For those who find 9- and 10-inch slates too large to carry everywhere, 7-inch tablets provide greater portability and easier one-handed use. With competitors such as Acer, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Lenovo, and Samsung making 7-inch devices, Toshiba is entering an already crowded market with its new slate. However the new Thrive 7-inch brings some compelling favors to the party, including a high-resolution 1280 x 800 screen and an attractive design. But is this Tegra 2-toting tablet worth its relatively high $379 price?
One of the most stylish tablets with this size display, the Thrive 7-inch shares the same aesthetic as its bigger brother, the 10-inch Toshiba Thrive. It has a luxurious rubberized back with a textured ridge surface that's easy to grip. Classy chrome rings the front and rear cameras. As on the elder Thrive, the cameras sit on the short side of the device, making it a little too easy to cover the back-facing lens with your thumb when filming with the device in landscape mode.
While the 10-inch Toshiba Thrive was one of the bulkiest tablets on the market, its 7-inch brother is one of the lightest, making it well suited for one hand use. At 7.4 x 5. x 0.5 inches and 13.3 ounces, the 7-inch Thrive is thicker and heavier than the Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus (12.2 ounces, 7.6 x 4 x 0.4 inches). However, it's lighter than the Acer Iconia Tab A100 (14.7 ounces, 4.6 x 7.7 x 0.5 inches), the Barnes & Noble Nook Tablet (14.2 ounces, 8 x 5 x 0.48 inches), and the Kindle Fire (14.6 ounces, 7.5 x 4.7 x 0.5 inches).
On the Thrive 7-inch's left long side sit a volume rocker, power button, and orientation lock switch, along with a rubber port cover that hides the mircoUSB, microSD card reader, and microHDMI out ports. A 3.5mm headphone jack is located on the tablet's short side top, with a proprietary docking station on the bottom.
Extremely rare among tablets, the Thrive 7-inch can charge when the docking cable is connected to a PC's USB port, though it also comes with an AC adapter that lets it juice from an outlet. However, if you want to copy files from a PC, you must connect using the microUSB port rather than the docking cable.
Display and Audio
The Thrive 7-inch's bright, colorful screen is the sharpest you'll find on a 7-inch slate, thanks to its 1280 x 800 resolution. Most 7-inchers provide only 1024 x 600. That gives the Thrive an impressive pixel density of 215.63 PPI, much higher than other 7-inch tablets' density of 169.55 PPI or 10.1-inchers' density of 149.45 PPI. This higher density means much sharper images when you're surfing the web, gaming, or playing videos.
When we streamed an HD trailer for The Avengers, images were extremely sharp and colors such as the blue in Captain America's costume and red in Thor's cape really popped. Colors remained vibrant even at 180-degree viewing angles and with the screen titled way back. At full brightness, the Thrive's screen measured an impressive 355 lux on our light meter. Both the Kindle Fire and Nook Tablet have brighter displays--460 and 392 lux respectively--but neither has a screen that's as sharp as the Thrive's.
When we played the jet-skiing game Riptide, objects such as the jet ski and our character's helmet were much crisper than they were on the 10.1-inch Eee Pad Transformer Prime. Even when we read news articles on Cnn.com and NYTimes.com, text seemed crisper than on other tablets we've used.
The stereo speakers on the Thrive 7-inch produced reasonably accurate sound that's loud enough to hear across a small room, though the audio was a bit flat. When we streamed Patrice Rushen's bass-heavy "Forget Me Nots" from Rhapsody and Alice Cooper's "School's Out" from Slacker, the music was accurate and free of distortion and tininess. However, because the speakers are mounted on the left short side, it's easy to accidentally cover them when holding the Thrive in landscape mode.
When positioned in landscape mode, the Thrive 7-inch's screen is the ideal size for effective thumb-typing, as each hand can reach toward the middle of the keyboard with great ease. By default, the Thrive 7-inch is set to use Android 3.2's stock keyboard, but Swype is also available. Many users will prefer Swype's method of forming letters by tracing lines between keys, but we were annoyed by its inability to deal with new words as it kept autocompleting to "scream" when we tried to trace "Avram."
Though it is disabled by default, the Thrive 7-inch supports haptic feedback on either of its keyboards to provide tactile feedback as you type. With haptic feedback enabled on the stock keyboard, the Thrive 7-inch provided one of the most comfortable and accurate typing experiences we've had on an Android tablet.
Apart from setting the default wallpaper to an attractive red-and-black abstract pattern, Toshiba has made no changes to Google's Android 3.2 Honeycomb operating system. Users unfamiliar with Honeycomb will appreciate its power and flexibility, but the software has a steeper learning curve compared to iOS for the iPad.
The Honeycomb OS has five customizable home screens for displaying widgets and shortcuts to your favorite apps. The lower left-hand corner of the screen contains virtual Back,Home, and Layers buttons, the latter of which shows thumbnails for each open application to make task-switching easy. Notifications appear along the bottom right, next to the time and battery icons. Tapping the battery icon also brings up a quick notifications/settings list, which lets you adjust the brightness and change the wireless without leaving your current app.
All Honeycomb tablets come with a number of Google applications that are designed to take advantage of the large screen. Both the email (POP, IMAP, Exchange) and Gmail clients have two panes, one for viewing the contents of your inbox and another for reading the current message. The stock Honeycomb browser supports multiple tabs to make switching between different sites easy. The Thrive 7-inch comes pre-loaded with Google's Android Market, which provides access to more than 300,000 apps. (Only about 5,000 of these have been specially optimized for tablets.)
With its dual-core 1-GHz Nvidia Tegra 2 CPU and 1GB of RAM, the Thrive 7-inch packs plenty of power. In our testing, the tablet was more than capable of delivering eye-popping graphics on intense 3D games such as Need for Speed Shift and Riptide GP. Playing high-quality videos, surfing the web, and taking pictures were also no problem. Like all Android tablets we've tested, the Thrive 7-inch suffered from occasional moments of lag when we tried to move from one task to another too quickly, but these moments were fewer than on most other tablets we've used.
The Thrive 7-inch performed well on all the synthetic benchmarks we threw at it. On the Benchmark CPU test, it scored a strong 3,008, well above the tablet category average of 2,680 and about on par with the Tegra 2-powered Acer Iconia Tab A100's score of 3018. The Toshiba was just a tiny bit behind the Barnes & Noble Nook Tablet (3,056) and the Amazon Kindle Fire (3,069), both of which use 1-GHz TI OMAP 4 processors. The 1.2-GHz Samsung Exynos powered Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus scored a much higher 3,353.
The Thrive 7-inch scored a respectable 7,635 on An3DBench, which measures graphics prowess, far better than the 7,156 tablet category average, the 7,006 provided by the Kindle Fire, and the 7,120 offered by the Barnes & Noble Nook Tablet. The Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus turned in a higher 7,899, and the Acer Iconia Tab A100 scored 8,081. However, both of those tablets have lower-resolution screens than the Thrive 7-inch.
The Toshiba Thrive 7-inch lasted a mediocre time of 5 hours and 18 minutes on the LAPTOP Battery Test, which involves continuous web surfing over Wi-Fi at 40-percent brightness. That time is well behind the tablet category average of 6 hours and 42 minutes, the Kindle Fire's time of 7:34, and the Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus' time of 7:18.
The 5-megapixel rear-facing camera took mediocre pictures that were about on par with those we've seen from other 5-MP tablets. Shots of city skyscrapers showed a fair amount of detail, but were more than a little bit white washed. Colors were rather muted in a picture of orange flowers.
When we shot a 720p video of a rooftop in the later afternoon, images looked sharper and cleaner, though not at all bright or colorful.
The 2-MP front-facing camera took dark, shadowy images of our face in low light and oversatured images when we sat under a lamp. Motion was fairly smooth when we conducted a Skype call with a Windows PC on the other end, though our picture froze a number of times.
Apps and Warranty
Toshiba includes very few apps to supplement Android 3.2's built-in selection. Toshiba File Manager provides access to the device's internal memory and any external drives or SD cards you plug in. Toshiba Media Player lets you play locally stored video files, and Toshiba Service Station checks for software updates.
The Thrive also includes a trial versions of Kaspersky Antivirus and the racing game Need for Speed Shift. QuickOffice HD lets you open, but not edit, Office documents. PrinterShare allows you to print to Wi-Fi and Bluetooth printers. Hardwood games, including Backgammon, Euchre, Solitaire, Hearts, and Spades, are also included.
Toshiba backs the Thrive 7-inch with a one-year limited warranty.
The Thrive 7-inch's sharp 1280 x 800 screen--an industry first for a tablet this size--turns gaming, movie watching, or reading into a visual feast. Throw in a stylish, lightweight chassis and you have one of the better premium 7-inch Android Honeycomb slates on the market. However, the mediocre battery life holds this slate back.
Consider the $199 Amazon Kindle Fire if you're looking to save money and are willing to sacrifice the flexibility of the full Android 3.2 operating system. If you want longer battery life at about the same price, the $399 Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus is the better choice. The Samsung also has a thinner design and doubles as a smart TV remote. However, if you want the 7-inch tablet with the best visual experience, focus your sights on the Thrive 7-inch.