Before letting us put the Excite 13 through some casual paces, Betsy Smith, a Toshiba rep, presented us with Toshiba's reasoning for deciding to release the ultra-large tablet this coming June.
Speaking with us at Pepcom's EcoFocus press event, Smith dismissed criticisms that the giant tablet will lack a market because it won't be as portable as the 7.7- and 10.1-inch tablets in the same forthcoming Excite series.
"We don't think everyone who wants a tablet wants to be able to take it out with them," according to Smith.
Toshiba foresees use of the super-sized tablet in the kitchen, by groups of gamers in various indoor places, and by family members watching TV or flipping through photo albums with each other in the living room.
Aside from its dimensions and weight, the 13-inch Excite shares the same specs as its two smaller siblings: a bright and beautiful Super AMOLED display with Gorilla Glass and 1600 x 900 resolution; a quad-core NVIDIA Tegra 3 processor; 1GB of RAM; a 5 megapixel (mp) rear-facing and 2 mp front-facing camera; and a choice of 32GB or 64GB of storage.
13-Incher Is an Eye Catcher
Yet, if you look at the three devices side-by-side as we did, the 13-incher is definitely the main eye-catcher, mostly because of the sheer size of its bright and beautiful screen.
Also evident right away is the versatility of these tablets. Just like with any tablet, you can hold them in your hands or put them on a table or desk. But Toshiba made a particularly wise move in the case of the 2.2-pound 13-incher by including a custom stand for holding the tablet upright in either portrait (vertical) or landscape (horizontal) mode.
The Excite prototypes previewed this week were done up with a couple of dozen Android Ice Cream Sandwich apps, although more apps might be aboard when the Toshiba devices start shipping a couple of months from now. Toshiba gave us full rein with the apps. We couldn't use Netflix because a subscription was needed, but none of the apps we played with crashed or acted balky.
Running up and down the left-hand side panel of each tablet (when it's in portrait mode) are a microHDMI port, a microUSB port, and a microSD card slot. In contrast, the 10-inch Thrive tablet, which preceded the Excite series, came with full-size HDMI and USB ports and a full SD card slot. On the top of the Excite 13 are buttons for power, volume, and rotation lock.
Through the microHDMI port, you can hook up an Excite tablet to a TV, and Toshiba demo'd this scenario with the 13-incher. However, none of the three Excite tablets will come with a TV tuner, as previously seen in earlier preview units, said Smith, who is a national trainer for Toshiba.
Great for Video and Games
To see how the biggest Excite tablet might perform with online streaming media, we used a Crackle app (pre-downloaded by Toshiba) to play back a couple of Web-based movie trailers.
In a couple of words, the results were...well, pretty exciting. The Excite displayed the video vividly and flawlessly. The tablet's four rear-mounted stereo speakers played back the dialog in the soundtracks loudly and clearly (admittedly, though, we didn't try out any music apps, so we can't attest to the quality of music sound.)
Games are another area where the 13-inch Super AMOLED display could shine. When playing a Toshiba-devised solitaire game, we found the screen to be very responsive. There's plenty of real estate, too, for multi-player games.
We didn't have time to check out the onboard eReader apps, but those types of apps also seem to be naturals for a huge display, particularly among users who prefer large fonts.
There are some uses, however, where Toshiba's 13-inch tablet doesn't make nearly as much sense.
Not So Great for Typing or Still Photography
For instance, in doing Google searches, we found the size of the built-in soft keyboard to be really uncomfortable for touch typing, especially in portrait mode, where the keyboard stretches practically across the entire 13 inches of the display. If we didn't look at the screen while typing, we got total typos. Realistically, hunting-and-pecking would be the only way to go with that keyboard. Otherwise, you'd need gorilla-sized paws to go with that Gorillia Glass.
Sure, a wireless external keyboard could be a workaround, but that would give you another piece of equipment to need to keep track of in the kitchen or living room.
We couldn't see much use for the Excite 13 as a still camera, either. You certainly can't carry a device that big in your pocket, and who needs a 13-inch screen as a viewfinder, anyhow? Beyond that, the two-pound tablet is too heavy to hold on to for all that long with two hands, let alone with one hand.
Yet, Toshiba's camera app contains a large button for quickly switching into camcorder mode. The tablet also includes the 2 mp front-facing camera. You might really use the camcorder to shoot videos of a birthday party at your house, or the front-facing camera to conduct video chats with far away friends from your desk.
Also, while you wouldn't be throwing the ultra-large tablet into your backpack for commuting to work on the train, there's really no reason why it couldn't go along for the ride on a long family car trip, keeping the kids busy in the backseat with some Super AMOLED entertainment.
For all of this functionality, Toshiba will charge $649.99 for the 32GB tablet and $749.99 for the 64GB version. Toshiba just might come up with a hit here, especially considering that Apple doesn't offer a same-size competitor. Then again, however, the Excite 13 could turn into just another flash in the pan, albeit maybe one of the best-looking tablets you've ever seen.
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