The Toshiba Thrive and I don't exactly have a great history. And that's probably putting it mildly. In fact, in my first review of Toshiba's first Tegra 2 tablet (yes, I had to write a second one) earlier this year, I panned it so hard that I basically just started textually abusing the poor thing. So, at the behest of commenters and colleagues, I rewrote it. My revised review (here) was a little less harsh, but I'll be the first to admit: I didn't like the Thrive, and after spending even more time with it after the review, my feelings were unchanged.
I stand by that review. Except for my claim that removing the battery cover was difficult - apparently I'm just a butterfingers.
Anyways, when I received my Toshiba Thrive 7 review unit, I actually felt a little relieved about all the negative commentary that the old review received. Why? Because the Thrive 7 addresses a lot of the gripes I had about the original Thrive, and then some. It's a decent tablet, and I'm not exactly an easy guy to please in that department. Is it the best 7-incher on the market? For most people, probably not - unless you really need HDMI and miniUSB.
But is that even the question to ask? With cheap 7" devices like the $200 Kindle Fire and the $250 NOOK Tablet now available, the Thrive 7's $380 starting price point (the same as the original 10.1" Thrive) may be the one big thing that will turn off potential buyers, regardless of the device's objective merits.
- Price: $380 ($430 for 32GB)
- Availability: December 14th
- 1GHz NVIDIA Tegra 2 processor
- 7" LCD display (1280x800 - 216DPI)
- 1GB RAM
- 16GB storage (approximately 13GB usable)
- microSD card slot
- miniUSB port
- microHDMI port
- Bluetooth 2.1
- Android 3.2 Honeycomb (stock)
- 15Wh battery / 6 hours claimed battery life
- 5MP rear camera, 2MP front camera
- Weight: 376 grams (0.83lbs)
- Thickness: 12mm (throughout)
- The Thrive 7 is thinner, much lighter (obviously), and sturdier than the original Thrive, which felt pretty cheap and flimsy.
- 1280x800 resolution on a 7-inch tablet looks fantastic, and the display is one area where the Thrive 7 really shines.
- The grippy rubber backing of the original Thrive is back, and just as griptastic as ever.
- The Thrive 7 is 3mm thinner than the original Thrive, making it (in my mind) significantly easier to handle.
- The Thrive 7 still has a nice selection of ports, including miniUSB and microHDMI, as well as a microSDHC slot, and ditches the laptop-style AC charging port in favor of a much nicer (if hilariously large) multi-pin to USB connector.
- Tegra 2 is showing its age, and compared to more powerful tablets like Samsung's Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus, the Thrive 7 feels noticeably slower in almost every way.
- Battery life is subpar at best - don't expect to get more than 3 or 4 hours of heavy use.
- The original Thrive's full-sized USB, HDMI, and SD slots are no more, and the removable battery has been axed as well. Of course, downsized replacements are present.
- There appear to be some touchscreen firmware issues (see details in "Display" section of the review)
- It's a minor gripe, but the power, volume, and screen lock controls are on the left side of the tablet. It just feels weird.
Design And Build Quality
When you look at the Thrive 7, your first thought is probably going to be something like "Aw, it's a baby Thrive." It does certainly look that way. Down to the odd semi-circular chrome plastic piece covering the cameras, it's a convincing facsimile. But from the moment you pick up the Thrive 7, you can tell that compared to the original, this is a whole different animal.
Because the removable rear cover which housed the first Thrive's replaceable battery is now gone, the entire device feels significantly sturdier. Gone are the odd flex and creaking issues which I found plagued the old Thrive. Instead, you'll find a tablet that feels fairly solid and well put-together. Even the accessory port cover feels nicer, fits tighter, and looks better. The power, volume, and screen lock controls appear to have been upgraded as well - button press action is far more responsive (probably because they're less recessed), and not at all rubbery or cheap feeling.
The grippy, ridged texture of the rear cover is one holdover from the original that I like. It makes you feel noticeably more confident handling the Thrive 7 when compared to some of its more slippery competitors. While the Thrive 7 is not exactly what one would call pretty, what it lacks in aesthetics it tends to make up for in hardware features, which will be discussed later in the review.
Before I heap on any more superlatives, I will say that although the Thrive 7 does feel substantially better-built than its larger sibling, it's still not quite as solid or polished as competing products from Samsung, whose Tab 7.0 Plus is the Thrive 7's primary rival at this price point.
The Thrive 7 is also fairly thick compared to the Tab (12mm compared to 9.9), but I'm actually liking that part, as it makes holding the device with a thumb and forefinger pinch just the littlest bit easier. While thinner is generally better when it comes to high-tech handhelds, I think there's certainly a point at which, relative to weight, diminishing returns come into play.
Hardware and Performance
As you may have noticed in the specifications, the Thrive 7 boasts the same NVIDIA Tegra 2 dual-core chipset as the first Thrive. While Tegra 2 is definitely still a viable processor choice on a tablet, it seems Toshiba has probably come in near the end of that viability. The Thrive 7, when compared to something like the Tab 7.0 Plus (which I only reference so often because I reviewed it, so it's a good point of comparison), feels noticeably slower. Whether it be swiping through home screens, the app drawer, or the browser, it all just doesn't feel quite as fast as it should. Benchmarking in Quadrant tends to confirm this:
- Toshiba Thrive 7: Average of 1700
- Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus: Average of 3600
Of course, Quadrant isn't the world's most objective measuring stick, so I sought out some more results on the web over at GLBenchmark, and here's what I found:
GLBenchmark 2.1 Pro Standard (more frames is better)
- Toshiba Thrive 7: 1447 frames
- Amazon Kindle Fire: 1992 frames
- Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus: 2922 frames
GLBenchmark focuses on multimedia and graphics rendering, so it's definitely a good reference point for gaming and HD video playback performance, as well as for any UI functions that utilize hardware acceleration. Again, we see the Thrive 7's Tegra 2 processor just isn't quite cutting it compared to newer chipsets (Amazon's Kindle Fire uses a Texas Instruments dual-core processor, the Tab 7.0 Plus uses Samsung's Exynos).
Is this a fatal flaw? I'd argue on the side of no, if only because raw processing horsepower was obviously never meant to be the Thrive 7's big draw. But if you're a performance junkie, with Tegra 3 and Qualcomm quad-core tablets on the horizon, 6 months from now the Thrive 7 may not even be able to play some high-end games.
Of course, if you plan on using it primarily as an eReader and productivity device, these results are of a lesser, though still material, concern.
The counterpoints to the Thrive 7's less than cutting-edge performance figures are its connectivity features. The original Thrive carried full-sized USB, HDMI, as well as miniUSB ports, along with a full-sized SD card slot and a 20-pin docking port. And a laptop-style A/C charging port - which often struck me as a bit redundant when it already had the docking port. The Thrive 7's downsizing has resulted in the elimination of the full-sized USB and HDMI ports, as well as the SD card slot (and, thankfully, the redundant A/C charging port).
The miniUSB port remains, while the HDMI port has been converted to microHDMI (yes, another cable to buy!), and the SD slot has shrunken to the more Android-ubiquitous microSD. I don't have a microHDMI cable, and I wasn't about to purchase one just for this review, so the HDMI functionality went untested. The Thrive 7 now also includes a 20-pin docking connector to USB cable and A/C wall adapter for juicing up, a major improvement over the original's solution. Toshiba's nifty tabbed File Manager app from the first Thrive is back, enabling you to switch easily between USB, SD, and internal storage locations.
The Thrive 7's dual speakers at the bottom of the tablet are accompanied by SRS sound enhancement software which, frankly, just makes the speakers sound a different kind of bad - they're tinny, thin, and generally represent the kind of audio experience you'd expect from a cheap netbook. I also noted that volume output to headphones was pretty low (and sound quality was noticeably worse on headphones compared to my DROID BIONIC), which could prove a major annoyance if you want to use this thing to watch movies or listen to music in high-volume situations.
Once again, to my utter confusion, Toshiba has fitted the face of the Thrive 7 with a pulsating power-on LED. It's not a laptop, guys, and I'm not sure how that little light is ever going to be useful.
Toshiba has done little to differentiate the Thrive 7 in terms of software. In fact, it's pretty much the exact same experience you'll get on any "vanilla" Honeycomb 3.2 tablet in this regard. Honeycomb isn't bad, it performs well, but it's still a buggy little monster at times. Still, I've always liked the Honeycomb UI and many of the improvements it brought over previous versions of Android, and an Ice Cream Sandwich update is likely in the cards for the Thrive 7 (though Toshiba hasn't spoken on this point). When? Who knows.
As I said earlier, you get Toshiba's nifty File Manager app, as well as some audio and video "enhancement" options (though they don't seem to do all that much) in the Settings menu. There's a few games and some Toshiba app and eBook store things, but there's not much of a reason to look into them.
One problem with the Thrive 7's software, though, is app compatibility. Some apps (games, in particular) require updates to work on newer devices, and 7" tablets running Android 3.2 are a fairly new thing, meaning some developers haven't quite gotten around to that yet. Amazon's Kindle app, for example, was listed as incompatible in the Android Market for the Thrive 7 (strangely, it worked on the Amazon Appstore, though it is pretty buggy).
This is a big issue for niche devices like the Thrive 7 - if developers have to update their applications to work with a device that might end up with a relatively small audience, some apps may never end up being compatible with it. Once again, high-end games are usually going to be the biggest culprits, so I wouldn't ever expect to see support for the majority of Gameloft titles on your Thrive 7.
Display And Battery Life
The Thrive 7's display is absolutely gorgeous. 1280x800 resolution looks great on a 7" tablet, and puts the device in a class of its own. Text looks smoother and sharper, web pages read better, images are more crisp, and the whole Honeycomb UI just looks nicer for it. One problem I had with the Tab 7.0 Plus was that its relatively low pixel density made it difficult to fit a lot of content onto the screen, an issue the Thrive 7 definitely does not have. Viewing angles are also significantly better on the Thrive 7, with less brightness and color distortion. Screen glare has also been reduced compared to the first Thrive.
It isn't perfect, though. The Thrive 7's display doesn't get all that bright, meaning sunlight reading may prove difficult unless you've got the brightness maxed, and even then it may not be quite enough. And even though there's more pixels, you're still limited to the 5x6 icon arrangement on each homescreen - the icons are just smaller.
The display has one other flaw, and this one is in the touch department. Oftentimes, the Thrive 7's display will selectively not respond to touch input. It happens most often with the lockscreen (the lock will simply not move for 2-3 seconds, then upon a second or third attempt, will) and the software function buttons. The latter makes for a truly frustrating issue at times - the back and home buttons will not respond to any input unless the display is powered on and off again. The same will happen sometimes with the clock and settings area on the right. This really should have been ironed out by Toshiba before the product was released. The issue probably lies somewhere in the device's firmware, but it's possible Toshiba could have tweaked something with the software, as well.
Battery life is, sadly, disappointing. To start on a positive note, standby time has been greatly improved from the original Thrive, which I found would often run itself out of juice relatively quickly when it sat unused for a couple of days. The Thrive 7 seems to hold a charge much better, lasting 2-3 days with no significant drain on the battery (maybe 10-15%). Unfortunately, it's downhill from there. The Thrive 7's claimed battery life is a mere 6 hours (so, expect up to 6 hours of 720p video playback at moderate brightness). If you start playing a CPU-intensive game like Dungeon Defenders, you'll be out of a juice in half that time. Crank up the brightness? Even less. For web browsing and such, you'll get more, but I wouldn't expect much beyond 4 hours. For eReading at low brightness, you'll more easily get to that 6 hours. But otherwise, it really is that bad.
The Thrive's camera isn't as terrible as some reviews seem to have claimed, but it's not great - don't expect a point and shoot replacement. It gets the job done, and at 5MP, it's sufficient for shots on Facebook and the like:
The front camera looks decent on the display, but a 2MP sensor isn't going to give you a lot in the first place.
The Thrive 7 is a big improvement over Toshiba's first attempt at a Honeycomb tablet, but it still feels like it just isn't quite there. The somewhat dated processor, poor battery life, and $380 price point are some substantial cons to overlook in favor of the Thrive 7's connectivity features, especially when they don't match those of the original. With the Kindle Fire and NOOK Tablet offering superior performance at much lower prices (albeit less fully-featured and without true vanilla Android), the Thrive 7 becomes an even harder device to justify than some of its costlier, but more powerful, competitors.
That said, if you liked the original Thrive, you'll like this one. You might even like it better, particularly if you don't expect any palpable increase in performance. For reasons I don't really understand (well, I do, I just completely disagree with them), some people love the original Thrive - and if you're one of them, there's no reason to think you won't like the Thrive 7, unless you're really not digging the smaller size.
But if you're just looking for "a tablet" in a 7-inch form factor, there's no doubt in my mind that you're better off pricing up a little (to a Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus, or waiting for the 7.7), or down a lot (to a Kindle Fire or NOOK Tablet). The Thrive 7 is a good effort by Toshiba, but it's just not up to par with what's available in the marketplace.