Toshiba AT300SE £299
21st Mar 2013 | 12:50
A cheaper, lower specced AT300
Making a 'special edition' of an older, middle-ranking product between the annual product refresh is rather an unusual move in the world of tablets; but in the case of the Toshiba AT300SE, it makes a lot of sense.
Compared to its Toshiba AT300 ancestor, the Toshiba AT300SE sees the same Nvidia Tegra 3 quad-core mobile processor and features a 5th battery-saver core, but uses the latest Android 4.1 Jelly Bean OS. It also receives a £30 discount, taking the price down to £299 in the UK and US$349.99 in the US, where it's called the Excite 10 SE.
The tablet's cheaper price is achieved by using a slightly thicker (10.5mm vs 8.9mm), heavier (625g vs 589g) chassis, a less able camera (3MP rear, 1.2MP front vs 5MP and 2MP) and a less comprehensive array of ins and outs.
However, with the Toshiba AT300 suffering from a lack of speed, the Toshiba AT300SE is all about that processor, and it ought to lift it ahead of some rivals.
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Core specs-wise this 16GB, Wi-Fi-only tablet is placed to complete very aggressively on price with the equivalent iPad 4 and other high-end Android tablets such as the Google Nexus 10 and Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1. In its peer group, however, it's slightly pricier than the Asus Iconia A210 and Sony Tablet S.
However, the probable reason for the Toshiba AT300SE's reappearance as a slightly lower-spec tablet is to challenge the Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 10.1, which sells for the same as the Toshiba AT300's initial price.
Measuring 261 x 180 x 10.5mm (10.3 x 7.1 x 0.4 inches) and weighing 625g (22oz), the Toshiba AT300SE has a 10.1-inch IPS LCD 10-finger touch display and an aspect ratio of 16:10. It feels solid, and we had no qualms about putting it in hand luggage for a flight without a cover.
Its mottled grey back panel makes it stay in place when holding it, though the Toshiba AT300SE's back panel is noticeably more bulky than the Toshiba AT300, with a much more pronounced curve than both its older sister and the iPad 3, while the bezel around the screen stretches to 18mm (0.7 inches) behind the glass. That's exactly the same as an iPad.
Compared to a Toshiba AT300, the Toshiba AT300SE lacks a metallic strip along the top to house camera and flash, and completely lacks a flash. This incarnation uses a printed Toshiba logo instead of an engraved version, too.
Note here that although the Toshiba AT300 has an LED-backlit display and the Toshiba AT300SE does not; in practice there was no noticeable difference in viewing angles, colour richness or contrast in our side-by-side test. The brightness does reduce when the screen is tipped, but it's the same on both tablets.
The resolution is an HD-capable 1280 x 800 pixels - no change there - though that's vastly fewer than the iPad's 1536 x 2048 on a smaller screen - and the pixel structure is visible if you're looking for it. Whether that 149ppi troubles you will depend on what you want a tablet for - but it's a sticking point for us.
Though there's no 3G option, the Toshiba AT300SE's connectivity has been expanded and streamlined since the original Toshiba AT300. Gone is the bulky, proprietary charger that plugged into the tablet's longer side, replaced by a micro USB port. It's less to carry around if nothing else.
The left side - if using the tablet in landscape orientation - features a headphones slot, volume rockers, that micro USB slot, and a microSD card slot for expanding beyond the 16GB solid state drive. Nice. Speakers are down-facing on the undercarriage, while the standby button is on the top.
'Proper' keyboard and wireless headphones fans (if there are any), will appreciate the Toshiba AT300SE's Bluetooth 3.0 brains.
The Toshiba AT300SE runs on an Nvidia Tegra 3 quad-core processor running at 1.3GHz, with 1GB of RAM, though Toshiba's impressive Resolution+ video improvement circuitry has been sacrificed.
Button placing makes sense in both orientations, and we love the new micro USB cable and bundled wall charger, but what about HDMI out? It seems that the price saving achieved with the Toshiba AT300SE has come at the cost of that, as well as slimness and a lower-spec screen.
Interface, performance and browser
Interface and performance
On the Toshiba AT300SE it's the usual Android 4.1 experience, but with a few modifications primarily in the form of Toshiba Places. A media portal that provides separate tabs for Music, Video, Games, Books and News, Toshiba Places is a typically limited stab at web curation by a hardware manufacturer, though there's some serious hired help at hand.
Rather amusingly, Toshiba's partners in Toshiba Places are all treated as an 'unknown source' by the AT300SE, so nothing in Toshiba Places can be downloaded unless a tweak is made in the Settings area to permit non-Google Play Store software. What are we, an IT department?
Elsewhere it's all very familiar, with identical widgets and apps to those on any Android tablet, and a keyboard that rises quickly when a text box is touched. Annoyingly, .com and @ lack dedicated buttons, but a :-) does have one. We also had a few problems with the keyboard covering the very text boxes we were trying to fill in.
We also noticed that the Toshiba AT300SE took around a second for what we typed to appear on the screen - and the same goes for touching in a text box before the cursor and keyboard appears.
The touchscreen is generally responsive enough, though there's a slight lag in how it responds to touch; get ready for a short drag of a centimetre or so before the item you're dragging actually starts to move. The same applies to swipes, clicks, and every other kind of touch.
The Toshiba AT300SE is certainly no upgrade on the Toshiba AT300 in this regard - and it's not a patch on an iPad 4 - though in general use it doesn't make as much difference to usability as it should.
There's no Flash compatibility on Android 4.1 Jelly Bean, so the Toshiba AT300SE won't play some web video, but its 1GB of RAM enables impressive multitasking; we had around 15 apps, browsers and pages open without anything being affected. Boot-up takes less than 30 seconds, and the Toshiba AT300SE can be set to go to sleep after as little as two minutes of inactivity.
The internet browser is the Toshiba AT300SE's high point. Despite the slight latency in the touchscreen's sensitivity, browsing the web on the Toshiba AT300SE is mostly a joy. Wi-Fi proves fast and web pages appear sharp, with text precise even when zoomed in.
Although the likes of Chrome, Opera and Firefox can be installed as apps, it's the vanilla Android browser that ships with the Toshiba AT300SE.
Occasionally it visits mobile versions of websites (such as the BBC) without asking, but it's inconsistent (we got the full glory of TechRadar.com), though there is a 'Request Desktop Site' option in the drop-down menu.
Chrome is included as a default on all Android tablets, alongside Gmail and Google+, but instead of it being on the front screen it's tucked away in the A-Z list of apps accessed via the six-button grid icon in the top-right-hand corner of the screen.
We managed to have several tabs open simultaneously in the standard browser without any issues, with new pages opening in seconds and embedded video loading and playing instantly.
Media and apps
Movies, music and books
Toshiba Places on the AT300SE is a stab at making media easy to access, though it's not at all about saving money. Music Place is powered by 7digital, which charges for all of its tunes, Video Place is really Acetrax, Games Place offers only four titles (such as Fruit Ninja and Burn the Rope World), Book Place is powered by Txtr, and News Place consists of a live stream of Euronews and a link to magazines on the tablet-centric Zinio platform.
It might serve some users well, but curating content is a tricky concept and we're certain that 'preferred partners' is not the way to do it. There's a whole internet out there...
Book Place is the most visible, with its own Txtr widget installed on the home screen and offering the widest selection of ebooks in Europe. Even if that is so, we weren't impressed; each time we tried to purchase a book by pressing the 'Get this Book' area we were given an 'Unable to connect to the server' message.
However, if you do want a streamlined experience, Toshiba Places has a lot going for it - though do remember that there is no HDMI output, so you can't download a movie via Acetrax to the Toshiba AT300SE to watch it on your TV.
The alternatives are the Play Books, Play Magazines, Play Music and Play Movies apps, all on the Toshiba AT300SE by default. The latter blends the chance to download/stream movies with any of your own, or externally sourced, video you've got on the Toshiba AT300SE - or a microSD card.
In the latter scenario it acts as a nice file manager, and you get the choice to watch video in the default Media Player or Video Player. Any other video apps you download, such as VLC, will appear on the 'Complete action using' option screen.
The Toshiba AT300SE struggles with playback; hamstrung by its 1280 x 800 pixel display, HD video files look soft, grainy and no better than standard definition, with some blur and very average contrast, to boot. If only Toshiba had retained its Resolution+ features on this incarnation.
Sound quality is the usual mixed bag. It's bereft of the SRS-powered goodies on the Toshiba AT300, but Hand in Glove by The Smiths through headphones still features acceptable levels of low frequency and detail as well as effective stereo separation.
But with the integrated 1.5W speakers doing all the work the results took a dive; it's not distorted, but the tinny, weak and weedy sound is none too pleasing.
Apps and games
Toshiba Places is one of 12 apps/shortcuts on the main screen, the others being File Manager, eBay, Office (a double-link to either Splashtop Remote Desktop or PrinterShare), Online Manual, Settings, Browser, ThinkFree Office (a surprisingly comprehensive text editor), Calendar, Talk, YouTube and PlayStore.
A further, and frankly pointless, mod is Toshiba App manager, which is nothing more than a recommendations area containing just two apps; games portal Wildtangent and a second bite for Zinio in the form of its Zinio Reader. Upon our third boot-up of the Toshiba AT300SE we were informed that both of these apps were being downloaded as part of an update, but the app itself then crashed.
As a test we downloaded Angry Birds: Star Wars and Drag Racing from Google Play. Bright, colourful games like these are dealt with easily by the Toshiba AT300SE.
As much as we deplore the use of tablets to take photographs (seriously, people, it's not a good look when out in public), the Toshiba AT300SE is a significant step-down from the Toshiba AT300 in terms of image-making.
The original version had 5MP rear and 2MP front cameras akin to the iPad 4, but the Toshiba AT300SE sees those stats reduce to just 3MP and 1.2MP.
Put simply, you won't want to use the Toshiba AT300 as a camera, and not just because of the low resolution sensor on offer, but also because there's no flash either.
Frankly we're not sure why Toshiba didn't remove the rear camera altogether, since anyone buying a tablet is sure to have access to either a compact camera or smartphone that can shoot images in much better detail.
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However, if pushed, know that the Toshiba AT300SE's basic Android camera app includes options to tweak white balance (incandescent, daylight, florescent and cloudy), nudge the exposure and use scene modes (action, night, sunset, party).
Stills are noisy when taken in anything but bright, outdoor conditions, and even then they lack detail. Video is shot in the 3GP format, though the results are scarred softness, noise and blur if even a gust of wind dares to arrive mid-pose.
As a Skype camera, however, the front-shooter just about does the job.
Battery life and benchmarks
Toshiba says that the Toshiba AT300SE's battery will last 10 hours with video, 40 hours with music and an average of 12 hours in a scenario of 60% web browsing, 10% video and 25% left in standby. Nothing to get excited or annoyed about there, then.
Its two-cell 25Wh battery is par for the course for a 10.1-inch tablet, and we'd go along with that figure after using it for over a fortnight.
At one stage we managed to leave the Toshiba AT300SE idle for six days, with the Wi-Fi switched on, and there was still a good third of the battery left.
The 90-minute Nyan video forced the Toshiba AT300SE to 90% battery level, which compares positively to the Toshiba AT300's 88% result, and is a tad better than the competition.
The AnTuTu app test produced an average score of 13,095 for the Toshiba AT300SE.
Hands on gallery
A reliable and dependable budget tablet that lacks wow factor, we'd judge the Toshiba AT300SE as ripe for both browsing and book reading, which could make it a good option for students. Just don't expect high-def.
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The arrival on the Toshiba AT300SE of the Android 4.1 Jelly Bean OS is welcome, and since this incarnation of Toshiba's flagship tablet is cheaper than the Toshiba AT300, it's good to see the 16GB storage capacity remain.
So too the microSD card slot, though it's another connection - micro USB - that's the clincher. Replacing a rather large and fiddly proprietary dock connector on the Toshiba AT300, using a commonly found micro USB cable will instantly make the Toshiba AT300SE more appealing to frequent travellers and, frankly, to everyone else too.
There are no corners cut on the battery, which is an improvement on the Toshiba AT300 and now reaches beyond 10 hours, while the LCD display is virtually as good as the LED-backlit version found on the Toshiba AT300.
Browsing is speedy thanks to a decent quad-core processor, and sound quality is impressive, too, helping make this a tablet that fulfils all the basics rather well - and, crucially, at an acceptably low price.
The Toshiba AT300SE is not a great tablet for video. Its relatively low resolution 1280 x 800 pixel display hosts soft, grainy video that lacks contrast, and there's really little to tell between standard and high-definition material. It lacks an HDMI output for porting videos to a TV, and there's no standard SD card slot, either.
That all makes the Toshiba AT300SE a poor choice for photographers, especially since the rear and front cameras - which manage just 3MP and 1.2MP respectively - are a disappointing step-down from the Toshiba AT300.
Bulkier than the Toshiba AT300 and not as well built, the Toshiba AT300SE's built-in speakers are poor. However, the most worrying aspect for the Toshiba AT300SE is its touchscreen, which just isn't as sensitive as those on rival devices.
Add to that the fact the interface isn't as speedy as it could be, and you can see that there are better options out there.
There's little to get excited about on this 'special edition' tablet, but before you write off the Toshiba AT300SE consider just what Toshiba was trying to achieve here. A brand that's all about price and value, here it's taken the original Toshiba AT300 and knocked off a few features - arguably the very features that go unused by many - to reach a lower price.
If you're not into photography from a tablet (who is?), don't need to watch hi-def video and will rely mainly on headphones for sound, the Toshiba AT300SE makes for a perfectly respectable product for web surfing and gaming.
However, before tablet users are willing to put up with some of the drawbacks of this lower-spec product a £50/US80-or-so price-cut might be in order - principally to get it below the price of the Samsung Galaxy Tab 2.
For our money it's an improvement on the Toshiba AT300 version in some ways, which despite having higher-spec cameras, design, better video performance and audio, was perhaps too middle of the road to justify its higher price.
The SE is cheaper than the likes of the Nexus 10, but doesn't really justify stripping off so many features to accommodate a £20-off price tag.
If you're after a basic tablet with the latest Android 4.1 Jelly Bean OS to play host primarily to browse the web and don't want to go near the almost-phone-sized seven-inch tablet market, the Toshiba AT300SE could be the one for you.