While Microsoft and Apple are working to bring aspects of tablet computing to the next versions of their computer operating systems, one big computer maker, Toshiba, is going the other way: It is introducing a tablet that emulates a laptop in some key respects.
Unlike other well-known tablets on the market, the new Toshiba Thrive, a 10-inch Android model available this month, sports a full-sized USB port that works with a wide variety of devices and files; a removable battery; and a file manager application like those on PCs. It also includes a full-sized SD slot for flash memory cards and a full-sized connector, called an HDMI port, that can use a standard cable for linking to a high-definition TV.
Some tablets, such as Acer’s Iconia, have a few of these features, but I haven’t previously tested a tablet with all of them. And they aren’t built into the tablet that dominates the market, Apple’s iPad.
Like Acer, Toshiba is trying to differentiate the Thrive from the iPad with a lower price. The base model of the Thrive will cost $430, which is $69 less than the entry-level iPad 2. However, there’s a catch: It only has half the memory, 8 gigabytes, versus the base $499 iPad 2’s 16 gigabytes. A Thrive model with 16 gigabytes of memory will cost $480, or just $19 less than the comparable iPad 2.
This first tablet from Toshiba is Wi-Fi only. But the company plans a model with cellular connectivity in the fourth quarter.
I’ve been testing the Thrive for about a week, and found it to be a mixed bag. Its laptop-like features, especially the USB port, worked very well and will be welcomed by users who have yearned for an easier, more standard way of getting files into and out of a tablet.
Like many laptops, the Thrive, above, has full-size USB and HDMI ports.
Like most tablets introduced this year, it is thick and heavy compared with the iPad. Like all Android tablets, it offers only a tiny fraction of the tablet-optimized apps available for the iPad, which claims 100,000 such programs.
And in my standard tablet battery test, its performance was weak, only a bit more than half of the iPad 2’s.
The Thrive, which has rounded edges, weighs in at 1.6 pounds. It’s 0.62 inch thick, and about 11″ long by 7″ wide—shaped to optimize viewing of widescreen videos. That means it’s best used in landscape mode. Its back, which is rubbery and ribbed, feels comfortable, and snaps off, to provide access to the removable battery.
Extra batteries cost $80 each, and the company offers a variety of colorful replacement backs for $20 each.
The edges offer an array of switches and ports—some hidden behind little covers—including a mini-USB port for connecting to a PC or Mac. There’s a proprietary connector for attaching the Thrive to two optional docks. The device includes front and rear cameras.
The standard case, above, is very bulky.
There are also a couple of optional cases. I found the standard case to be very bulky. Also very bulky is the included AC adapter, for charging the Thrive, that’s the size of a small laptop charger.
I focused a lot of my testing on the USB port, which worked very well. In my tests, I was able to successfully connect a variety of small flash drives and access their files, or copy them to the internal memory, using the File Manager app. Toshiba also includes a Media Player, which handles music, photos and videos, regardless of whether they are in internal memory or external storage.
I was also able to easily connect a variety of other devices to the USB port, including a camera, a wired keyboard and mouse. The USB port handled an external hard drive as well, once I converted it on a computer to the only hard-disk format the Thrive recognizes, which is called exFAT.
I was even able to simultaneously use a flash drive and a wired mouse with the Thrive by plugging in a small USB hub—a gadget that’s like a power strip for USB devices.
SD Card and HDMI Port
The Thrive can handle SD cards up to 128 gigabytes in capacity—though the largest of these currently cost around $300. In fact, Toshiba justifies the low internal memory on its base model Thrive by noting that users can add memory via SD cards. In my tests of several SD cards, all worked fine.
I connected my HDTV to the Thrive via a plain-vanilla HDMI cable and it played videos, photos and music through the TV without any problems.
The Thrive fared poorly in my standard tablet battery test, in which I set the screen brightness at 75%, leave the Wi-Fi connected and collecting emails in the background, and play videos back to back until the juice is gone. It managed just 5½ hours before shutting down, compared with slightly over 10 hours for the iPad 2 during the same test.
Toshiba claims the Thrive’s battery will last up to 11 hours in more general and varied use, and, while I couldn’t test such a vague claim, I was able to go a couple of days between charges while doing intermittent Web surfing, emails, social networking, book reading and game playing. But the screen— which sucks power on all tablets—was off for hours at a time during this period.
In general, the Thrive performed crisply, handling almost everything I tried and running numerous programs at once.
However, it crashed multiple times. The tablet spontaneously rebooted once when I removed a flash drive and the popular game “Words With Friends” crashed twice. Several other apps also crashed.
Unlike the iPad, the Thrive will play Adobe Flash videos and websites, but, as with other Android tablets, this capability varies unpredictably. Some Flash videos played well, others poorly or not at all. A couple crashed the browser. And the beautiful Picnik photo-editing website, which depends on Flash, wouldn’t work at all.
Cameras and Sound
Both cameras worked OK for stills and videos. But the sound, which Toshiba says is superior to that on other tablets, was tinny on several songs compared with the sound on the iPad.
One more similarity, alas, that the Thrive has to laptops is that it comes pre-loaded with craplets, limited or trial apps you may not want. Its bundled version of QuickOffice, a productivity program for viewing and editing Microsoft Office documents, can only view files, not edit them. A security program works only for 30 days before you must pay for it. A printing program will only print five pages before payment is required.
The Thrive is a good alternative to the iPad for people who place high value on having standard ports, especially a USB port, and a removable battery. While it suffers from many of the downsides of other non-Apple tablets, it is closer to a laptop, and that will please people looking for laptop features in a tablet.