We applaud Toshiba: they dared to do something different. Rather than copying the iPad and iPad 2, they made a tablet that dares to be thick, rugged and hyper-expandable. If ports get you hot and bothered, and if a replaceable battery makes your heart go pitter-pat, the Toshiba Thrive is your tablet. The Thrive is a 10.1" Android Honeycomb 3.1 tablet with the usual internals: dual core 1Ghz Nvidia Tegra 2 CPU, a gig of RAM, WiFi 802.11b/g/n, Bluetooth 3.0, a GPS, dual cameras and a 10.1" capacitive 1280 x 800 LED backlight touch screen. What sets it apart are the full size HDMI and USB port and SD card slot. Even the USB sync/file transfer port is mini USB rather than the now more common smaller micro USB port. The back cover pops off to reveal a removable battery... this is an Android tablet with the heart of a notebook.
That full size USB port and SD card slot, combined with Toshiba's system enhancements and file manager, mean you can view images on your digital camera's SD card or store files on a card, and you can use flash drives and hard drives with the tablet, so you need not try and cram your life into the tablet's internal storage. In fact, Toshiba is currently the only 10" Honeycomb tablet maker to offer an 8 gig model since you can use external storage (and of course so they can sell it for less than competing big name brands like Samsung, Apple and Motorola). The 8 gig sells for $429 at launch, while the 16 gig is $479 and the 32 gig is $579, undercutting the competition by $20. When spending around $500, we doubt $20 is a deciding purchase factor (it shouldn't be), but that $429 price tag will likely tempt budget-conscious buyers. Honeycomb supports USB HID devices (keyboards, mice and limited game controller support), so you can use the tablet with these.
Smart reader; you know all expandability and a user replaceable battery come at a cost. The Toshiba Thrive is the thickest Android Honeycomb tablet on the market, as well as the largest by a very small margin. It weighs 1.68 lbs., which is close to the Motorola Xoom's weight, but clearly heavier than the 1.25 lb. Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 and 1.3 pound iPad 2. Does that make it a bad product? No. The Android smartphone ecosystem is about choice of form factors and features, and the tablet market is shaping up the same way. You get to choose the features and design that are important to you. Some folks want sexy and slim gadgets, others want expansion while Asus Eee Pad Transformer buyers want something that converts into a netbook.
Design and Under Cover
The Thrive exudes ruggedness thanks to its rubbery-textured plastic back with ribbing that both helps keep it in hand and absorbs shock. It's no mil-spec tablet, but I'd wager it would handle more abuse than the iPad 2 and Galaxy Tab 10.1. The back cover is removable: slide a lock switch on the side and peel the cover off. Toshiba is going to town with accessories, and among them are 5 colored backs that sell for $20 apiece. Once you remove the back cover, you'll have easy access to the 23w/h Prismatic Lithium Ion battery that's 10.8v and 2030 mAh. The back snaps on and off very firmly; watch those fingernails lest you lose them. Should you need a new battery, Toshiba sells them for $90. The battery is secured by two sliding latches--a notebook design. In fact, the Thrive is through and through the product of a notebook and PC company: the laptop-style battery latches, full size ports, a small notebook charging brick with detachable cord and three LED lights for power, charging and wireless are hallmarks of the notebook rather than tablet. The power LED flashes faintly in white when the Thrive is sleeping, and is on when the tablet is in use. The wireless LED lights in amber when the tablet is in use.
The Thrive is nearly twice the thickness of the slimmest Android tablet, the Galaxy Tab 10.1, and it even makes the Transformer look skinny. If you despise thick tablets, this isn't your product. It feels good in hand because there's actually something to grip, and the bezel is relatively wide for those of you with big hands. But it does feel heavy. It's close to the weight of the Motorola Xoom and HP TouchPad, but it feels a bit heavier, likely due to balance and weight placement. You'll want to rest it on something when reading eBooks or webpages for a half hour, or invest in a portfolio stand case.
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Toshiba Thrive Video Review
The round charging port and 3.5mm stereo jack are exposed for easy access, and the dock connector plastic cover is removable. The plastic door that covers the HDMI, USB and mini USB ports is attached by a short plastic leash. The stereo speakers put out ample sound with some help from SRS software (you can adjust settings to your liking), and are located at the bottom edge where your hand might cover them if you hold the tablet from the bottom corners rather than the sides. Both the front 2 megapixel video chat camera and the rear 5 megapixel main camera are surrounded by chrome for a fluid design touch.
The capacitive multi-touch display is colorful and clear with fairly wide viewing angles. It's a bit more color saturated than the Motorola Xoom but not as razor sharp and bright as the IPS display on the Asus Eee Pad Transformer. It's not quite as saturated as the hyper-colorful Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1, but we don't mind. Toshiba says the LED backlit display is not IPS, but it shares some characteristics such as wide viewing angles. At certain angles we could see a honeycomb pattern (no pun intended) on the surface of the display, and this may reduce perceived clarity. The display gets mucky like any touchscreen, but it's very easy to clean off compared to most tablets.
Since all 10" Honeycomb tablets currently run on the same hardware with little manufacturer software customization, we don't expect wild variations in perceived performance or benchmarks. The Thrive feels comparable to the Xoom, Tab 10.1 and Transformer, while it feels more responsive than the Acer Iconia Tab A500 that's currently still stuck on Android 3.0. The Thrive scored 1660 on the Quadrant benchmark, which puts it between the Galaxy Tab 10.1 (1504) and the Xoom (1928). The Thrive scored 26.6 in the single thread and 40 in the multi-thread tests, and those are solid though not exceptional numbers.
The tablet had no trouble playing 720p and 1920p MPEG4 H.264 videos encoding using baseline profile. High profile encoding resulted in some frame drops when Toshiba's video enhancement software was turned on. This software essentially upconverts non-HD content to make it look better according to Toshiba, but we found it did slightly degrade performance for more challenging HD content. The feature is turned on by default, but you can turn it off in the display section of system settings. Adobe Flash 10.3 playback worked as well as on other Honeycomb tablets; and that means generally good performance. Flash interactive content generally works as well, though Flash games that rely on keyboards and mice can be hard to use. The tablet's full size HDMI port turns the Thrive into a viable video source for your HDTV or HD monitor. The tablet's display is mirrored on the TV, and it can output slideshows, videos, YouTube and anything else you can do with the tablet itself.
USB and SD
The full size USB port is a USB host port, and that means it works the same way as your computer's USB port. You can plug in USB peripherals, and the range is limited only by available drivers. Android 3.1 supports keyboards and mice but not mass storage. Thus Toshiba created some excellent software to work with mass storage devices. When you plug in a USB flash drive or hard drive, you'll see a USB symbol at the bottom taskbar to let you know the device was recognized. You can then use Toshiba's file manager to view, edit and copy files between internal storage, the SD card and USB drive. This works easily and intuitively enough (watch our video review to see it in action), though you can't turn off the tablet or switch out of the file manager while copying files (the copy will be cancelled). Toshiba's drivers work throughout the OS, and that means programs like Gallery and the music player will also see your USB drives and SD cards (you're not limited to the file manager for access). The OS doesn't yet support installing apps on removable storage though, and some devices like optical drives and phones for USB tethering aren't supported either. You can use hard drives, flash drives, keyboards, mice and game controllers (though we had limited success with some controllers).
The Toshiba Thrive, like all current Honeycomb tablets, offers a mostly standard Android experience without UI customization. Toshiba provides the USB and SD card driver and file manager, the video upconvert software and SRS sound enhancements (the video and sound settings are available in the Android settiings app). Toshiba also includes Book Place powered by Blio (we first saw this on the Toshiba Libretto W105), Toshiba Start Place (a visual news reader) and Toshiba App Place (yet another application marketplace). We cover these apps in our video review, and honestly none are selling points just yet. Toshiba also bundles LogMeIn remote access software, Quickoffice HD (an MS Office viewer suite with PDF viewing too) a demo version of Need for Speed Shift HD and several card games. Also included are MOG music (a streaming music service that costs $9.99/month), a basic video editor (the same as the Motorola Xoom's) and Toshiba's own video player that seems to work about as well as the standard Android player Gallery.
The Thrive has a 2 megapixel front camera that worked well in Google Talk video chats. It has a 5 megapixel autofocus rear camera with no flash. The camera does well outdoors for photos and 720p video recording with decent color balance and saturation and good exposure. Video looks sharp but not artificially sharp and artifacting is minimal. Indoor video is very poor unless lighting is good. Our indoor home video with room lighting and natural lighting from windows looked murky and blurry, a la cell phone camera circa 2006. With strong artificial light at a bright office and mall, quality improved.
The Toshiba Thrive has a removable battery pack that's 10.8v and 2030 mAh. It's a 6 cell 23 watt/hour battery, and though the mAh seem low, battery life is decent (we wonder if there's a second sealed cell in the unit). Toshiba claims up to 11 hours on a charge, and in our tests we got 7.1 hours with WiFi on and brightness set to 50% in a mix of tasks including email, web, playing 45 minutes of YouTube videos, playing music in the background for 45 minutes and installing quite a few apps.
The Toshiba Thrive isn't an inner geek tablet; it's an outer geek tablet. It's for those of you who want a tablet that was designed with a computer philosophy and looks the part. It's thick, it's rugged and it has the ports to challenge less readily expandable products like the iPad 2 and Samsung Galaxy Tab. It's a solid Honeycomb tablet that performs well with good stability and fast response times. The storage expansion options are particularly enticing, as is the ability to swap in a spare battery for those who need extended power on the go. We won't say it's better or worse than some of our top Android tablet picks like the Transformer and Galaxy Tab 10.1. The Android tablet ecosystem is quickly evolving as the smartphone ecosystem did: you get a variety of quality choices in different styles with varied feature sets. It's rapidly becoming more a matter of picking the tablet that matches your needs and budget. The Toshiba Thrive is the tablet for MacGyver types who want maximal versatility and expandability in a rugged package.
Display:10.1" capacitive multi-touch
LED backlit display. Resolution:
1280 x 800, supports both portrait and landscape modes via accelerometer, has ambient light sensor. Has full size HDMI port.
Ion rechargeable. Battery is user replaceable.
23 Wh, 2030 mAh 10.8v battery, claimed battery life is up to 11 hours.
Performance:NVIDIA Tegra 2 1GHz CPU with 1 gig RAM and 8, 16 gigs or 32 internal flash storage.
Size:10.75 x 6.97 x 0.62 inches. Weight: 1.68 pounds.
Camera:5 megapixel autofocus rear camera and 2 megapixel front video chat camera (works with Google Talk).
Audio and Video:Built
in stereo speakers with SRS mobile surround sound software, mic and 3.5mm standard stereo headphone
jack. Can play AAC, AAC+, MP3, MPEG4, MIDI, WAV, Ogg, H.263 and H.264 formats.
WiFi 802.11b/g/n (single band n 2.4GHz) and Bluetooth 3.0.
Software:Android OS 3.1 Honeycomb. Google apps: search, voice search, Maps, Navigation, Places, Gmail, Email, web browser, Market, Gtalk with video chat, Books (Google ebook reader), Gallery, YouTube, Music, Clock, Calculator, Contacts, Calendar and Latitude. Third party apps: Toshiba file manager, Book Place, App Place and Start Place, Quickoffice HD MS Office and PDF viewer, LogMeIn (remote access), Need for Speed Shift demo, card games, Movie Studio, Toshiba video player, PrinterShare, Service Station and Kaspersky Tablet.
SD card slot, full size USB (host) port. Has dock connector and mini USB for sync/file transfer (cable included).