Editor's Note 11/7/11:
This review has been updated to reflect the launch of Netflix for Android 3.x devices.
The Toshiba Thrive Honeycomb tablet has taken its sweet time getting to store shelves. First announced and demoed on CES 2011 alongside another Honeycomb tablet, the Motorola XOOM, and sans an official moniker, the Thrive finally hit the market in July, six months after CES and four months after the XOOM. Since then, Samsung, Acer, ASUS, and LG have released Honeycomb tablets, and Lenovo and Sony have four additional models on the way.
The challenge for Toshiba is designing a Honeycomb tablet that sticks out from the crowd, and they?ve done that by stressing function over design. The Toshiba Thrive features a replaceable battery as well as full-sized USB, HDMI, and SD card inputs, which make for a bulkier (especially when seen next to the ultra-thin iPad 2 and Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1), but more practical tablet.
TabletPCReview puts the Toshiba Thrive through the paces to see if the handy function trumps slick form in this Honeycomb tablet review.
BUILD & DESIGN
The Toshiba Thrive looks tough, and that?s probably because it?s a bit more rugged than some of the other 10.1-inch tablets. That?s not to say that it has a better build quality, just that it would be harder to snap in half owing to its thickness.
Viewed head on, the Thrive resembles its competition in that it is rectangular, with a 16:10 screen ration, with a thick black border framing the display and rounded corners. The top edge, when held in portrait mode, features a plastic silver half circle that houses the two-megapixel front-facing camera lens, indicator light, and on-board microphone. The edges also house power, battery, and wireless indicator lights as well as the ambient light sensor.
In another attempt to distinguish the Thrive from the competition, Toshiba went with a semi-rubberized back panel with an easy grip pattern, which rounds off at the edges. I find Toshiba?s choice to be far preferable over competing devices, which often feature sheer plastic or aluminum. The Thrive is just easier to grip and hold than the iPad 2, XOOM or Galaxy Tab 10.1. The silver circle carries over to the backside and houses the 5-megapixel rear camera.
The Toshiba Thrive is also the only tablet of its kind with a removable and replaceable battery. The back panel pries off with a bit of force, revealing the innards. The Toshiba six-cell replacement battery currently costs $90, so it is not cheap, but shelling out the cash is better than buying a whole new tablet should the battery no longer hold a charge (which is bound to happen with tablets as it too often does with smartphones). Also, business travelers might consider picking up a spare to ensure enough juice for long trips away from charging opportunities. Toshiba also offers alternative back covers in green, blue, silver, red and purple for $20 each.
A quick tour around the sides reveals a back panel locking switch on one, and the AC-in, 3.5mm audio jack on the other.
There are also a full-sized USB 2.0, full-sized HDMI, and miniUSB port hiding behind a secure access cover.
The long sides include two stereo speakers with a covered proprietary docking port on one side, and a full-sized SD card slot, orientation lock switch, volume rocker, and power button on the other.
The full-sized ports and SD card slot are excellent additions, especially the USB, given that Honeycomb 3.1 supports USB hosting and works with keyboards, mice, thumbdrives and gamepads (I could not get the Thrive to recognize my Western Digital external hard drive, however). If one USB input is not enough, the Thrive also supports USB hubs. Also, the HDMI output mirrors the display on the HDMI-enabled screens, which could be helpful for business users come presentation time. With full SD card support, the Thrive is closer to a PC than it is a smartphone in terms of file management (more on that under PERFORMANCE). Yes, some other tablets support microSD, but I think microSD cards are way too small to move from device to device regularly.
The only complaint I can lob at the Thrive design is that the buttons and switches are a bit mushy and hard to press/push. Also, some of the panel covers are tough to pry off, especially the cover to the docking connector. Finally, the Thrive is the only Honeycomb tablet we?ve tested to date that ships with a power brick for charging. Most emulate smartphones and utilize a micro- or miniUSB cord, but the Thrive has a full-on 19V power supply.
Display & Speakers
Unfortunately, the Thrive display does not hold up as well as its design and features. Compared with the two best tablet displays on the market, the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 and Apple iPad 2, the Thrive monitor is dull and not nearly as crisp. At the maximum setting, it?s not as bright as the other two tablets, which might not be so bad as screen brightness has the biggest effect on battery life. The colors strongly tend to blue/green, whereas the iPad 2 has more of a magenta tone.
Viewing angles are decent though, as is the touch sensitivity. The settings have a haptic feedback option for the keyboard and Android softkeys, but I could only hear and not feel the feedback when enabled. Maybe my fingertips aren?t sensitive enough.
The speakers are also subpar. They are barely loud enough to fill a room and the sound quality is heavy on the treble. Users won?t have trouble with video chat, but music will sound much better played elsewhere. As with every other tablet with the notable exception of the BlackBerry Playbook, the speaker placement doesn?t help things. Toshiba placed them on the bottom of the device, opposite the power button and volume rocker. Even when held upside down, the Thrive speakers still do not direct sound at the user. RIM gets it right with the PlayBook by having the speakers on the display edges, facing forward. To date, no Honeycomb tablet makers have followed suit.
Toshiba Thrive specs:
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