Toshiba's not the first player to enter the Android tablet game, but with unique features such as a full-size USB port and an attractive, texturized back, the Thrive adds some new riffs to the now-familiar Honeycomb theme. With a starting price of $429 ($579 for the 32GB version), the Toshiba Thrive is a little less expensive than the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 and the Apple iPad 2, but is this sleek slate a better device than its competitors?
Toshiba's got back! At 10.75 x 6.7 x 0.6 inches and 1.6 pounds, the Tosiba Thrive is noticeably heavier and thicker than the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 (9.7 x 6.7 x 0.34 inches, 1.2 pounds), the ASUS Eee Pad Transformer (10.7 x 6.9 x 0.5 inches, 1.4 pounds), and the Apple iPad 2 (9.5 x 7.3 x 0.3 inches, 1.3 pounds).
What you get for the added heft is a sexy rubberized back plate with a textured ridge pattern that's easy to grip. It reminded us of the equally hot-looking lids on Toshiba Mini NB300 series of netbooks. Though the tablet comes with a black back, you can buy colorful replacement covers in Blue Moon, Green Apple, Raspberry Fusion, or Silver Sky for $19.99 each. Pulling off the back cover also allows you to swap out the battery for a replacement ($89.99).
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The Thrive's rubberized back isn't its only style-conscious component. A chrome cover, which rings the front and rear cameras, adds to the premium look. Rubber port covers add to the aesthetic, but the one that covers the docking connector is too easy to lose or accidentally end up in a child's mouth.
Like the iPad, but unlike many other Android tablets, the Thrive's front and back-facing cameras are positioned on the short side of the device, which means that if you're gripping the Thrive in landscape mode, you may find yourself accidentally covering the back-facing camera with your finger.
Display and Audio
The Thrive's 10.1-inch, 1280 x 800 glossy screen offers reasonably vibrant colors and sharp images, but viewing angles leave much to be desired, particularly in environments with a lot of overhead or natural light. When we watched an HD trailer of Captain America on YouTube, motion was smooth and hues were accurate, but ambient light in the room reflected off the screen, making it difficult to view from the side. The panel is also a magnet for fingerprints, which makes images seem a bit dirty as light reflects off of them.
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Toshiba offers a video enhancement technology it calls Resolution+, which is designed to make standard-definition videos look sharper. However, when we played both a standard-def video we had shot with the Thrive and an old SD movie of Steve Reeve's Hercules, we noticed no difference with the technology on or off.
The built-in speaker offered solid, accurate sound that's loud enough to fill a small room. Whether we were listening to the jazz classic "Summer Madness" or Motley Crue's heavy metal "Shout at the Devil," we were able to make out a nice separation between guitar and percussion instruments.
Software and UI
Toshiba hasn't made any major modifications to the standard Android 3.1 "Honeycomb" interface. Like other Honeycomb devices, the Thrive features five customizable desktops to hold your shortcuts and widgets. A taskbar at the bottom of the screen has software back, home, and task-switching buttons on its left and alerts, clock, and wireless/battery icons on the right side. The top bar features context-specific menus and information, such as a search box and link to the Apps menu which appear when you're on one of the desktops.
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Like other Honeycomb slates, the default electric-blue desktop wallpaper and color scheme reminded us of the Tron movies.
Those unfamiliar with Android 3.1 will most appreciate the multitasking button in the bottom left of the taskbar, which shows a scrollable list of thumbnails, each of which represents an open app you can switch to. Unfortunately, there's no easy way to close apps.
The Thrive comes with a choice of two virtual keyboards, the standard Android and Swype, which allows you to type more quickly by tracing lines between letters. Typing in landscape mode was easy with either keyboard because of the large keys and the optional haptic feedback. However, we wish Toshiba included a split keyboard option that would make it easier to type with our thumbs.
Ports and File Manager
One of the Toshiba Thrive's biggest differentiators is its comprehensive set of full-size ports. On the right side of the chassis sits a head phone jack and, under a port cover, are full-size USB, mini USB, and full-size HDMI-out ports. On the left side sits a full-size SD card reader.
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The full-size USB port is particularly helpful, because it allows you to plug in external storage devices such as USB flash drives and external hard drives with ease. Once you attach an external drive or pop in an SD memory card, you can use Toshiba's file-manager software to transfer files between the internal memory and the external device. In our tests, copying an app off a USB stick to the internal memory was a snap.
Using the file manager, we were able to copy a 147MB 1080p MP4 tralier for Higher Ground to the internal memory in just a few seconds and play it flawlessly. As you might expect, the trailer suffered from some lag when we tried to play it directly off of the USB key.
The file manager doesn't allow you to copy files in the background, as we found out when we went back to the desktop while copying a large file off of a USB drive. When we switched back to the file manager, our files had not been copied and we had to copy and paste the files from the external drive all over again.
Under a port cover on the bottom of the tablet sits a proprietary docking port that can be used to attach accessories such as the Toshiba Multi Dock, which replicates the HDMI and USB ports. A Bluetooth keyboard is due in August.
Unfortunately, neither the full nor the mini USB port can be used for charging. You'll need the dedicated AC adapter to juice the Thrive.
With its 1-GHz Nvidia Tegra 2 CPU and 1GB of RAM, the Toshiba Thrive provides solid performance that's good enough for gaming or playing HD movies--even 1080p clips. However, as with other Android tablets, applications crashed occasionally.
On the generically named Android "Benchmark" test, the Thrive returned a CPU score of 3,194, well above the 2,563 tablet category average and comparable to the Tegra 2-powered Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1's 3,159.
On the graphics-centric An3Dbench benchmark, the Thrive scored a strong 7,702, better than the 6,822 category average and the 7,526 offered by the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1. However, the Eee Pad Transformer's score of 8,579 was quite a bit higher.
In anecdotal use, graphics performance was equally strong as the Thrive played Need for Speed with great aplomb and had no problem with full HD videos.
E-mail and Messaging
Like other Android 3.1 Honeycomb tablets, the Toshiba Thrive has two different e-mail apps, one for Gmail and another for POP/Exchange/IMAP mail accounts. Both clients offer two panes, one that lists the contents of the inbox or current folder, and another that shows the current message.
Apps and Media
In addition to the File Manager and the standard suite of Android 3.1 apps, Toshiba has included a couple of other proprietary programs. In addition to Google's official Android Market app, Toshiba includes App Place, its own app store which has some titles you won't find in Google's store. Apps such as AttachMore Pro, which makes it easier to send large attachments with your e-mail, come with free 30-day trials.
Toshiba Start Place is a news feed which allows you to see top stories, complete with photos. However, users will probably get more variety from Google News, as most of the stories shown in the app are simply AP stories.
Click to enlargeToshiba Books Place is the Thrive's built-in book store and eReader app. Using Book Place, you can purchase any of thousands of titles to read on the Thrive. Flipping through The Tale of Peter Rabbit, one of the sample books, was easy and fun, with clear text and sharp images. We particularly appreciated the ability to set bookmarks using the software so we could come back later and reach a certain page.
Unfortunately, Toshiba does not bundle a movie or music purchase or rental service. However, users can always download third-party apps such as Napster, Pandora, and Slacker.
Toshiba also includes QuickOffice HD for viewing--but not editing--office documents. PrinterShare allows you to print to a web-connected or Wi-Fi printer, and LogMeIn Ignition allows you to control a desktop or laptop computer from your tablet, though it is only a limited-time trial version. A trial version of Kaspersky Tablet Security is there to protect you from malware.
The Thrive also includes Hardwood cardgames such as Hearts, Spades, and Solitaire. There's also a limited trial version of the racing game Need for Speed.
Camera and Camcorder
The Toshiba Thrive's 5-megapixel back-facing camera produced reasonably sharp still images in both daylight and indoor settings. Though the camera lacks a flash, images were detailed, even when taken in our dim office.
The camera captured smooth 720p video when filming traffic on a Manhattan street corner. Even on an overcast day, the yellow of taxicabs and blue of buses seemed reasonably vibrant.
For video and text-based IM, Google Talk is included. Using the 2-MP front-facing camera, we were able to conduct a video call with a friend who was using Google Talk on a Windows notebook, but poor bandwidth led to pixelation and lag. However, the front-facing camera itself produced sharp detailed images of our face in good lighting conditions, though our features were covered in shadow if there was a light source behind us.
The Toshiba Thrive lasted a modest 6 hours and 35 minutes on the LAPTOP Battery Test, which involves continuous web surfing over Wi-Fi at 40-percent brightness. That's probably enough time to use the tablet on and off all day, but it pales in comparison to competitors such as the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1, which lasted 8:23, the Eee Pad Transformer that managed more than 10 hours, and the iPad 2 which lasted more than 11 hours on Wi-Fi.
Sleep and Wake Problems
Like an ornery teenager, the Thrive would occasionally refuse to wake from sleep. The white power light would flash, but tapping the power button would not allow the tablet to resume. After checking Toshiba's online forums, we found a slew of other users reporting the same issue. Toshiba told us it Is working on a fix for the problem, but has no timeframe for a solution.
Though our 32GB review unit carries an MSRP of $579.99, the Toshiba Thrive Wi-Fi carries a starting price of $429.99. For that price you get 8GB of internal memory, which may be enough for many users, considering that you can add more storage by popping a full-size memory card into the SD card reader. A 16GB model costs a reasonable $479.99, less than the starting price of an iPad 2.
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The Toshiba Thrive is one of the most attractive tablets we've tested, and it offers the most flexibility with its myriad of full-size ports and removable battery--just keep in mind that this also adds to its size and weight. Regardless, the tablet's 6 and a half hours of battery life pale in comparison to the 8+ hours of endurance provided by lighter competitors such as the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 and ASUS Eee Pad Transformer. Until Toshiba fixes the serious sleep/wake problem, we recommend holding off your purchase of the Thrive. However, after that issue is fixed, we recommend the Thrive for anyone looking for a stylish Android tablet with plenty of extras and a reasonable starting price.