The Toshiba Thrive 7" Tablet is the latest in a recent deluge of 7-inch contenders. Its biggest distinguishing factors are its crisp, high-resolution 1280-by-800-pixel display and its strong complement of ports. But disappointments lurk as well--the tablet's disappointing audio performance foremost among them.
Not unexpectedly, the Thrive 7" (model number AT1S5-T16) comes in at a significantly higher price than this season's budget 7-inch models, the Amazon Kindle Fire and the Barnes & Noble Nook Tablet. But the 7-inch Thrive is, at least, a full-blown Android tablet running Google's Android 3.2.1 Honeycomb operating system (Toshiba has yet to confirm whether it will offer an upgrade to Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich next year). And you get a lot more versatility for that amount of money. At $380 (price as of December 8, 2011) for a 16GB model, the Thrive 7" is competitively priced with the Acer Iconia Tab A100 and costs less than the Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus ($400) and T-Mobile SpringBoard ($430, including monthly device payments over a two-year mobile broadband contract). A 32GB version will sell for a modest $50 more, at $430.
The big news with the Thrive 7" is its high-resolution display, which delivers a more dense pixels-per-inch count. It joins the T-Mobile SpringBoard as only the second 7-inch model to arrive with a 1280-by-800-pixel display. That translates into 225 pixels per inch, a significant step up from the norm in 7-inch tablets, which typically top out at 1024 by 600 pixels.
The extra pixels make a big difference. Text appears sharp and crisp, with no obvious jaggies or dots. In fact, the text quality looks very similar to that of the SpringBoard. (By comparison, text on a Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus looked fuzzy, as if I needed a new eyeglasses prescription.) Only text on the Apple iPhone 4's crisp Retina display--which has a smaller screen but a greater density of pixels per inch--looked smoother.
The screen's sharpness made reading a pleasure; images showed fantastic detail and clarity, as well. Of the 7-inch tablets we've tested, only the T-Mobile SpringBoard could match the clarity of the images we saw on the Thrive.
Toshiba has also taken some steps to minimize glare. The air gap between the glass and the LCD is smaller than on most tablets; this design helps to reduce glare compared with the average 7-inch tablet, and it boosts the viewing angle, too.
Unfortunately, colors on the 7-inch Thrive are neither vibrant nor accurate. In our color-bar test, colors showed pleasing definition, and exhibited none of the oversaturation we've seen on some tablets. But on a test photo, a purple garment rendered as a more violet blue than the lavender purple it was supposed to be. (The SpringBoard and the iPad 2 fell somewhere in between on reproducing this color.) I still liked how my images looked, because of the detail in the rendering, but the accuracy was off by just a hair.
With its striated, rubberized, easy-grip back cover, the 7-inch Thrive clearly takes many of its design cues from its 10.1-inch Thrive sibling. Fortunately, physical bulk and heft are not among them.
The Thrive 7" measures 7.44 by 5.04 by 0.48 inches, which makes it similar in dimensions to the Amazon Kindle Fire (7.5 by 4.7 by 0.45 inches). The Kindle Fire has the advantage of being a bit narrower, which can make holding it more comfortable in some scenarios.
On the whole, however, the 7-inch Thrive actually feels better in one hand. It weighs 0.83 pound, to the Kindle Fire's 0.91 pound. That's a hair lighter, too, than the Barnes & Noble Nook Tablet and the T-Mobile SpringBoard, each of which weigh 0.88 pound. Of the recent 7-inch releases, only the Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus, which weighs 0.77 pound, is lighter.
Along the left edge of the 7-inch Thrive are all of its clearly defined buttons, as well as its ports. The power button, volume rocker, and rotation lock slider are clustered together toward the upper third. Toward the middle is a well-designed port cover that neatly snaps into place; beneath the cover is the MicroSDHC card slot, as well as Mini-USB and Micro HDMI ports. One odd bit of trivia: This is the first tablet I recall testing that expects the user to flip it clockwise when moving from portrait to landscape. Flipping it that way puts the row of buttons and ports along the top, and positions the distinctive silver-rimmed front-facing camera at the left-hand side of the display. Typically, tablets tilt counterclockwise to enter landscape mode.
You can charge the tablet through the sizable docking connector on the bottom of the device (in portrait orientation). I'm not a fan of proprietary connectors such as this one, and Toshiba's connector is surprisingly stiff and large in comparison with its competitors. It offers one bonus, though: You can obtain a full charge via your PC's USB port--a rarity among the current crop of tablets. Data transfers happen through the Mini-USB port.
The stereo speakers sit to the left and right of the docking connector. I found the audio quality through the built-in speakers to be the weakest component of the 7-inch Thrive: In spite of Toshiba's own audio tweaks and SRS Labs' enhancements, my test tracks played through Google Music sounded weak and thin, with no bass and barely passable loudness. Audio lacked the muddied overprocessing I've heard on some tablets, but clean sound is not helpful if it's flat and tinny.
Specs and Performance
The rest of the specs are par for the course for Android tablets. The Thrive 7" runs a dual-core Nvidia Tegra 2 CPU and 1GB of memory. It has two cameras: a 2-megapixel front-facing camera and a 5-megapixel rear-facing camera, with LED flash. Notably, the 7-inch Thrive has GPS on board, too. The GPS component will work without a network connection; if you're connected over Wi-Fi, though, the GPS function will take advantage of the connection to enhance accuracy.
According to Toshiba, the battery should last for up to 9 hours.
Our full performance tests remain in progress. However, judging from the results we've seen so far, I can say that the Thrive 7" appears to be an average performer. We'll update this review with our full results and a rating when the tests are complete.
Toshiba opted to keep its Android 3.2.1 install clean, and faithful to pure Honeycomb. While this move may make it easier for the company to upgrade to Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, in reality I found myself missing some of the common customizations that other manufacturers have made, such as tweaks to the quick-access settings menu to bring more features up front.
The company does include a handful of its own utilities, such as a media player, a "service station" for updates, and a file manager. In addition, Toshiba preinstalls Kaspersky Tablet Security, Need for Speed Shift, five titles from SilverCreek Games, Netflix, Quickoffice, and Printer Share.
The Toshiba Thrive 7" is an attractive tablet that makes a strong case for itself amidst the 7-inch field. Its full-blown Android support and pleasing design give it an edge over value models, as well as over competing 7-inch tablets. It lacks the convenience of an infrared port, as found on the Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus; aside from that omission, however, the 7-inch Thrive is one of the most versatile tablets you can buy in this size category. The benefits that you get from the full-featured Android install and from the sharp, high-resolution display are worth paying a few extra dollars over the price of more-limited tablets like the Nook Tablet, although the current premium for models like the Thrive 7" is steeper than it should be.