Toshiba's jumbo tablet, the Excite 13, garners early kudos, scorn

New tablet has 13.3-inch display, weighs one kilogram, goes on sale in June

The tablet market is already populated with dozens of different sizes and models, and many close in size to the highly popular iPad, with its 9.7-inch sreen.

So how does a new tablet distinguish itself from the competition? One way could be with a radically different screen size, as Toshiba announced this week.

Toshiba expanded its Excite family of Android tablets with three new models, but the one getting all the attention, and already some scorn, is the Excite 13 and its bigger 13.3-in. display, offering 1600 x 900 pixels resolution and more than 75 square inches of viewing area.

The other tablets Toshiba announced are the Excite 10, with a 10.1-in. screen and more than 43 square inches of viewing area, and the Excite 7.7 with a 7.7-in. display and more than 25 inches of viewing area. All three tablets run Android 4.0 and use Nvidia Tegra 3 quad-core processors.

Indeed, the Excite 13 offers the largest screen of any tablet on the market. Still, at 0.4-in. thick and 2.2 pounds, it is not as large and heavy as it might seem, .

Toshiba emphasized it is not just offering a jumbo model, but wants to provide different sizes for different needs. "One size does not fit all, so we are carefully considering how and where people are using tablets and design form factors to best suit various needs," said Carl Pinto, Toshiba's vice president of product development, in a statement.

Jack Gold, an analyst at J. Gold Associates, defended Toshiba's approach with the 13-in. model. "There is no ideal tablet size, just like there is not one size of car, TV, refrigerator, mattress or even PC screen," he said.

"At 13.3 inches, it is probably not terribly portable in the sense of putting it in your pocket, like you might with a 7-in. or smaller size, but it is probably great for uses like looking at X-ray images in a medical setting or detailed schematics and diagrams in certain work situations, " Gold said.

The display is the most expensive element in a tablet, and the larger the display, the more expensive it generally will be, Gold said.

The Excite 13 will go on sale June 10 for $650 for the 32 GB model, and $750 for the 64 GB model. Toshiba will sell the smaller Excite 10 starting May 6 for $450 for 16GB, $530 for 32GB and $650 for the 64 GB versions. The smallest tablet, the Excite 7.7, will have a price tag of $500 for the 16GB version and $580 for the 32GB version, when it goes on sale June 10.

While Gold suggested the Excite 13 could be used in the workplace, Toshiba called it "ideally suited for the home" for sharing photos, Web browsing, playing games and watching movies with a group. It is powered by a quad-core Nvidia Tegra 3 processor, has 1GB of memory, and is marketed for gaming and multitasking.

Despite such qualities, a few experts said the Excite 13 will still be seen as too big. "The problem with big tablets is that the bigger they are, the harder they fall," noted Ken Dulaney, an analyst at Gartner. "There's a direct correlation between size and the frequency of being dropped."

Toshiba said the three new tablets all have sturdy aluminum shells and scratch resistant Corning Gorilla Glass displays to make them durable, although the analysts noted that "durable" doesn't mean the devices are drop-resistant like some ruggedized tablets that cost hundreds of dollars more.

Dulaney said Toshiba is probably trying out different tablet sizes to see how well they do in the market, just as Samsung has done with a variety of tablet sizes, including the Galaxy Tab 2 (10.1) at 10.1-in., and the Galaxy Tab 2 (7.0) at 7-in. Still, Samsung has resisted building anything larger than 10.1-in., which makes the Excite 13 all the more curious.

Ultimately, Dulaney argued that tablet manufacturers "will conclude that the 10-inch tablet is the best size just like we have concluded that 8.5 x 11 is the best size for a sheet of paper."

Steven Buehler, an analyst at IDC, said the Excite 13 is "intriguing" but also called it "among the experiments that manufacturers are trying as they attempt to stay in front of the market."

Buehler said tablets, even at such a large size as the Excite 13, are not ideal for fine detail work when a person uses a finger on a touchscreen. And if a tablet is paired with a keyboard and mouse, the result is still not as effective as using a PC, he added.

"Only time will tell whether users adopt the [Excite 13] form factor, but to me it seems too big to be a good tablet and too tablet-like to be a good PC," Buehler said.

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed. His email address is mhamblen@computerworld.com.

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