF300, which is also powered by a quad-core Tegra 3 chip, in our benchmarks, but in day-to-day use, these two tablets offer comparable performance. Web browsing is smooth, apps open quickly, and even graphically intensive games like Shadowgun THD run without a hitch on the Excite 10 SE.
Toshiba used a very lightly skinned version of Android 4.1.1 “Jelly Bean” in the Excite 10 SE. In fact, the only modifications you’ll find are SRS audio enhancements and a Balanced Power mode. Playing with the SRS settings yielded subtle changes in audio output. I found the Volume Boost setting to be the most useful. It does what it says, but also makes things sound a bit harsher. Balanced Power mode isn’t the same as Asus’s varying power modes on its Transformer line of tablets. Instead of reigning in the processor, the only noticeable difference I could see in Balanced Power mode was slightly dimmed display brightness.
While Toshiba made only minor modifications to Android, it loaded up the Excite 10 SE with a good deal of bloatware. Aside from some useful Toshiba branded apps, like the file manager and media player apps, there are useless and undeletable apps like eBay, a redundant Toshiba app store, and a slew of Wild Tangent linked games. The Google Play app store is here, granting access to more than 800,000 apps and a growing selection of media content.
Media support is good. In my tests, the Excite 10 SE played H.264, MPEG4, WMV, DivX, and Xvid videos smoothly at up to 1080p resolution without a hitch. For audio, the tablet can handle WMA, OGG, WAV, MP3, FLAC, and AAC formats.
The 3-megapixel rear-facing camera is a downgrade from the 5-megapixel camera on the original Excite 10. The Excite 10 captured average, if somewhat noisy images, and the Excite 10 SE fairs even worse. Indoors and under low lighting, images are a grainy mess with dull colors and noise wiping away fine detail. Outdoors and under good lighting images improve, but not by much. Video tops out at 640 by 480 pixels, with slow, jerky frame rates. Performance is underwhelming, but that’s the case with most tablet cameras.
In our battery rundown test, which loops a video with screen brightness set to maximum and Wi-Fi on, the Excite 10 SE lasted 7 hours, 37 minutes. The 10-inch Transformer T300 turned in a slightly better 7 hours, 53 minutes, while the same-size Iconia Tab A510 turned in 9 hours, 34 minutes on the same test.
The Toshiba Excite 10 SE is a fine Android tablet, it just lacks the stand-out features or low price that set most top-notch competitors apart. The Asus Transformer Pad TF300 offers the same performance for the same price, but also has the ability to add on an excellent keyboard dock, turning it into a productivity powerhouse. Android enthusiasts will likely be happier spending $50 more for the Nexus 10, while those who don’t care either way should check out the Amazon Kindle Fire HD 8.9″. The Barnes & Noble Nook HD+ could even make a nice alternative with a lower price tag, sharp display, and recent addition of Google Play.