Toshiba Thrive: Boxy, but it's good.

Summary:The Toshiba Thrive won't win any beauty contests. But it should be on the top of your list if you are considering a full-size Android tablet.

The Toshiba Thrive won't win any beauty contests. But it should be on the top of your list if you are considering a full-size Android tablet.

Another day, another Android Honeycomb tablet. They're all the same, right? Same nVidia Tegra 2 reference hardware, same general specifications on screen size and resolution. BOR-ING.

That's what I thought when I heard Toshiba was introducing its own tablet, another "me too" in the Android space, the Thrive.

I mean, we've already got the Motorola XOOM, the Acer Iconia A500, the Asus Transformer, and now the ultra-sexy and thin Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1, which is generally regarded as the front-runner out of all of these devices and the only one of this group that currently presents any real challenge to Apple's iPad 2.

There are a couple of things that made this particular "Me too" stand out, however. It's... the least sexy of the entire bunch. And that's good.

To put this in perspective, I give you this classic scene from the 1990 comedy film Crazy People, starring Dudley Moore, Paul Reiser and a still very in her prime Daryl Hannah.

Dudley's character, an advertising executive who undergoes a nervous breakdown, recruits a bunch of people in an psychiatric facility to help him come up with unique advertising pitches for difficult products to sell.

Volvo, the Swedish automobile company is stuck with an image problem of being a safe but boring car, gets this "Truth in advertising" treatment from his team of lunatics. What do they come up with? "Buy Volvos. They're boxy, but they're good."

I'm gonna throw the same pitch at you. Buy the Toshiba Thrive. It's Boxy, but it's good.

What Toshiba has done is take their experience with manufacturing laptops and apply it to Android tablets. Unlike the other tablets listed in this article, the Thrive has a user-removable 6-cell Lithium Ion battery pack which is easily accessible by snapping off the rear of the tablet.

This large replaceable battery pack gives the device excellent battery life, but it also makes the device thicker and heavier than all of its competitors. It makes it boxy.

Like the Acer Iconia A500 and the Motorola XOOM, the Thrive uses a proprietary barrel connector to charge using the included 2 amp power brick/cord.

Like the XOOM and the Iconia, the Thrive has a 2MP camera in front and 5MP camera in the rear.

The shipping unit comes with a black rear plastic casing which has a nice grooved contour on it that will help prevent the device from slipping out of your hand, which is an example of good practical industrial design.

You can also get the rear cover in other colors to make it more stylish, but I think thats probably a frivolous accessory for $20.

The Thrive is ugly, and I don't see any purpose in trying to make it less so. You're better off trying to find a decent carrying case for it.

Other good things about this device: Screen has excellent brightness and clarity, which is to be expected from a Japanese firm like Toshiba. Application performance is identical to what you would see on a Motorola XOOM or on a Galaxy Tab or any other Tegra 2-based tablet.

Speakers are adequately loud in terms of volume but can sound a bit tinny at times. The headphone jack produced really good results with streamed and locally played music using good quality headphones.

While Toshiba has more or less left Honeycomb unmodified with the exception of a few curated utilities (such as an integrated file manager) they have added SRS multimedia controls into the Honeycomb system settings which I found useful and improved audio quality.

The device is manufactured in China, but I think a lot of Japanese sensibility made its way into the device. For example, instead of just a MicroUSB port, the device also has a full-size USB port.

This allowed me to connect my Apple Mac keyboard to it, which has an integrated USB port on it, along with a PC mouse, and actually use it as a pseudo-PC and do real writing on it. It also allows you to connect any number of other regular USB peripherals to the tablet such as external hard drives and thumb drives.

Toshiba also offers a Bluetooth keyboard and also a docking port for the device, but I haven't had a chance to test these accessories yet.

In addition to the full-size and micro USBs, the device also has a full-size, standard HDMI connector. This is great if you have a big screen HDTV and want to mirror the device's display, which happens automatically after connecting the HDMI cable. I tested this on my 27" Samsung LED monitor this morning and it looked fantastic.

You could literally hook the tablet up to a large screen, mouse and keyboard and turn this thing into an Android PC.

In addition to the full-size HDMI, for storage expansion the Thrive uses a regular SDHC/SDXC slot, not a MicroSD slot.

This is especially useful if you just want to pop a storage card out of your camera and view the photos you've just taken on your tablet, or if you have a bunch of these standard SD cards already. For example, I was able to use 4GB, 8GB and 16GB Sandisk SDHC cards and even a 64GB Lexar Media SDXC card in the device without any problems.

Toshiba has licensed proprietary drivers that permit exFAT-formatted media to be used on the device, even though the Linux kernel doesn't support Microsoft's exFAT filesystem yet.

Where I did run into some issues was using MicroSD cards that I had previously used with other Android tablets in the Thrive's SD slot using SD adapter sabots.

I had purchased a bunch of inexpensive 16GB Sandisk MicroSD cards from Amazon which came with SD adapters.

The problem was that I couldn't initally get the Thrive to recognize them. After some trial and error, it turned out that the particular adapter that one of the chips came with had some sort of compatibility issue with the tablet, even though my PC USB card reader from Lexar was able to use it on my Mac, my Windows 7 PC and my Linux workstation just fine.

After trying a different adapter from the same batch of chips I ordered, the MicroSD chip I had used previously worked fine.

My recommendation? If you get a Thrive, stick with regular SD cards.

Other minor nitpicks with this otherwise very good Android tablet -- during the initial setup process, the Wi-Fi network search hangs and I had to exit the setup process and manually "wake up" the Wi-Fi adapter by toggling it on and off. This seems to be an issue that presents itself occasionally, and Toshiba is working on a fix for this.

One thing to nitpick about this otherwise excellent tablet is that like the Acer Iconia A500, the wireless chip only supports 2.4Ghz bands.

The Samsung Galaxy Tab and the Motorola XOOM (as well as the iPad 2 and HP's TouchPad) support both 2.4 and 5Ghz bands, which is good if you want to use a different frequency range to try to get better reception in your house or office, but all of these tablets generally have one antenna and you can't take advantage of the 5Ghz Wireless-N MIMO throughput on your router without multiple antennae and 40Mhz "Turbo" channel width on the device.

Additionally, I have encountered an issue where the tablet goes to "sleep" after putting it aside for a few minutes or an hour and when you try to wake it up with the power button, it doesn't wake up and you have to do a full reboot of the OS. Again, a minor issue, but Toshiba is working on a fix.

These otherwise minor issues should not sway anyone looking in the Android space for a tablet from considering the Thrive.

It fills an interesting niche in that it is priced aggressively ($429 for the 8GB version) and that it has some key differentiating features that allow it to compete nicely with the other players in the space, and where practicality, battery life and connectivity/data exchange is a more important consideration for the consumer than slim/weight.

Are you considering the Toshiba Thrive? Talk Back and Let Me Know.

Topics: Laptops, Android, Hardware, Mobility, Tablets, Toshiba

About

Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet is a technologist with over two decades of experience with integrating large heterogeneous multi-vendor computing environments in Fortune 500 companies. Jason is currently a Partner Technology Strategist with Microsoft Corp. His expressed views do not necessarily represent those of his employer... Full Bio

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