Toshiba's 13-incher: When is a tablet too big?

Will Toshiba's Excite 13 induce arm and neck pain?

Tablet computers are meant to be held, at least most of the time. But at what point does a slate become too unwieldy to function as a handheld device? The new Toshiba Excite 13, with its gargantuan (by tablet standards) 13.3-inch display, may soon answer that question.

To briefly summarize what my PCWorld colleague Daniel Ionescu wrote earlier today, the Excite 13 is a quad-core beast that weighs in at 2.2 pounds. By comparison, the new iPad is 1.44 pounds, and the Kindle Fire is 14.6 ounces (0.91 pounds).

Toshiba wisely includes a stand with its $650 to $750 Excite 13, an essential tool for someone who plans to use the Excite 13 for an extended period; for example: streaming a 2-hour movie.

PCWorld's Melissa J. Perenson had the opportunity to hold the Excite 13, and says that while it's indeed larger than she's used to, the early prototype feels surprisingly reasonable to hold for short periods and the components seem well-balanced. Perenson says that while there's no way you'd want to hold the Excite 13 for any considerable length of time, or hold it one-handed to read a book, it's more manageable than its behemoth size might indicate.

Too Big?

The Excite 13's main attribute--a really big screen--may also turn out to be its biggest shortcoming. Prolonged tablet use can lead to arm, shoulder, and neck strain, a health issue that may become more commonplace as slates replace desktop and laptop computers in various work environments, including hospitals, restaurants, and factories.

A 2011 medical study by Harvard and Microsoft shows that tablet usage has a greater impact on head and neck posture than conventional PCs.

A tablet may be easy to hold for twenty minutes, but not for several hours. Touchscreens raise ergonomic issues as well, particularly if the user keeps one arm in an elevated position all day to tap the display.

No Pain, No Gain

To be fair, it's too early to denounce the Excite 13 - or any tablet, for that matter - as an ergonomic menace. But if a holding stand becomes an essential component of large tablets - a peripheral necessary to reduce health risks associated with daily slate usage - the go-anywhere convenience of tablet computing may be less appealing to professional users, such as health care workers who cradle slates while visiting patients.

Or should we all start pumping iron to prepare for the next round of 15- and 17-inch tablets?

Contact Jeff Bertolucci at Today@PCWorld, Twitter (@jbertolucci) or jbertolucci.blogspot.com.

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Jeff Bertolucci

PC World (US online)

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