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The Swiss Army Knife of Tablets: Toshiba's Thrive
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Date: Jul 27, 2011
Section:Mobile
Author: Dave Altavilla
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Toshiba Thrive Specs and Video Demo

Android Honeycomb based tablets are beginning to feel like they're a dime a dozen. 10.1-inch slates are coming out of the woodwork from a bunch of major players, and for all intents and purposes, they're built upon very similar base platforms with NVIDIA's Tegra 2 processor powering them. Capacitive touch displays, integrated 802.11 WiFi, 8 - 32GB of ROM storage, 1GB of RAM, accelerometers, gyroscopes, front and rear facing cameras and Android 3.1 -- you know the drill.

Fortunately, beyond the cookie-cutter reference platform, some manufacturers are building tablets that stand out from the crowd.  Asus stepped out early with an innovative approach to expanding the tablet experience and Samsung decided to take on the iPad 2's thin and sleek design approach but augmented that with what is arguably (or perhaps not depending on your tastes) the best looking tablet display currently on the market.

Toshiba historically has been known for building notebooks that perhaps aren't as thin and sleek as other machines but rather have a build quality and feature set that is best-of-class.  On the tablet front, Toshiba's first effort with an Android-based 10-inch slate looks to be cut from the same cloth.  The not-so svelte Toshiba Thrive showed up here recently for testing and a run-through with our usual fine-toothed comb of analysis.  How does it measure up in the buzzing hive of Honeycomb goodness already in the market?  You're about to find out.

Toshiba Thrive Android 3.1 Tablet
Specifications & Features
Display:  10.1" LED Backlight WXGA (1280x800) LCD
Capacitive Touch, Multi-Touch, Scratch resistant glass

CPU:
  NVIDIA® Tegra™ 2 @ 1GHz
Memory: 
   1GB
Storage:
  8GB/16GB/32GB Models

Wireless Data Network:
WLAN 802.11 b/g/n@2.4GHz

Bluetooth V3.0 + HS

Camera:
2MP Pixel Front Camera, 5MP Pixel Rear Camera, 720P HD Video


Audio:

Toshiba Sound Enhancements, SRS Premium Sound Stereo Speakers, High Quality
Mic

Interfaces:

1 x 3.5mm Audio Jack (Headphone)
1 x Full-Sized HDMI 1.3a
1 x Card Reader, Full-Sized SD Card Slot
1 x Full-Sized USB 2.0 Port
1 x Mini USB Port
1 x Docking Connector
Sensors:
Ambient Light Sensor
Gyroscope
Accelerometer

Multi-Task Support :
Yes
Flash Support :
Yes

Software :

- Android 3.1 (Honeycomb) Operating System
- TOSHIBA App Place, TOSHIBA BookPlace™, TOSHIBA Media Player, TOSHIBA Service Station, TOSHIBA File Manager
- Adobe® AIR® Runtime, Adobe® Flash, Kaspersky Tablet Security, LogMeIn Ignition, Hardwood Backgammon by SilverCreek Games, Hardwood Euchre by SilverCreek Games, Hardwood Solitaire IV by SilverCreek Games, Hardwood Hearts by Silvercreek Games, Hardwood Spades by Silvercreek Games, MOG Music, Printer Share™, Quickoffice®, Need for Speed™ Shift by EA Mobile

Battery: Up to 11 hours: 23Wh Li-Polymer Battery

Dimensions:
10.75" W x 0.62" D x 6.97" H
Weight:
1.6lbs.
Warranty: 1 Year Limited Warranty


We know what you're thinking and yes, the Thrive is over a half inch thick.  But before you get your slide rule in a jam, take a good look at the type and number of ports on this tablet.  Toshiba is one of, if not the first, manufacturer we've seen offering a full-sized SD card slot in an Android 3.1 tablet.  You also get a full-sized HDMI port and a full-sized USB port with the Thrive, so there's good reason for that bit of extra bulk, but it doesn't stop there. The back skin of the Thrive (as you hopefully witnessed in our video preview above here) is also removable and its battery is user-serviceable.  As such, the Thrive has a few things going for it that a lot of competitive tablets don't.
 
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Toshiba Thrive Design
The Thrive doesn't make any apologies for its size and weight.  It's built with very rugged construction and is designed to be full-featured. It's a tablet, so it's still relatively thin, but Toshiba took the stance that they would address some of the inherent limitations in many tablets already out there; most of which pertain to expandability and accessibility. You'll have to tolerate a slate that is just over half-an-inch thick and weighs a little over 1.5lbs. You wafer-thin types might be inclined to whine about that but we say suck-it-up and deal with it. The Thrive brings a bunch of extra utility, not just junk in the trunk.

 

Ports-a-Plenty Including Full-Sized HDMI and USB

The top edge of the Thrive has a traditional volume rocker, power button and screen orientation lock switch.  Also along the top edge is a full-sized SD Flash card reader slot.  So, why did it take so long to get this simple feature into a tablet?  Good question. Thank you, Toshiba, for giving user direct access to their images and videos recently shot on SD cards. Those gathered around the coffee table thank you as well. Except for Uncle Ernie. He's never into the family photo tour anyway. The bottom edge of the Thrive has two speaker ports and a synch/dock port that has a removable (and easily lost) dust cover. 

However, the right edge of the Thrive -- well, that's where the party's going on.  Here Toshiba located the power input port and a traditional headphone jack.  Next door to those two, behind a small concealing panel (and tethered to the tablet thankfully), are the Thrive's full-sized USB and HDMI ports, as well as a mini USB port. Care to attach a mouse or USB stick directly to the tablet?  No problem.  Toshiba also compliments all of this added functionality with some software as well.  More on this later.

 


 
Along the left edge of the slate, just above its 2MP front-facing web cam, is a back cover release switch.  Push that switch to the unlocked position and then you can carefully pull off the back skin of the Thrive.  From there you have access to the tablet's Lithium Ion battery as well as the blue CMOS battery you see here. Access to the CMOS battery could come in handy perhaps, for hard resets.
      
Toshiba Thrive Optional Dock

Finally, in addition to other accessories, like different color backings and cases for the Thrive, Toshiba sells an optional dock, which can turn your tablet into a multimedia file server for slideshows and video, when connected to an HDTV over its HDMI port.  Just drop the Thrive into the dock and there's no messing with wires to get it hooked up.  You also get additional USB ports and a headphone jack on the dock as well. This setup could even come in handy with a USB mouse and keyboard plugged in, should you want to get some real work done on the Thrive.

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User Interface and Camera Performance
The Thrive's software setup is pretty much a stock Android 3.1 experience with a couple of Toshiba-built services plugged in as apps for the tablet.  There are also a couple of useful Toshiba-built utilities installed as well. Otherwise, from top to bottom the experience is pretty much just what Android delivers and relatively light on bloatware thankfully.

 



 
Toshiba's Custom File Manager and Media Player Apps

You get 5 customizable home screens along with the traditional Honeycomb interface, its copy and paste functionality, multi-tasking support via the task manager pane and resizable widgets.  Toshiba also includes a custom-built file manager that does a nice job of organizing files from three primary sources on in the tablet: internal memory, SD card and external USB storage.  The media player app is pretty straight-forward but does offer a nice UI and also the ability to browse network sources for content as well.

 
 
Toshiba Start Place, App Place, and Book Place - EA's Need For Speed: Shift

The Thrive also comes with pre-installed Toshiba App and Book stores, as well as a news portal app.  The app store has some novel items and a fairly sleek UI but the tablet also comes with Google's stock Android market as well. The same thing goes for the books store app and Google's Book market is on board too.  These apps might provide some additional content sources but neither are going to compete all that well versus what Google and other major content players like Amazon and others provide in currently available apps.  EA's Need For Speed: Shift was a nice touch, though only a demo version.


Still image shot courtesy of Toshiba Thrive 5MP camera - cute factor not included.

Finally, we took a quick snap with the Thrive's on-board 5MP camera and it's safe to say performance was on par with what we've seen from other Android tablets in this price range.  The camera app you use is also what comes stock with Android 3.1, which is actually quite full-featured and handy.  As we've seen previously with other tablets, in low light situations, you need a steady hand for stills, and even then, images will still be a grainy. However, in outdoor lighting, image quality is fairly solid. The tablet's 720p HD video quality isn't going to rival even a Flip video camera either, but it's still nice to have for random, spur of the moment shots nonetheless.
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Performance Benchmarks

Next, we'll take a look at how the Toshiba Thrive compares to other tablets by running a few common benchmarks that are currently available in the Android Marketplace.  The first two tests are general purpose computing type benchmarks.

CPU testing
Android CPU testing

Linpack measures floating point compute power of the Android operating system and the processor driving it. Here, all of our Tegra 2 based competitors running Android 3.1 appear to be pretty much on par with each other.  The only slight stand-out is ViewSonic's gTablet running Android 2.2.  Beyond that, the Thrive sits middle of the pack.

SunSpider tests the tablet's Javascript performance, and since Javascript is widely used around the web, this test is loosely indicative of browser performance with each of the slates we tested.  Here the Thrive once again falls right in line with other Tegra 2-based tablets in its class, and even Apple's iPad 2.

Graphics Testing
Android graphics testing

An3DBench is a benchmarking tool based on an Android port of the jPCT 3D engine.  The app runs 7 tests in total that look at graphics processor fill rate with complex rendering workloads and scenes.  We also were able to run some tests with An3DBenchXL, which is a newer version of the app that is significantly more demanding.

Once again, in both versions of this 3D graphics benchmark, the Toshiba Thrive puts out scores that are on par with competitive Honeycomb-based solutions like Motorola's Xoom, Samsung's Galaxy Tab 10.1 and Acer's Iconia Tab.  Interestingly, the Thrive edges out all other tablets in the Flower Power and Magic Island test but couldn't quite catch the Asus Transformer in the Emperor's New Clothes test.  Regardless, performance variations are relatively small between all tablets here, except for perhaps the Acer Iconia Tab.

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Battery Life Test
In an attempt to quantitatively measure the Thrive's battery life in a controlled benchmark environment, we ran a test in which we set up a webpage with a mix of graphics, Flash media and text. The page automatically refreshes every three minutes, we loop the page and also setup a screen lock utility that keeps the display from sleeping during the test.  Battery life is then measured down to the minute the tablet finally shuts down.  The WiFi radio is enabled in this test, to simulate battery life in real-world web browsing over an 802.11n wireless connection. 

Battery Life Tests
Untethered Up-Time Measurements

For this test, we set the Thrive's display to 50% brightness, which is still plenty bright and easy on the eyes. The Thrive was able to last just over 5.6 hours untethered before it powered down.


This is a fairly new test in our set of benchmarks, so we don't have a lot of other tablet data yet to which we can compare. However, we have run the test on a few smartphones, the Motorola Xoom, Samsung's Galaxy Tab 10.1, the Asus Transformer and Acer Iconia Tab.  As you can see, as far as 10.1 slates go, battery life with the Toshiba Thrive brings up the rear with the Motorola Xoom, though Toshiba's tablet lasted about 20 minutes longer. 

We would argue that a little over five and a half hours is acceptable performance for most folks, but the slightly smaller 23Whr battery in the Thrive, doesn't hold as much charge as the 24Whr and 25.87Whr batteries in the Asus Transformer and Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1, respectively. Then again, if you're really hard-pressed for extended battery life, the Thrive is the only tablet in our test with which you could actually swap out a spare back-up battery in a pinch.

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Performance Analysis and Final Thoughts

Performance Analysis: From a pure performance standpoint, Toshiba's new Thrive tablet handles just about anything you could currently expect to run on a tablet.  It's generally as fast as any other Tegra 2-powered Honeycomb tablet out there right now. In terms of the benchmark numbers, there are really no surprises, though this is obviously still a very capable tablet.

In other areas, Toshiba's 10.1-inch IPS display also performs well, with good brightness, color saturation and contrast that allows it to be reasonably visible even in outdoor situations.  We haven't found a tablet yet that can match the display in Samsung's Galaxy Tab 10.1, but that's a tall yardstick.  However, Thrive's display is still very nice, even for the most discerning pixel snobs. With respect to battery life, the Thrive isn't exactly going to be a tablet you'd consider your beast of burden, but it'll still hold up to several hours of web browsing on a single charge. Unlike other tablets though, the Thrive's battery is user-replaceable, so carrying a spare is actually feasible.

 

There are a myriad of 10.1 tablet options on the market these days and Android 3.1-based offerings are expanding nicely to finally pose a bit of serious opposition to Apple's stranglehold with their iPad line-up. It seems as if most of the current NVIDIA Tegra 2-based Honeycomb tablets out there have their own merits, whether it be Asus' innovative Transformer with its keyboard dock option, Samsung's gorgeous display in the Galaxy Tab 10.1 or the expandability and ease of access that Toshiba affords with the Thrive.

Toshiba seems to have finally hit squarely on something that many have taken issue with in regards to Apple's dominant iPad offering since its first-gen introduction and even today with the iPad 2.  The seemingly simple act of getting your data and content on to a tablet shouldn't be so cumbersome, with the need to synch with proprietary software over proprietary connectors. And a solution to this problem is exactly what Toshiba decided they'd offer users, in order to differentiate their 10-inch Android slate over others in the market. It's not just full-sized USB and HDMI ports that are refreshing; the Thrive's standard SD card slot and removable battery make it one of our favorite tablets on the market currently. Couple that with a price tag of $479 for the 16GB model, or $429 if you don't mind stepping down to 8GB of on-board storage, and you get much more value and functionality in a tablet, so long as you don't mind a little extra bulk.  For its uncompromising design functionality, solid performance and competitive price, we'll heartily recommend Toshiba's Thrive to anyone considering an Android tablet PC.
 
     
  • Just about any port you could want in a tablet
  • Full-sized USB and SD Card Slot
  • Fast 1GHz NVIDIA Tegra 2 Dual Core SoC
  • Custom File Manager app
  • Android 3.1 (Honeycomb)
  • User serviceable battery 
  • Expansion with optional dock
  • Competitively priced

 

  • Lackluster battery life
  • A bit on the bulky side


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