Toshiba didn't exactly jump into the tablet market head first, but now that it's come clean with the Thrive, its first pad for the US market, it's wasting no time -- we just got some hands-on with the 10.1-inch, Android 3.1-powered slate -- which, by the by, is the first we know of to sport a removable battery. It's also got a few more rarities: full-sized USB and HDMI ports and a full-sized SDHC / SDXC slot. Oh, and its $429 starting price ain't bad either. So was Toshiba's entry into the world of Android tablets worth the wait? Join us for a tour past the break, and decide for yourself.
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Toshiba Thrive hands-on
This is the part where we eat crow. When the Thrive was first announced, we expressed some preemptive concerns about its weight. At 1.6 pounds, after all, it's as heavy as the first-gen 3G iPad. In practice, as it turns out, numbers aren't everything. The Thrive feels light in the hand -- lighter than you'd expect, given both its weight as well as its chunky profile. We'd even go so far as to say that it feels airier than the Xoom, which, at 1.5 pounds, is noticeably denser.
What's more, the Thrive is just really comfortable to hold. It's easy to rest your fingers on the contoured back, and that soft, rubberized finish makes it near-impossible for your hands to slip. Cosmetically, the back cover reminds us of the textured lids on Toshiba's netbooks, only instead of a linear pattern, the indented lines cross the backside at symmetrical diagonal angles. We also like how Toshiba tucked the full-sized USB and HDMI ports (along with the mini USB) underneath a discreet door, thereby keeping the sides relatively clean. Overall, though, even with a metal logo imprinted on the back and a matching chrome piece surrounding both the front and rear cameras, it doesn't have the same industrial gravitas as the Xoom. Then again, if the upshot is a more ergonomic design, then that's a tradeoff we can tolerate.
The 10.1-inch (1280 x 800) display has a wholly responsive touchscreen, and while it's plenty bright, it'll look the most brilliant if you stare it down it head-on. Even with the tablet sitting on a table in front of us, we noticed some glare, and the colors appeared somewhat washed-out. We'd also hope that the bezels on Toshiba's future tablets are a bit narrower than this one -- having a more seamless display might have helped offset the Thrive's thick, almost toy-like silhouette.
On the software side, the Thrive will be one of the first tablets to ship with Android 3.1. Toshiba chose not to layer its own UI on top (a wise move, we think), though it did bundle a few utilities you might find handy, including a file manager and a tool that lets you connect to any printers using the same WiFi network. The printing helper was our favorite, since it gives you a list of apps that might contain printable material, such as Gmail, at which point you can select the document you want. We like the idea of the file manager, especially the fact that you can tap and hold icons to do things such as copy them, at which point you can use the tabbed interface to drop them in internal, SD, or USB storage. That tap-and-hold command was less-than-responsive during our demo, though to be fair, we were playing with a pre-production unit with not-final software, so we'll reserve judgment until our full review.
Moving along, the Thrive comes with Swype on board -- another tablet novelty -- though we tend to think this kind of keyboard is more useful on a phone because you can hold it one-handed and type with those same fingers. Lastly, Toshiba included some software of its own, including the same Resolution+ technology it uses on its laptops and TVs to clean up and upscale video. What we didn't know until today was that the company also bundled audio enhancement software to help make bass notes pop. Indeed, it helped squeeze some deeper low notes out of "Rapper's Delight," but we could still detect some tinniness coming out of the two small speakers. Toshiba also threw in its own media organization software, though we still prefer the native Gallery app's glossier UI.
So there you have it -- our first few minutes of quality time with the Thrive. We're still itching to put it through its paces for a few days, but for now, get your fill of hands-on photos and video.