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Toshiba Thrive review: Toshiba Thrive

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The Good The Toshiba Thrive's very aggressive pricing gives it an advantage over most other tablets. Its grooved back, full HDMI and USB support, full SD card slot, and replaceable battery justify its very bulky design. Also, its built-in file management system makes finding and accessing files in Honeycomb easier.

The Bad The Thrive's bulky design and hefty weight are not for everyone. Also, awkward back camera placement and a difficult panel removal process make us wish more time had been spent in the design phase. The LED lights on the bezel can be distracting.

The Bottom Line The Toshiba Thrive is a bulky but aggressively priced Honeycomb tablet that earns its girth with full port support and a removable battery.

Visit manufacturer site for details.

7.3 Overall
  • Design 7
  • Features 8
  • Performance 7

Review Sections

Tablets are generally expected to be "thin and light" small computers with unobtrusive interfaces. Some tablets are thinner and lighter than others, however. While we've praised tablets like the iPad 2 and Galaxy Tab 10.1 for their sleekness and dinged the HP TouchPad for being too bulky, the Thrive poses an interesting question. Is a bulky tablet inherently a bad thing or can a tablet justify its extra mass?

Design
While most other tablets, like the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1, show efforts to emulate Apple's thin, light, and minimalist iPad 2 design, Toshiba hurls the Thrive right into the soft, supple face of the notion that tablets should be designed this way. Sure, at 1.66 pounds the Thrive is relatively light compared with, say, a laptop or even a Netbook, but at that weight, it's as heavy as the heaviest tablet we've seen and its 0.63-inch depth makes it nearly twice as thick as either the Galaxy Tab 10.1 or the iPad 2.

Toshiba Thrive Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 Apple iPad 2 T-Mobile G-Slate HP TouchPad
Weight in pounds 1.66 1.24 1.34 1.38 1.6
Width in inches (landscape) 10.75 10.1 9.5 9.6 9.5
Height in inches 7 6.9 7.3 5.8 7.4
Depth in inches 0.63 0.34 0.34 0.49 0.45
Side bezel width in inches (landscape) 1 0.8 0.8 0.9 0.85

Toshiba's intent with the Thrive was to make a tablet that more closely met the needs of a typical laptop user, and as you can see from the specs above, the Toshiba Thrive is one of the heaviest, widest, and deepest tablets we've yet seen. As Honeycomb tablets go, it's very much the anti-Galaxy Tab 10.1. While the Galaxy Tab 10.1 is all smooth, sleek, sexy, and devoid of ports, the Thrive is anything but, and its measurements only tell half the story.


The Toshiba Thrive compared with the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1. We told you it was thick.

Upon picking up the Thrive, the first thing we noticed was its grooved back panel, which provides an easy-to-grip texture. While our model's panel was black, the panel is removable and can be swapped out for a panel in one of five other colors (green, purple, blue, pink, and silver), available for $20 each. Removing the panel requires that you dig your fingernails into the speaker indentations and then carefully, but firmly, pull back. Given the manner in which the panel is connected to the tablet, when pulling it off you may get the impression that you're breaking something, and although we didn't break anything, we can't rule out the possibility and we wish the panel came off more easily.

Once the panel is off, the removable battery can be accessed, removed, and finally swapped with an extra battery Toshiba has priced at $80. The battery measures 5.1x5.5 inches, with about a 0.25-inch depth. Removing the battery is simpler and easier than removing the back panel, although replacing both battery and panel is easy. There's also the option to lock the back panel into place, which seems unnecessary since it's pretty firmly attached once placed properly, and if locked and forgotten could easily cause someone to break it by trying to pull the panel off while it's in a locked state.


The back panel is removable and swappable with up to five other colors. The battery is revealed here. It's the large light gray plate on the left.

When held in landscape mode, the top of the tablet holds, from left to right, the power button, volume rocker, and rotation lock. Both the volume rocker and rotation lock are easily accessed, but the power button is embedded a tad too deeply and requires a more focused press to actually click. It's nowhere near as bad as the BlackBerry PlayBook's, which requires a pen to access properly, though.

On the opposite end of the top edge is the full-size SD card slot, which accepts cards of up to 128GB in capacity. Near the power button, on the bezel, are three LED indicator lights that glow to indicate when the power is on, when the battery's charging, or when wireless or Bluetooth is switched on. While you'd likely get used to the lights after a while, they're not typical of the tablet experience and can be distracting if you're looking for a completely clean interface.

On the bottom right side are the power and headphone jacks. Above them is a 3-inch-long door, concealing the full USB port, full HDMI port, and Mini-USB port. On each of the far sides of the bottom edge sit 1-inch-long speakers. In the middle of the bottom edge is a dock connector port.

The cameras are located on either side on the bezel in the middle of the tablet's left side. We found that when holding the Thrive in landscape mode, our fingers naturally blocked the rear lens. And while it's easy enough to move your finger down and out of the way, it's also less comfortable to hold it like that, especially given the tablet's heavier-than-average weight.


We think the Thrive's rear camera is ill-placed as evidenced by the fact that our fingers covered it virtually every time we turned it on.

Overall, the device feels solid and durable, and we found it comfortable to hold, if slightly bulky. Also, the edge where the back panel meets the end of the bezel feels a little sharp and was distracting when our fingers rubbed it.

Features
Under the hood, the Toshiba Thrive houses a 1GHz dual-core Nvidia Tegra 2 processor with a 10.1-inch capacitive touch screen and a 1,280x800-pixel resolution. All the usual tablet bell and whistles are here, including a gyroscope, accelerometer, ambient light sensor, GPS, and digital compass.

Some preinstalled software includes LogMeIn, PrinterShare, Quickoffice HD, and Need for Speed Shift. Toshiba also includes some propriety software: App Place is filled with mostly cloud-based applications (already available via the Android Market) that Toshiba recommends for use with the Thrive. Start Place is a well-designed news aggregator, and Book Place is Toshiba's e-reader and book market. Media Player aggregates all media on the tablet or on the network you're connected to, making it accessible from one interface.

Toshiba also includes a video enhancement feature that pumps up the color and contrast on standard-definition video, and while we did see some improvement, it's very subtle. 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's Ambient Noise Equalizer adjusts the tablet's volume based on the amount of noise in the area.

By far the best and most useful exclusive feature in the Thrive's repertoire is File Manager. This app provides native direct access to the file system, allowing you to easily launch files from the hard drive, SD card, or a connected USB thumbdrive. Directly accessing files in this manner is a nice, convenient shortcut and means you can manage files more closely.

Performance
So far, Honeycomb-based tablets have had similar Nvidia Tegra 2-based specs. The ones that have stood out for their performance had high-quality screens like the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 and T-Mobile G-Slate, and because of this, better visuals than their Honeycomb brethren.

The Thrive's interface is just as snappy as the others and its camera performance, including when shooting 720p video, is about Honeycomb-standard, which is very good, but not outstanding.

Attaching a full-size monitor via HDMI and playing HD video was seamless with no compression or bandwidth problems.

The In-Plane Switching (IPS) screen is about on par with other Honeycomb tablet screens, with great viewing angles, but it's missing the clarity and high color saturation of the T-Mobile G-Slate or especially the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1.

Tested spec Toshiba Thrive Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 Apple iPad 2 T-Mobile G-Slate HP TouchPad
Maximum brightness 337 cd/m2 336 cd/m2 432 cd/m2 424 cd/m2 292 cd/m2
Default brightness 131 cd/m2 336 cd/m2 176 cd/m2 143 cd/m2 85 cd/m2
Maximum black level 0.24 cd/m2 0.30 cd/m2 0.46 cd/m2 0.52 cd/m2 0.38 cd/m2
Default black level 0.10 cd/m2 0.30 cd/m2 0.19 cd/m2 0.18 cd/m2 0.11 cd/m2
Default contrast ratio 1,310:1 1,120:1 926:1 794:1 772:1
Contrast ratio (max brightness) 1,404:1 1,120:1 939:1 815:1 768:1

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 9.6

Conclusions
The 8GB version of the Toshiba Thrive is available for $430, andthe 16GB and 32GB versions are priced at $480 and $580, respectively. I won't go into what those prices say about the cost of memory and how easily it dictates tablet prices, but make no mistake: the Thrive's starting price is very aggressive. At $430, it's undercut only by the 16GB version of the Asus Transformer, available for $400, and, thanks to its extra features, the 8GB Thrive is a slightly better deal despite offering less storage space.

Those looking for a sleek, thin tablet should probably check out the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 instead. In the past we've criticized tablets for not being thin and sleek enough and preferred those that were. But the HP TouchPad didn't get dinged solely because of its bulky design; it was more that its bulky design offered no advantages. The Thrive, on the other hand, spends its extra real estate well, providing a full SD slot, a full USB port, and a full HDMI connection. Note the completely removable battery and you begin to see that the Thrive is not just bulky for bulk's sake. There's definite method to Toshiba's madness here.

Still, we would prefer it to be thinner, and the bad back camera placement and the sometimes clunky nature of its back-panel implementation won't win it any design awards.

Purchasers of the Thrive should know what they're getting into, but if you're comfortable with the extra girth, the Toshiba Thrive offers a great Honeycomb tablet experience at a very approachable price.

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