As 2011 draws to a close, it's fun to look back and think about how we began the year testing the first Honeycomb tablet, and are now ending it elbow-deep in me-too slates, many of them cut down to smaller sizes. So it should surprise no one, then, that Toshiba released the Thrive 7", a mini (and aptly named) version of the original Thrive, which went on sale last summer.

But in Toshiba's case, shrinking a tablet and calling it a day is a dicey proposition. After all, the 10-inch Thrive had some baggage -- namely, middling battery life, a chunky, toy-like design and a bug that initially kept it from waking after recharging. Indeed, the Thrive 7" looks near-identical, and even packs the same Tegra 2 chip, 16GB of storage and vanilla take on Honeycomb. Still, it brings an LED flash, keeps its big brother's 1280 x 800 display and costs less than the original did when it first came out. So are these improvements enough to make this smaller Thrive stand out? And how does it stack up against all those other 7-inch slates we've been testing lately? Let's find out.
Gallery | 23 Photos

Toshiba Thrive 7" review


Hardware


There's a reason this, too, is called the Thrive: it's very much a scaled-down version of the original 10-inch model we reviewed over the summer. For better and worse, all of the key design flourishes have returned: that textured, plastic back, the metal piece housing the twin 2MP / 5MP cameras and the hollow-feeling materials. The only differences (aside from the lack of any full-sized ports) are that the back cover and battery aren't removable, and the rear camera is now paired with an LED flash.

As always, the ridging on the lid makes it easy to cradle the tablet in either landscape or portrait mode. Still, more than ever it feels chintzy, especially compared to devices like the Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus or T-Mobile Springboard (aka Huawei MediaPad). This shouldn't be surprising, we suppose, given that the original Thrive felt also had a plasticky feel, but this time around it's up against the likes of the Kindle Fire, which feels better-made even though it costs almost two hundred bucks less.

At least the 7-inch Thrive makes amends for its big brother's chunky design: at 0.83 pounds (377g) and 0.47 inches (11.9mm) thick, it's as slim as (and slightly lighter than) the Fire and a shade thinner than the 0.48-inch-thick Nook Tablet (the two weigh the same). In every regard, it's denser than the 0.76-pound (345-gram) Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus, which measures 0.39 inches (9.96mm) thick, but that's clearly an exception, not the rule.


All told, it's a delightfully perfect size for a tablet, though to be fair, we say that about every 7-inch slate. Between the dimensions and easy-to-grip backing, we found typing in portrait and landscape easy -- unless you have toddler-sized hands you should enjoy plenty of leeway in your thumbs for adjusting the volume, tapping on spelling suggestions and other conveniences.

Now that those full-sized ports are gone, we're left with a proprietary docking connector on the bottom portrait side, whose accompanying cable you can use to charge the tablet over USB or using the bundled AC adapter. Staying on the bottom edge for a moment, the connector's flanked by the twin speakers. On the opposite side, up near the 2MP front-facing camera sits the requisite 3.5mm headphone jack. Meanwhile, the left side is home to the power / lock button, a volume rocker, a switch for locking the screen orientation and a door covering the micro-HDMI socket, mini-USB port and microSD slot.

Display and sound


Thanks to its 1280 x 800 pixel count, the Thrive 7" has the most densely packed display we've seen on a tablet this size. Additionally, it packs the same upscaling Resolution+ technology as the 10-inch Thrive and laptops like the Portege Z835. Of course, neither of these specs will make much of a difference when you're watching other people's home video videos on YouTube, but they'll make HD movies sing. While watching the video for "Marry the Night" (all bizarre 14 minutes of it), we caught all sorts of fine details: greasy skin, ink on skin, Ms. Gaga's natural hair color peeking out amid her bleached eyebrows. It's undoubtedly one of, if not the, crispest display you'll see on a 7-inch slate, though the Kindle Fire's IPS panel is brighter and offers wider viewing angles.

In fact, the viewing angles on the Thrive are pretty narrow, even when you step indoors, away from direct sunlight. We weren't satisfied with the contrast levels when we placed the tablet on a table in front of us, so we ended up cradling it in landscape, in as close to an upright position as possible. The problem is, when you hold the tablet this way your fingers are likely to obscure the small speakers on the left side. It's ironic, in a way, because as much as we dismiss the audio on most tablets as being too tinny, the sound here is actually quite balanced and pleasant -- when you can remember to rest your digits in the right place, anyway.

Performance

Toshiba Thrive 7" T-Mobile Springboard Acer Iconia Tab A100 Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus
Quadrant Would not run 1,871 Would not run 2,700
Linpack Single-thread (MFLOPS) 31.37 46.22 28.38 28.98
Linpack Multi-thread (MFLOPS) 57.08 58.81 55.36 69.47
NenaMark 1 (fps) 43.07 43.2 57 59.3
NenaMark 2 (fps) 19.2 27.9 24.5 41.8
Vellamo 1,045 1,161 1,057 1,198
SunSpider 9.1 (ms, lower numbers are better) 2,303 2,471 N/A 1,679

With NVIDIA's dual-core 1GHz Tegra 2 SoC, a vanilla Honeycomb build and 1GB of RAM, the Thrive doesn't present many surprises as far as performance goes. The screen responded briskly to our various taps and swipes, and apps launched quickly enough. The tab also kept up with us while we played Need for Speed Shift, serving up smooth graphics even as we made desperately abrupt turns to avoid that concrete wall on Tokyo's fourth track.

Nonetheless, brace yourself for some lag, even in the most rudimentary scenarios. Throughout testing, we found ourselves numbly tapping the settings shortcut multiple times before the tablet finally woke up and opened the menu. Other times, the Thrive came to a standstill while we searched for apps in Android Market. Look closely and you might notice a slight pause when you tap the home button to minimize an app. The benchmarks tell a similar story: for twenty dollars more, the Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus creams the Thrive in almost every benchmark, including SunSpider, where it chewed through code in a brisk 1,679 ms (versus the Thrive's 2,303 ms). Still, we want to be careful not to overstate these hiccups: the Thrive 7" is eminently usable, and if our brief experience with Tegra 3 is any indication, even that isn't yet a silver bullet for this kind of mundane sluggishness. (Ice Cream Sandwich, on the other hand..)

Battery life

Tablet
Battery Life
Toshiba Thrive 7" 4:42
Apple iPad 2 10:26
ASUS Eee Pad Transformer Prime 10:17
Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 9:55
Apple iPad 9:33
Motorola Xoom 2 8:57
HP TouchPad 8:33
Lenovo IdeaPad K1 8:20
Motorola Xoom 8:20
T-Mobile G-Slate 8:18
Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus 8:09
Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet 8:00
Archos 101 7:20
Archos 80 G9 7:06
RIM BlackBerry PlayBook 7:01
Acer Iconia Tab A500 6:55
T-Mobile Springboard (Huawei MediaPad) 6:34
Toshiba Thrive 6:25
Samsung Galaxy Tab 6:09
Motorola Xyboard 8.2 5:25
Velocity Micro Cruz T408 5:10
Acer Iconia Tab A100 4:54

Toshiba still hasn't found the secret to jaw-dropping (or even acceptable) longevity.

If you'll recall, battery life was one of multiple pain points for the original Thrive: it couldn't make up for its extra heft with superior runtime. Well, it looks like Toshiba still hasn't found the secret to jaw-dropping (or even acceptable) longevity. Despite its nine-hour rating, the Thrive lasted just four hours and 42 minutes in our standard battery test (video looping, WiFi on), making it the poorest showing we've seen to date. Even apart from our rundown test, we noticed the battery rating plummeting as we played with it. After just a few minutes of gaming, for example, our remaining capacity dropped eight percent. After 15 minutes of streaming YouTube clips at full-screen, it fell another eight percentage points. If you plan on taking this thing outside the living room, you best ration your time wisely.

And let's be clear on this point too: this is poor runtime even for a 7-inch tablet, whose battery would naturally be smaller than what you'd find inside a 10-incher. The Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus exceeds eight hours, for instance, and still manages to be thinner and lighter than the Thrive. Meanwhile, the Kindle Fire and Nook Tablet both come within about 20 minutes of the 7.0 Plus. Even a discounted BlackBerry PlayBook or first-gen Galaxy Tab would serve you better in this regard.

You should also know that for whatever reason, the Thrive charges over USB using the proprietary connector, but not a standard mini-USB cable. (In fact, there's not even a mini-USB cable included in the box.) Now, it's true, plenty of tablets don't charge via USB at all, but if you're likely to misplace a proprietary cable (guilty) it's frustrating to not be able to make use of any of the umpteen mini-USB cables you might have lying around.

Camera


It's hard to appreciate the Thrive 7" new LED flash, just because the act of taking photos on this device is such a royal pain in the derriere. Regardless of the lighting conditions, the camera is slow to focus, and even slower to take the shot once you tap the shutter button. Be prepared to stand still for several seconds before moving on, and hope that in the interim none of your subjects move or that no one happens to walk into the frame. When you can manage that, though, the camera is at least capable of some pleasant, balanced colors.
Gallery | 35 Photos

Toshiba Thrive 7" sample shots



Software

As with the original Thrive, Toshiba loaded the 7-inch version with stock Honeycomb (in this case, version 3.2.1). You will find one discreet widget, though: a carousel with two columns of thumbnails, which you can scroll through to find things like recently visited websites and a browser shortcut to download Toshiba's App Place. Like other widgets you'll see in Android 3.1 and higher, it's resizeable, so you can expand it from a from 2 x 2 grid to 4 x 2 if you so choose. And if this smells like bloatware, you can just chuck it as you would any other widget or shortcut.

You'll be happy to know the list of pre-installed apps is also brief, and those that made the cut are actually useful. These include Toshiba's handy File Manager, which we first saw on the original Thrive. Also present: Swype (not enabled by default), Toshiba Media Player, Netflix, Quickoffice, a 30-day trial of Kaspersky Tablet Security, NFS Shift and the intuitive PrinterShare for printing emails, photos, webpages and the like over a printer on the same WiFi network.

So even as is, the Thrive 7" is refreshingly devoid of crapware and annoying customizations, but it'll no doubt be even better when Toshiba updates it with Ice Cream Sandwich. Unfortunately, the company hasn't given any hints as to when that might happen, but it's still reassuring to know that your $380 investment will eventually pay off with a slicker UI and likely performance boost.

Configuration options and the competition

It's hard to say where the Thrive 7" fits in, or if it belongs at all.

The Thrive 7" starts at $380 for the 16GB version, with a $430 32GB number and $40 docking stand also available. That makes it slightly less expensive than other full-fledged tablets (whatever that means these days), but it's still a marked premium over the $200 you'll pay for the Kindle Fire. Starting at the low end, neither the Fire nor the Nook Tablet will remedy the Thrive's sluggish performance, but both are about as thin and light, and offer arguably better build quality (not to mention, unequivocally longer battery life).

Head back into the $400 range, and your standards should rise. The Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus is thinner, lighter, faster and about 40 percent more longevous, and its screen is more brilliant, too (even if the pixel count is lower). The T-Mobile Springboard ($430 off contract) doesn't last nearly as Sammy's new 7-incher, but it's similarly fast, sports a lovely IPS display and gives you the option of buying pay-as-you-go HSPA+ service. Either way, for nearly the same price as the Thrive, you can get something faster and longer-lasting with more awe-inspiring build quality.

Wrap-up


It's hard to say where the Thrive 7" fits in, or if it belongs at all. On the one hand, it's $130 to $180 more expensive than budget tabs like the Kindle Fire or Nook Tablet, and yet it offers little to justify its higher price: it isn't significantly thinner or lighter, its battery life craps out hours earlier and the build quality feels flimsier. The biggest advantage, so far as we're concerned, is that it runs Honeycomb and is ICS-ready. Even then, you may as well resign yourself to spending an additional $20 on the Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus, which is slimmer, lighter, faster, longer-lasting and better-made. Regardless of what you're willing to spend, though, the Thrive 7" has issues, and that high-res display isn't nearly enough to make up for them.
Toshiba

Toshiba Thrive 7

Pros

  • High-res display
  • Great size, easy to hold

Cons

  • Exceptionally short battery life
  • Cheap build quality
  • Similarly priced tablets are faster
  • Taking photos is a slowgoing process
Summary