The Toshiba Thrive has been a darling of the Android community since it was unveiled way back in January at CES in Las Vegas, when it was still just the young, nameless "Toshiba Tablet." Fast-forward 7 months, it's July, and the Thrive is finally here - but has it matured well? We'll answer that question as we plod through the review.
And now, here's some specs, because we like numbers:
Toshiba Thrive Specifications
- 10.1-inch IPS LCD display
- NVIDIA Tegra 2 (AP20H) dual-core processor
- 1GB RAM
- 8/16/32GB internal storage (depending on model)
- Weight: 1.7lbs
- Thickness: 15mm
- 5MP rear camera, 2MP front
- Full-size USB and HDMI-out ports, plus miniUSB port
- SD card slot (with SDXC support)
- Android 3.1 Honeycomb (via OTA update).
So, now you've got an idea of just how the Thrive stacks up on the hardware side. But how does it make you feel? Let's break it down.
The Not So Good:
- Too thick. (15mm- thicker than a XOOM.)
- Too heavy. (1.7lbs - heavier than a XOOM.)
- Display viewing angles aren't fantastic (but this is true of most tablets, it seems).
- Battery cover is difficult to remove, and difficult to put back on.
- Really difficult to justify over other Honeycomb tablets currently available.
Alright, as much as I'd like to write what would amount to yet another cleverly guised review of the Honeycomb OS instead of the actual product, if you want to read about Honeycomb, you should probably read our XOOM review. It'll give you a much better idea of what Honeycomb is, how it works, and why it's so much different from the Android OS you'll find on your phone. So, with that in mind, let's talk about the software Toshiba adds to the equation.
There are a few Toshiba card games, a Toshiba-branded app store, and a few other relatively mundane sponsored applications (Kaspersky tablet security, LogMeIn ignition). You do get Swype - so if you're a fan of the finger-flinging keyboard, the Thrive does come equipped with it, though it's not enabled by default.
There is one app Toshiba put on the Thrive that's actually quite useful - a built-in file manager with tabs that allows you to easily switch from browsing your internal storage, SD card, or USB device. This makes transferring files a lot easier, and the tabs actually make this a little more intuitive than something like Astro (which is a great file management app) when you have multiple storage locations to browse.
Aside from that, it's Android 3.1 - there's not too much else to discuss about the Thrive on the software side.
As I stated in the good/bad bullet-points, the Thrive performs just like every other Tegra 2 tablet on the market. With most manufacturers using variations of the Tegra 2 platform in their Honeycomb devices, it's hard to find a tablet that stands out in this regard. Honeycomb buzzes along relatively quickly, homescreens swipe with ease, and apps install quickly. Honeycomb's hardware-accelerated browser remains a delight to use, as do the various (though few) Honeycomb-optimized Google apps.
Boot up times are quick (not that you're likely to turn it off very often). Game performance is what you'd expect from Tegra 2 - the Thrive handles Dungeon Defenders quite easily, and it looks good doing it. Again, with so little to distinguish the Thrive from the other Honeycomb tablets on the market in regard to processing horsepower, performance is difficult to benchmark in a comparative way. Pick up any Tegra 2 Honeycomb tablet, and you'll get roughly the same experience - and that experience is a good one.
The Ports: USB, miniUSB, HDMI (and the SD card slot)
This is the Thrive's marketing bread and butter - its many ports. You get a full-sized USB 2.0 port, a miniUSB, and HDMI-out, along with a full-size SD card slot. Let's talk about what these ports do.
The full-sized USB allows you to do a couple of things. First, it allows USB host support for things like keyboards or other powered USB accessories. It works in that regard, but it's not unique anymore - Android 3.1 enabled host support via microUSB (or standard USB), meaning any tablet with such a port and an adapter cable now allows the use of such devices.
The second use for that USB port is obviously going to be thumb drives and external storage devices (think external hard drive). For a thumb drive, this is pretty convenient, and while it can be accomplished with an adapter via microUSB on other devices, most people probably don't own such a cable. Combined with Toshiba's File Manager app, this is pretty handy.
Next up is miniUSB - which really doesn't need much explanation. This one is going to be useful for transferring photos directly from your camera or camcorder, but probably not too much else. It saves you from buying an adapter, like all the Thrive's ports, but they do come at a price, and we'll talk about that later.
Finally, HDMI. HDMI allows you to mirror whatever your tablet is displaying onto a secondary device (eg, your HDTV). This can be used for viewing photos, watching videos you've recorded using the Thrive's cameras, and just for satisfying that inherent urge to use an electronic device on a bigger screen. As for the SD card slot, I think that one explains itself (and yes - it works).
Battery And Accessories
The Thrive is the first Android tablet to have a consumer-friendly removable battery. But I'd describe more as "consumer-neutral." Taking off the Thrive's rear cover is a pain, and putting it back on is even more so. Let me put it this way - you won't be doing any 5-second swaps like you might on an Android phone.
Tonight at 11: Inside The Thrive
Battery life has been below average. Not great, but not terrible. I get about 2 days of heavy use, which is a lot less than you'll get out of a Galaxy Tab 10.1, but the battery is also a lot, lot smaller. The Thrive's 6-cell Li-ion has a capacity of only 2030mAh - compared to over 6800mAh on the Galaxy Tab 10.1 - that's a third the size. Is the replacement factor worth the clear loss in battery life? I didn't think so, but for some, this has been a major draw to the Thrive.
The Thrive also has a bunch of nifty accessories, like a kickstand folio, a media dock, rear cover replacements, and various cases. Unfortunately, Toshiba didn't send us any of those things to play with (not that we really ever do get such things as part of review unit packages, but I argue this stuff can add a lot of value to a device). But, these accessories aren't hugely different from what we've seen Samsung put out with the Galaxy Tab 10.1, or even the Motorola XOOM. The lack of a dock-pin keyboard (or keyboard-folio) accessory was somewhat puzzling to me.
Build Quality, Size And Weight
As for build quality, the Thrive is, again, average. The removable battery cover isn't super sturdy, and is pretty plasticky, but it's not a deal-breaker. There is some play between the back cover and the chassis, and it can cause some flex when you hold it by the edges - which might be annoying for some. There's also display light leakage when you open up the port cover, though this is probably unavoidable. Otherwise, the Thrive gets a "pass" in my book on the quality of construction. The rear cover is also quite grippy (I'm going to go ahead and say that's now officially a word) and textured, meaning you're unlikely to drop the Thrive for lack of friction.
However, you might drop it for another reason - its size. The Thrive is big. Really, really big. 15mm thick (compare that to the Motorola XOOM - 12.9mm, and the Galaxy Tab 10.1 at 8.6mm), meaning you could stack two Galaxy Tab 10.1s, and they would be just a little thicker than the Thrive. If you want a tablet for gaming or around-the-house browsing, the Thrive is just too cumbersome to hold comfortably. I've heard some people say they find it workable, but if you hold the Thrive in your hands for 20 minutes in landscape mode, you're going to feel it.
It's also pretty heavy. The Thrive is 40 grams heavier than a XOOM, tipping the scales at 1.7lbs. Now, 1.7lbs isn't gargantuan in the context of, say, hardcover books or laptops. But for a tablet, it's heavy. It's more than 200 grams heavier than the Galaxy Tab 10.1 (about .4lbs), and that is more than noticeable - it's tiresome.
You can effortlessly handle the ultra-light Galaxy Tab 10.1 for long durations because of its featherweight status (well, as comfortable as holding a 10.1-inch tablet can be). We like that. But if you want to use your tablet with a kickstand-folio or on a flat surface most of the time, then these concerns are probably not all that relevant. If you want a tablet that is truly comfortable to use in your hands, the Thrive is not for you.
Display And Cameras
The IPS display is also very run-of-the-mill - compared to other more recent tablets I've seen (Iconia A500, Transformer, Galaxy Tab 10.1), it looks nearly identical in terms of color reproduction and viewing angle. It doesn't stand out. Viewing angles do suffer from brightness distortion, probably because of the thickness of the glass covering the Thrive's display, but I have yet to see a tablet that doesn't have this problem.
Otherwise, it's fine to look at. Colors are bright and vivid. It's no Super AMOLED Plus, but it's definitely not going to leave you disappointed once you've compared it to the competition.
The rear 5MP shooter is average - on par with the ASUS Transformer's camera, but at the same time, you probably won't use it much. Holding a tablet to take a photo, particularly in public, is just ever-so-slightly really awkward. The front-facing camera touts a 2MP resolution, but I didn't find it to actually be all that much better than standard VGA front-facing cameras you'll find on smartphones. The resolution was obviously superior, but the contrast and exposure were still of such a quality as to make using it for photos a last resort.
Buying a Thrive wouldn't be something you'd regret - it works just fine, and I'm not knocking Toshiba on quality or performance. But something tells me when you sit down at the café with this thing, and someone at another table is happily puttering away on their Galaxy Tab 10.1 or iPad 2, you'll think: I want one of those.
With Honeycomb so purely vanilla on every device right now (excepting Samsung's TouchWiz UX), it's hard to find ways to separate one product from the pack with software. So, manufacturers have turned to hardware. Unfortunately, the ways in which the Thrive stands out (namely: its many ports and portly size) have lost a lot of their utility in the last 6 months since we saw it at CES.
The removable battery is a good idea - in theory. But the fact that the Thrive's battery is so small (probably because it's removable) makes this feature such a compromise. I'd rather have the gigantic battery in the Tab 10.1 and get a whole week out of every charge. Even if you're concerned with battery degradation over the long haul, I would think that even a Tab 10.1 with its battery capacity halved over two years would be preferable. And you'll have to fork out anywhere from $70-90 for a replacement. It's hard, for me, to see how Toshiba's removable solution is superior to Samsung's philosophy.
As for the ports, they're convenient. But they aren't unique. The Acer Iconia A500 has full-sized USB, but not miniUSB. The Transformer has mini HDMI, which means you'll have to buy a new cable or an adapter, but it still gets the same job done - and the Galaxy Tab can do the same thing via a proprietary (though pricy) pin-to-HDMI cable. The SD card slot is handy if you use full-sized SD, and it's a legitimate convenience - but it's just one more feature, along with the Thrive's many ports, and it's removable battery, that comes at a cost: size.
Here's the deal - the Thrive would have been a frontrunner in tablet market around the time the XOOM came out. Today? The competition has caught up, and zoomed (sorry for that one) past the Thrive. If you want, or need, a tablet with full-sized HDMI-out and full-sized USB and miniUSB and an SD card slot, the Thrive is your only option, and it's not a bad one. If you don't need those things, there are better Android tablets out there.