The best thing about Android tablets is just how versatile they are, ranging from form factors to features. Whatever your needs, you're bound to find a suitable Google-powered tablet.
The Toshiba Thrive however, is a jack of all trades, packaging a variety of features together. But does it manage to pull it off?
When it comes to connectivity, the Thrive stands out above all other tablets, featuring a USB port, full-sized HDMI port, mini-USB port, SD card reader and proprietary dock connector.
The USB port itself is a fantastic idea, but in practice, there are a few omissions. For instance, while the port detects flash drives and cameras, it didn't detect mine or a colleague's external hard drive, despite the press release touting that feature. Upon further research, I discovered that the drive has to be formatted in the exFAT storage format, so back up your data before using your own external drive.
The SD card reader is another neat touch, making camera transfers quick and easy. No need for a cable transfer via your computer. The only downside to the reader is that it doesn't have a cover, making it potentially susceptible to dust and foreign material.
As for specifications, the Thrive is equipped with a 5MP, 720p-capable rear-facing camera, 2MP front-facing shooter, 1GB of RAM and Nvidia Tegra 2 graphics chip. So, on paper and in practice for the most part, it's more than capable of handling any task you throw at it.
The screen itself is of good quality, but fails to reach the lofty heights of the Galaxy Tab 10.1 in the brightness and viewing angle departments.
Design and build quality
When it comes to design, the Thrive is a mixed bag in this department too, with some weird decisions. For instance, the most visible issue is that the camera module sits where your left hand would normally be (in landscape mode, at least), so you'll have to shift your hand when taking photos or video.
Another weird design quirk is with the power button, which doesn't sit atop the power indicator light, but rather to the right. It's counter-intuitive, as I would often find myself reaching for the space on top of the power indicator light, but end up hitting nothing in particular.
But there is plenty to like about the Thrive's design too, such as the switches and buttons on the device itself. These buttons control the tablet's rotation, volume and WiFi connectivity, making for a great alternative to the software settings.
The build quality of the Thrive itself is pretty hit and miss too, being made out of plastic for the most part. The back of the device is made out of a neat textured plastic though, complete with ridges, giving it a comfortable and pleasant feel.
From a durability point of view, the Thrive also needs a bit of work – at least with the review unit. Whether it was the previous reviewer or the couriers, the tablet was left with a split seam on the left-hand side. While it was still in working condition, I'd be a bit more worried about dropping this device than other tablets.
However, the Thrive also has another trick up its sleeve in the form of a removable battery, something that most tablets lack. This allows users to carry extra batteries with them wherever they go, swapping out in case you're not near a power source.
With that being said, the removable battery does come at a price, with the device's life not being quite as lengthy as that of the Galaxy Tab 10.1. It'll still last for a good two to three days while being used moderately, so it's not that big of a deal.
The other downside to having a removable battery is that the tablet itself looks very bulky compared to rival slates. But in saying that, it's not heavy at all.
When it comes to the software experience, this is your standard Android 3.0 (Honeycomb) platform. So you'll have virtual buttons rather than hardware buttons for 'home', 'back' and task switching.
We've spoken at length about the platform in a column, but Honeycomb does a great job here nevertheless. The platform is (thankfully) devoid of any skins, leaving you with the stock Android theme.
Things like animations and transitions aren't as smooth as the iPad, but when compared to other Tegra-2-toting tablets(Motorola Xoom, Galaxy Tab 10.1, Asus Transformer), it's pretty much par for the course.
Additionally, the Thrive handles many graphically intense games with ease, pushing out smooth framerates and pretty visuals. So whether it's RipTide GP or Grand Theft Auto 3, the tablet will play it just fine.
As for extras, the Toshiba Thrive includes plenty of software, such as the Write word processor, Calc spreadsheet suite, McAfee WaveSecure security software, combined social network and music store and much more.
The Toshiba Thrive packs plenty of differentiating features on the hardware and software front, making for a rather unique and useful device. However, this comes at the expense of a great design and build quality. So, at a recommended price of R5499, you'll want to think long and hard before purchasing one.
Score: 7.5 out of 10