This week I got a chance to play with the Toshiba Thrive. And the first thing I noticed about this Android Tablet is its rather robust in its design and a tad hefty. Also, with its 10.1” wide-screen touchscreen, with a resolution of 1280 x 800, it’s easy to see how Toshiba had movie watching in mind. But the sad fact is, that’s pretty much all I’d really use the Thrive for, that and maybe some Facebook or Twitter. And even then, there’s an utter lack of frustration in the experience that really isn’t Toshiba’s fault … it’s Android’s.

First off, before we get into that, let’s break down it’s specs.

Hardware

Dimension wise, the Toshiba Thrive is a bit thick at .62 inches, and could stand to go on a diet with a weight of 1.6 lbs. The tablet is 10.75” x 6.97” x 0.6, and has a ribbed, rubberized, non slip backing which makes the user feel like it’ll stay in hand without worry. The Thrive has a wide screen a dual-core 1GHz Tegra 2 chip and 1GB of RAM – pretty mainstream in the Android Tablet market. That makes it great for video gaming and watching a movie on it’s 10.1-inch, 1280 x 800 screen. But sadly, the speakers that come with the Thrive are woefully terrible – very tiny and distorted – almost like a cheap AM radio. And the volume buttons are backwards?! Very strange. So if you’re going to do anything that requires listening to audio, the best bet is to use a pair of headphones.

Other features include a full-size HDMI for connecting to your HDTV, but you can also take advantage of the latest fun feature in the mobile world – mirroring, where the video image can be wirelessly streamed to a compatible HDTV. The Thrive also comes with either 8 GB, 16 GB, or 32 GB and it has the usual SD card slots for increasing your on board storage. There’s also the usual USB plug. Navigation buttons are all virtual through the Android 3.1 Honeycomb OS, giving the screen a tad more real estate.

The Thrive also uses dual cameras – one a typically cheap 2mp for video chat and then a 5 MP rear facing camera, which frankly I don’t consider a big deal because if I’m out and about taking pictures, I’m doing it with my smart phone. Using a tablet for taking photos is just, plain ungainly.

The Thrive comes with a removable 2030 mAh battery which claims a battery life of 11 hours.

Performance

OK, now that we’ve gotten the physical description out of the way, let’s turn it on. The power button on the upper right is really nothing to write home about. It works. It’s not super responsive, meaning you have to push down solid and hold for a second, but what else is new? And ironically, turning off is faster. But do I really have to confirm I want to turn it off? I guess it’s prudent, but come on. I turned it off, didn’t I? Don’t ask again.

Boot time to the screen is about average – as it has to run through a tedious flash animation while it loads the Android OS. Then you have move the lock to get to the main screen. There, you get the basic Android experience.

Now some like Android, and that’s fine. But I really don’t care for it. It’s the “PC” to the iOS’s Mac. Clunky and not ready for prime time. You have to go into settings and then manage applications just to force close or uninstall an App and that’s just plain tedious. Booting into apps like Facebook, Twitter and the Browser is fairly fast though, but I had several crashes with other apps. But that may be the fault of the apps themselves. Downloading, even on a broadband WiFi connection took longer than I would have liked. In fact, when watching trailers at Quicktime Trailers, I often had to wake the tablet up. And there were several trailers I just plain gave up on. Watching YouTube, I sometimes had stutter. On the iPad, by contrast, they would pop right up and start playing with great audio and no jitter. The Thrive handles Flash pretty well, don’t get me wrong, but cheap mono audio and streaming live video left me with a lackluster, “artifacty” experience.

The screen is crisp if you’re watching video indoors and away from a strong light source. Otherwise the glare from the screen can be off putting unless you angle it slightly. But even at extreme angles you can watch the screen, making sharing a video doable.

But where the Thrive really shines is in game play.  We played the demo of Need for Speed and the game was extremely responsive and fun to play (too bad I stink at driving games). Playing Angry Birds was a ton of fun with decent graphics, but the sounds simply doesn’t cut it unless I use headphones.

Skype worked via WiFi, and that’s where you’re reliant because the Thrive has no 3G connection, so you have to Skype where you’re WiFi connection is.

And as for battery life? Suffice it to say that like all PR Specifications that promise long battery life, the promise more hype than reality. I found the Thrive, with regular use, didn’t last the day, making it necessary to plug in at least once. And while we’re talking about plugging in, what’s up with the laptop size AC Adapter? Most tablets come with a tiny USB/AC plug, but Toshiba went old school and that means lugging around a hefty AC. FAIL.

At the end of the day, the Toshiba Thrive proves once again why the iPad enjoys a 24-1 sales ratio over all Android tablets. Although well put together, with a very wide screen cinematic design, it’s simply average in performance, making the name “Thrive” somewhat a misnomer.   If you’re an Android geek, this may be a tablet for you.

Editor’s Rating:

Rating: ★★★☆☆

Good

The Bottom Line:  If you’re all about all around execution, then, at prices starting at $499, it should perform far better than it does.  But like I said, it isn’t really it’s fault.

Pros:

  • Wide screen high resolution touchscreen
  • Great for game play with Tegra 2 processor
  • Rubberized, non slip backing

Cons:

  • Horrible, mono speakers on board
  • Android 3.01 OS not ready for Tablets
  • A bit heavy to hold

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James DeRuvo