July 13, 2012 | by Ben Crawford
Evaluated version: Toshibo Excite 7.7 (ICS)
Pros: Sleek design, Stock ICS, good battery life
Cons: Price, Nexus 7 Competition
With a gorgeous design and beefy insides, the Toshiba Excite 7.7 is a 7 inch tablet looking to compete with the Kindle Fire, Galaxy Tab, and Nexus 7 tablets. Despite the overwhelming market-share of the iPad and Kindle Fire, smaller, non-Amazon tablets are finding their niche as evidenced by the new Nexus tablet. However, to stand out in this crowded market, you have to have a great design and internals that you can’t believe fit into a small package. The Excite 7.7 fits this model nicely, and may be the nicest device I’ve held since I began reviewing gadgets. Is there anything that can keep this tablet from taking a nice slice of the market away from the Kindle Fire?
The Excite 7.7 is a magnificently crafted device in the realm of the iPad. The dimensions, heft, thinness, and sleek design make the Excite one of the best feeling devices in your hand. Aside from the overall outstanding design, the Excite holds a quad-core processor, 1GB of RAM, and either 16GB or 32GB of storage depending on your needs. Around the gray frame and black bezel, the Excite exhibits all the usual ports with a few welcome extras. It has the standard power and volume rocker on top with a very welcome silence switch. As much as I used the Excite, I could not get used to the volume rocker changing the volume from right to left instead of what I though was up and down. Strangely, the lower volume button was closer to the power button and front-facing 2MP camera (which I kept thinking was the top of the device) so instead of raising the volume, I would continuously lower it and vice-versa. Unlike it’s direct competition the Kindle Fire and Nexus 7, the Excite 7.7 rounds out its hardware features with a mini-SD port, HDMI-out port, and a proprietary (read: Huge) charging port. The whole device measures around 13.4 ounces which gives it the perfect holding-weight, and the texturized back panel makes the Excite a joy to hold.
The screen on the Excite is absolutely stunning. Rich, vibrant colors and deep blacks make gaming and multimedia-ing a blast. Ultimately what you want from a 7 inch device is high contrast for reading, and the Excite delivers handily. As bright as the Excite is though, direct sunlight was still a burden. I do adore the 7 inch tablets as they are perfect for the crowd that wants to get through a PDF file, read a Kindle book, or play a quick game without having the extra pounds and inches of a bigger device or squinting to read on their phone.
The camera, as on most tablets, isn’t going to win any Instagram awards, but it’s serviceable when needed. The back 5MP camera comes with an LED flash, and the front 2MP is there for Google+ hangouts and a few glorious self-shots. The camera app received a nice upgrade in Ice Cream Sandwich from Honeycomb, and it’s simple to change settings and achieve your desired result whether that’s panorama, snapshots, or anything else.
With very high-performance hardware, the software side of the Excite held up its end of the bargain too. Perhaps the greatest compliment I can pay Toshiba and the Excite is they left Ice Cream Sandwich alone. Paving the way for quick updates (See: Jelly Bean 4.1) and an already beloved UI, Toshiba got out of Google’s way and let Android purists rejoice. No different settings layouts or app drawers or color schemes means we can enjoy Android the way it was meant to be enjoyed, and Toshiba doesn’t have to hear the complaints and groans of a notoriously grumpy AOSP fan base. I hadn’t had an ICS tablet before the Excite, but the experience is very similar to Honeycomb with a few small UI changes to the app drawer and widgets as well as a noticeable improvement in lag-time and responsiveness. That isn’t to say that the whole experience was lag-free because even on a sparse homescreen, tapping the sides of the screen to change screens there was some very noticeable lag. The only other annoyance that probably can’t be fixed was the very delayed and weak haptic feedback. But ICS is a great step up from the Honeycomb OS, and with no changes to vanilla Android, you should be able to hack and tinker away.
Big things are always expected of new devices, especially with new processors like the Tegra 3, and the Excite handled these admirably. The Excite readily beat my Jelly Bean’d Galaxy Nexus, which surprised me, in tests of opening and switching between Angry Birds and Temple Run. With a new processor and room for more power, I shouldn’t have been surprised, but the small, designer-like case of the Excite made me forget it was a workhouse underneath. Despite the Excite’s vanilla ICS build, it, unfortunately, comes with a lot of apps pre-installed. The good thing is most of them are removable if you don’t want them. I understand making deals, but the non-necessary, pre-installed apps doubled the Google Apps that are necessary for the OS to function. From Solitaire and Spades to multiple Toshiba apps meant to compete with Amazon books, Google Music, and Google Movies, there were just a lot of extras that you probably won’t ever use. On the other hand, running these apps was great as they all ran smoothly and with very little lag. The battery held out very well, and I easily ran over a day or two with light usage. Heavy usage could deplete the battery within 12 hours, but that was with movies and music at full blast with the brightness turned all the way up.
With all this praise, what could I say to make this great device bottom out? The price. The 16GB version comes in at $480 on Amazon while the 32GB will cost you another arm at $560. Granted, the Excite came along a few weeks before the Nexus 7′s existence, but with very similar hardware, what makes the Excite 2-3x more expensive than the Nexus? Maybe it was just bad timing mixed with the Nexus 7 probably selling at a loss, but a well-respected electronics manufacturer should know the market’s price-range and what their competition will be doing. The hardware is at the forefront of it’s weight-class, and giving us the stock ICS is extremely appreciated, but the $480 price tag is an albatross around the Excite’s neck.