If the Thrive were a person, it'd be weeping on the couch with a pint of Ben & Jerry's right about now. Even before it went on sale earlier this month, it was fielding taunts for being something of a fatso. It's a shame, really, given that most of the bullies haven't seen it in person. That's not to say the Thrive is skinny -- at .62 inches thick it is, indeed, chunkier than other slates on the market. Why, that's nearly double the thickness of Samsung's Galaxy Tab 10.1
, which measures 0.33 inches deep. And at 1.66 pounds, it's a touch heavier than the first-generation iPad, which has since gone on a diet.
The thing is, it's not a big deal. In fact, you might even find it feels lighter than you'd expect. Now it's true, after getting some hands-on time
with Sony's forthcoming S2 slate, we were reminded that the Thrive is heavier than most. Still, it doesn't feel as dense as the Motorola Xoom, even though the Xoom weighs a whole tenth of a pound less. All told, it's still light enough that we didn't think twice about tossing it in our tote bag and walking around with it all day. And when it comes to web surfing on your couch with it propped up against your leg -- a likely scenario with a WiFi only tablet -- the Thrive's plump derriere makes zero difference. If anything, we take issue with the Thrive's dimensions. At 10.97 x 6.97 inches, it's about as narrow as other 10-inchers such the Galaxy Tab 10.1, but longer. That doesn't make a difference in portrait mode, but it does
make holding it in landscape that much more unwieldy.
Even after a week of testing, we had a hard time coming to terms with the Thrive's decidedly inelegant design. The back side is decked out in a rubberized finish that makes it look somewhat cheap (the flimsy port covers don't help). To its credit, though, that soft material makes it near-impossible for your fingers to slip off. The lid's textured pattern reminds us of Toshiba's netbooks, except the lines cross the back side at symmetrical diagonal angles. That lid, too, is removable, as is the battery -- something we'll touch on more in a bit. Although the Thrive comes in black, you can buy swappable, colorful covers in "Blue Moon, "Raspberry Fusion," "Lavender Bliss," "Silvery Sky," and "Green Apple" for $20 a pop.
Unlike most tablets, which require you to hold them in landscape mode to take photos, the Thrive placed both cameras along one of the shorter edges, so that you can hold it comfortably in portrait mode while you shoot. As you can see, Toshiba framed them with a metal piece that drapes over the edge of the tablet. On the outward-facing side, you'll find some prominent "With Google" branding, along with the rear camera's 5 megapixel resolution, spelled out. When we previewed the Thrive last month, we noticed more than a few commenters say this metal flourish alone would be a deal-breaker. We disagree, though we think the branding is especially unfortunate-looking. It calls to mind something you'd pick up at a hardware store -- an odd, faux-industrial flourish for a tablet that otherwise feels like a toy.
Normally, we don't have much to say about ports when we review tablets, but in this case, they're the star of the show. Starting on the side with the cameras, you'll find a lock switch for the locking down the removable lid. Moving clockwise to the right side, there's a power button, volume rocker, and lever to lock the screen orientation, with the full-sized SDXC slot sitting at the other end. On the bottom of the tablet (this would be the edge opposite the cameras), there are open headphone and mic ports, along with a covered door behind which you'll find full-sized USB and HDMI ports and a mini-USB socket. Finally, on that last long edge you'll find a covered 30-pin docking connector flanked by small speakers. So, just to re-orient you, if you were holding the tablet in portrait mode with the cameras sitting up top, the docking connector would be on the left side. Given that we occasionally
see USB ports on tablets, it's the combination of all these sockets and slots that's really bowling us over.
The Thrive is reminiscent of a laptop in one other, more unfortunate way. It has three LED lights built into the bezel so that you can see white-and-orange sparkles when the battery is low, when Bluetooth is on, and, at the very least, when the power is on. Even on our laptops, we like our LED lights hidden, and we feel even more strongly about it with tablets, where we've just come to expect a cleaner design.
Display and Sound
The 10.1-inch display crams in 1280 x 800 pixels, matching the Galaxy Tab 10.1 and other identically sized slates. Though it's plenty bright, the viewing angles aren't particularly wide. We had an easy time watching a movie with the tablet placed face-up on a table in front of us, and we were also able to make out the screen while watching from an off-center position. But as we moved further to the side and tried watching from more oblique angles, the contrast ratio started looking more severe. As a bonus, Toshiba threw in the same Resolution+ technology it uses to clean up and upscale video on its laptops, but you'll be hard-pressed to notice the difference on such a small display. If you like, you can disable this feature, though we didn't feel the need to.
The small stereo speakers are loud, but never too
loud. While watching a movie alone indoors with a noisy air conditioner whirring in the background, we kept the volume cranked to the max, and didn't really feel the need to turn it down. At some point during our testing, a friend joined us while we ran the benchmarks Nenamark 1 and 2 in the background. Ultimately, the sounds emanating from the tests were just loud enough to be distracting, but not so deafening that we couldn't carry on a conversation over them.
Aside from volume, Toshiba also included software designed to enrich audio quality -- a feature that doesn't come enabled out of the box. Back when we previewed the Thrive, we said even with this enhancement, we could still detect some tinniness coming out of the small speakers. After a week of testing, we stand by that -- the sound quality doesn't stick out as terrible; it's just not extraordinary.
We must have looked pretty silly the first time we tried to remove the back cover. The thing is, it's much easier to pry the lid off a phone, when you can cradle it, and bear down on the back cover with your thumbs for leverage. Try doing that with a 10-inch tablet and see how far you get. After much fumbling, we figured out the best way to go about this is to first open the door covering all those full-sized ports. Then wedge your fingernail into the crack underneath that compartment, and pull the lid toward you until the whole thing falls away with a discomfiting snap
. (Digging your fingers into the openings near the speakers also works.) Once we got past that learning curve, removing the lid was a cinch. Hopefully, we just spared some of you a bit of frustration.
Battery life and power management
The Thrive has a 23Wh, 2,030 mAh battery that's rated for a max of eleven hours. Should you want to carry around a fresh one to swap in, Toshiba sells spares for $80 each.
And depending on your lifestyle, you might want to think about getting one. Compared to other products, the Thrive's small battery craps out pretty quickly. It lasted six hours and twenty-five minutes in our test (movie looping, WiFi on, and Bluetooth off), trailing far behind the iPad 2
's nearly ten-and-a-half-hour run and the 10.1's roughly ten-hour spin. Even tablets whose battery live we'd call mediocre largely manage to land somewhere in the seven to eight-hour range.
That said, with lighter usage patterns we found we could get away with not charging it every night. After an hour of checking email, watching an HD YouTube trailer, tweaking the tablet's settings, glancing intermittently at Engadget and Google Calendar, and downloading three apps, we still had 87 percent charge left. We did notice that web surfing (including some Flash sites), drained the battery life faster than any of those other activities we mentioned earlier. After just ten minutes of browsing, our battery life rating fell five percent. On the bright side, the Thrive sips little power when it's sitting idle: after two hours and forty minutes, its battery life rating fell just two percent.
Nonetheless, the Thrive is far from perfect in the power management department. While testing it, we saw reports
that the tablet doesn't always wake from sleep mode -- not unless you perform a cold boot, that is. At first, we said to ourselves, "Sweet! We must be one of the lucky ones." Not so fast. Soon after, we tried to wake up our sleeping tablet, but were left pressing the power / lock button in vain. This always happened after we recharged the Thrive using the bundled AC adapter; it hasn't been an issue when we've left it sitting around unplugged.
As of this writing, Toshiba has at least acknowledged
the issue and said it'll push out a fix through the Toshiba Service Station app that comes pre-loaded on the tablet. Alas, though, it's unclear when we can expect Toshiba to pull through. Suffice it to say, we see this not as an excuse to ignore the Thrive, but more of a reason to hold off on buying one right now.
Like so many other tablets on the market, the Thrive runs on NVIDIA's Tegra 2 SoC. A cold boot took about 20 seconds, matching the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1, which packs the same 1GHz chip. Once we swiped through the lock screen, the tablet took less than two seconds to bring up Honeycomb.
For the most part, the Thrive responded snappily to our taps and swipes, as well as multi-touch gestures like pinching and zooming. Occasionally, though, we noticed a slight pause when we pressed the home button to abruptly minimize applications. All told, we saw the biggest performance drops while browsing websites built on Flash -- an area where we've seen other Honeycomb tablets stumble. The New York restaurant Lattanzi, for instance, only displays four items on its menu at once, forcing you to press a "Next" button to see more. The Thrive struggled with that, leaving us jabbing blankly at the screen before our taps finally took. In another instance, we were perusing Uniqlo.com, and found that when we pulled up an item of clothing to get more details, scrolling suddenly became choppy. At least the Thrive loaded those Flash sites quickly, even if its performance suffered once we started poking around. In any case, we're more inclined to say that Google -- not Toshiba -- could still stand to enhance the Flash experience.
On the bright side, typing on the stock Android keyboard felt consistently breezy, with few spelling errors to report after a week of testing. Really, the speed is limited only by your ability to peck out letters. Incidentally, the tablet is narrow enough that typing in portrait mode is easy, even if you do have dainty hands (like some
of us). Incidentally, the tablet also comes with Swype
installed, if you think dragging a line between letters would be a more ergonomic experience than tapping away with two fingers. Personally, we remain dubious -- after all, isn't the beauty of Swype that you can hold a device with one hand and use those same fingers to type? Still, it's nice that folks have the option of using it.
If you're looking for some hard numbers, we ran the Android-compatible benchmarks Linpack, Quadrant, and Nenamark 1 and 2. As you can see, its Quadrant score of 1,584 matches the 1,546 the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 notched after an update to Android 3.1. But Quadrant, of course, is just one piece of the benchmarking puzzle, though we think it's meaningful that the two tablets share the same chip and also happen to be well-matched in real-world tests, such as cold boots. If you're a benchmark junkie, though, you'll find a handful of other scores in the handy chart below.
In the grand tradition of tablet cameras, the Thrive's 5 megapixel rear-facing one struggles in low light and in situations where your subject is moving. The Thrive does other tablets one worse, though, by casting a bluish tint over pictures. We also found grainy bits in many of our photos, even if we took them with ample lighting, and even when we viewed them in their shrunken, resized form.
To boot, this isn't the smoothest picture-taking experience you'll get on a tablet. Remember how we said Toshiba stuck the cameras on one of the shorter edges, so that they'll be on top if you shoot in portrait mode? That's all well and good if you want to frame shots vertically, but if you start snapping pics in landscape, you might find that your mitts accidentally obscure the lens. Not exactly a problem we've had with other slates whose cameras sit on one of the two longer sides.
In terms of unwanted tints, we had better luck with the 2 megapixel front-facing camera, though as you can imagine, the sharpness and level of detail aren't good enough for actual, you know, photography. But for video chatting the bright image quality should do just fine.