Toshiba Thrive 7 inch review: Toshiba Thrive 7 inch

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MSRP: $429.99

The Good The Toshiba Thrive 7-inch has a Mini-HDMI port and a very responsive screen, and includes a built-in file manager.

The Bad Unlike the 10-inch version, there's no support for full ports or a swappable battery. Also, the camera placement is ill-conceived, the shutter speed is painfully slow, and the tablet is expensive, given what it offers.

The Bottom Line The Toshiba Thrive 7-inch is a decent tablet, but there are simply better options out there for the price.

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6.5 Overall
  • Design 6
  • Features 7
  • Performance 6

Editors' note: Thanks to the release of recent, high-quality tablets, the overall score of the Thrive 7 has been adjusted up from 6.3 to 6.5.

The original Toshiba Thrive 10-inch impressed us with its support for full-size ports and the fact that we could remove its battery and swap in a new one--features that are still unmatched in mainstream tablets.

The 7-inch version is here now, but with its smaller form factor can it possibly offer the same experience?

Given a quick once-over, the Toshiba Thrive 7-inch seems like an exact, albeit shrunken-down, replica of the Toshiba Thrive 10-inch, released in July. And while the tablets share a few obvious aesthetic similarities--ostensibly designed to evoke a feeling of familiarity in potential buyers--upon closer examination you'll find some key differences between the two.

However, if your eyes are on the Thrive 7-inch, then you've probably already decided that a smaller tablet works better for your needs, so I won't waste time comparing it with the Thrive 10-inch. Instead, whenever appropriate, I'll match the Thrive 7-inch up against the Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus, one of the highest-rated 7-inch tablets on CNET.

Though they look quite similar, there's quite a bit of design difference between the 10-inch and 7-inch versions. In addition to size, of course.

Compared with the Tab 7.0 Plus' sloped back and sleeker look, the Thrive 7-inch looks boxier and, well, kind of dull. And though it's fatter-looking than the Tab 7.0 Plus, in actuality it's not that much thicker than the Samsung and honestly, unless we're looking for it, it's difficult to notice that size difference at all. The weight disparity is negligible.

T-Mobile SpringBoard Acer Iconia Tab A100 Kindle Fire Samsung Galaxy Tab 7 Plus Toshiba Thrive 7-inch
Weight in pounds 0.88 0.88 0.90 0.76 0.8
Width in inches (landscape) 7.4 7.7 7.4 7.6 7.4
Height in inches 4.8 4.6 4.7 4.8 5.1
Depth in inches 0.4 0.5 0.4 0.38 0.5
Side bezel width in inches (landscape) 0.75 0.8 0.6 0.75 0.75

The Thrive 7-inch is built with a multigrooved back and while that should provide enough grip to keep the tablet more or less affixed to our hands, we actually found that it slipped through our fingers far more easily than the much smoother Tab 7.0 Plus. When held horizontally with the cameras on the right, the Thrive 7-inch's power/lock button, volume rocker, and screen orientation lock switch are easily accessed from the top-right edge. As with the Thrive 10-inch, though, the inclusion of multiple ports may give you reason to care about yet another tablet. On the top-left edge is a well-hidden port door that, when opened, reveals a Mini-HDMI port, Mini-USB port, and microSD slot. In comparison, the Tab 7.0 Plus includes only a microSD slot.

The door opens to reveal Micro-HDMI and Mini-USB ports and a microSD card slot. Yes, of course this pic was taken at the same time as the others. No, really!

The Thrive 7-inch's left edge houses two stereo speakers on either side of a large power/docking connector. The Thrive 7-inch's included power cord is USB on one end, with the other side being a wide, oversize connector that looks a bit out of place plugged into such a small tablet. We're willing to forgive Toshiba for this since the cord is compatible with both sizes of the Thrive; however, the sin of also including an oversize, nonproprietary power adapter that takes up way too much space when plugged into a power strip is one we're reluctant to absolve the company of.

At the top-right edge lies the headphone jack and midway along the Thrive 7-inch's right-side bezel sits a 2-megapixel camera, with a 5-megapixel camera directly parallel to it on the tablet's back. It's difficult to imagine a worse place for a camera on a 7-inch tablet. In this location, given that most users will hold the tablet horizontally when taking pictures or filming video, the camera almost seems to be a magnet for your unwanted fingers sneaking into the frame. Samsung realized this and as a result, the Tab 7.0 Plus' cameras don't sit smack-dab in the middle and are instead positioned about an inch higher, where your fingers are less likely to be when holding it.

Though it takes decent pics, the camera's placement is a major point of annoyance.

When you put the screen to sleep, a white LED light begins pulsating in the upper-right corner of the Thrive 7-inch's bezel; a potentially useful feature in quickly determining, at a glance, whether the tablet is turned off or just taking a nap.

Software features
The Thrive 7-inch ships with Honeycomb 3.2.1 installed and a couple of apps: Need For Speed Shift, Hardwood Games SE, and Quickoffice HD. Toshiba also includes its own file manager application, making it easier to find and organize files stored in the tablet's internal flash or expanded memory.

Toshiba's excessively curated app store, App Place, is available by downloading the APK from the App Place Web site and installing it. App selection is limited, but most of the apps are exclusive to the App Place store and can't be found anywhere else. With no search function, however, the interface feels clunky as it requires you to know which category the app you want is in before you can download it.

Toshiba also includes a video enhancement feature called Resolution+ that pumps up the color and contrast of standard-definition video, and while we did see some improvement, it's very subtle. What was more easily noticeable was the stuttering and pausing in the video when we played it with this feature turned on.

The audio enhancement feature, on the other hand, clearly improved the sound quality of all audio when turned on, enhancing the previously muffled sound to something with more clarity. At the highest volume we still heard some static interference, however. In addition, Toshiba says its Ambient Noise Equalizer adjusts the tablet's volume based on the amount of noise in the area. We tested this by playing sound from other tablets right next to it, but didn't notice a change in the volume of the music the Thrive 7-inch was playing.

Overall, the Thrive 7-inch provides a very typical Honeycomb experience, with no word yet on whether an Ice Cream Sandwich upgrade is in the works.

Hardware features
The Thrive 7-inch comes packed with all the formerly impressive tablet hardware goodies we now take for granted. These include a 7-inch capacitive touch screen running at 1,280x800-pixel resolution, a 1GHz Nvidia Tegra 2 CPU, 1GB of RAM, and 32MB of flash memory storage, with a 16GB version of the tablet being available as well. The gyroscope, accelerometer, ambient light sensor, Bluetooth 3.0, and 802.11 b/g/n network adapter round out the hardware highlights.

Many Honeycomb tablets deliver haptic feedback for doing certain tasks. For example, pressing the home button produces a quick vibration from the tablet. However, on the Thrive 7-inch, the feedback feels less like a vibration and more of a sudden "pop" inside the device, which we found a little disconcerting. We soon realized this was not a warning sign of its imminent detonation, but only its interpretation of the haptic vibration. It just felt weird, so we shut it off anyway.

Navigating Honeycomb on the Thrive 7-inch felt fast and smooth, and its screen was noticeably more responsive than the Tab 7.0 Plus', especially during swiping.

We experienced that same smooth swiping when surfing the Web; however, after a site loaded, scrolling quickly down a page on the Thrive 7-inch produced lots of visible clipping. When you're surfing the Web, to make sure the CPU isn't wasting time drawing assets no one can see, it will only draw the assets on the screen and anything not currently on the screen will be drawn when you scroll to it. As a result, if you scroll too quickly you'll see assets being drawn in as the tablet attempts to keep up with your scrolling speed. On the Tab 7.0 Plus, with its faster 1.2GHz Samsung Exynos CPU, clipping was virtually nonexistent.

While the Samsung proprietary PLS screen technology contributes to the Tab 7.0 Plus delivering the highest levels of color reproduction on a 7-inch tablet screen, the IPS screen on the Thrive 7-inch still impresses. The Thrive 7-inch's screen delivers wide viewing angles, a high brightness, and pretty good color reproduction, if not quite as good as the Tab 7.0 Plus.

Tested spec T-Mobile SpringBoard Acer Iconia Tab A100 Kindle Fire Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus Toshiba Thrive 7-inch
Maximum brightness 353 cd/m2 227 cd/m2 424 cd/m2 214 cd/m2 350 cd/m2
Default brightness 106 cd/m2 96 cd/m2 147 cd/m2 50 cd/m2 141 cd/m2
Maximum black level 0.42 cd/m2 0.27 cd/m2 0.44 cd/m2 0.17 cd/m2 0.45 cd/m2
Default black level 0.12 cd/m2 0.11 cd/m2 0.15 cd/m2 0.04 cd/m2 0.18 cd/m2
Default contrast ratio 883:1 840:1 980:1 1,250:1 783:1
Contrast ratio (max brightness) 840:1 872:1 963:1 1,258:1 778:1

Riptide GP, a personal watercraft game available from the Android Market, is great when comparing tablet GPU performance. Unlike Shadowgun, which seems to cap its frame rate, Riptide actually scales, and depending on the speed of the processor running it, the game's frame rate will be noticeably smoother or choppier. In our tests, the Tab 7.0 Plus delivered an obviously smoother experience than the Thrive 7-inch. Riptide on the Thrive 7-inch is still perfectly playable, it's just not as smooth.

For movie playback, both MKV and MOV movies we tried on the Thrive 7-inch wouldn't play. We received a warning that it couldn't handle those formats, but unlike the Tab 7.0 Plus, which offered to convert the same files into formats that the tablet could handle, the Thrive 7-inch offered no such option.

The Thrive 7-inch's 5-megapixel rear camera took decent still photos, but when compared with photos taken by the Tab 7.0 Plus' rear 3-megapixel camera showing higher levels of color saturation, they looked a bit washed out. Shutter lag on the Thrive 7-inch's camera was painfully slow, sometimes lasting up to 6 seconds, so whatever moment you were all set to capture could be long gone by the time it snapped. The Tab 7.0 Plus was, on average, about 2 seconds faster.

Video playback of recorded video wasn't as smooth as on the Tab 7.0 Plus; however, the Tab 7.0 Plus seemed to wash out the image too much. Surprising, given the way it handled color in pics. The Thrive 7-inch's recorded video color was much better balanced.

Here are our official CNET Labs-tested battery life results. More tablet testing results can be found here.

Video battery life (in hours)
Toshiba Thrive 4.6

Seven-inch tablets aren't cheap. Well, full-featured 7-inch tablets aren't cheap. Though the Kindle Fire and Nook Tablet offer very controlled experiences, if all you want to do is read a book, watch some movies, play a game every now and then, and surf the Web, they're good options if you're looking to spend $200 to $250 on a tablet.

If a less controlled 7-inch tablet experience is worth another $200 to you, then make sure you get the one that offers the most for the money. While the Thrive 7-inch has more ports and a more responsive screen, the Tab 7.0 Plus' faster performance and more thoughtful design make it a better choice.

The 10-inch Thrive got props for offering full ports and a swappable battery at a very decent price. Not including those same features here misses the point. The Thrive 7-inch isn't a bad tablet; there are just much more appealing options out there for your cash.

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