January 26, 2012 | by Andrew Kameka
Bigger is better. Well, unless we’re talking about the Toshiba Thrive. While we had a mostly favorable review of the “Honeycomb Hulk,” certain elements of the design were a bit awkward. Months after the original Thrive’s release, Toshiba hits a little closer to the mark with the Toshiba Thrive 7.
Playing Bruce Banner to the Honeycomb Hulk, the Thrive 7 has a more sensible build, is more palm-friendly, and makes more sense to own if a user doesn’t need the full 10-inch screen of a tablet. What’s less clear is if the Thrive should be considered over the Galaxy Tab 7, Amazon Kindle Fire, and host of other 7-inch screens. How does the Toshiba Thrive 7 stack up when compared to other devices in its class?
There’s only one way to find out, so let’s get to it.
Toshiba copied the basic design philosophy from the original Thrive and created a mini-me for the 7-inch version of the Android tablet. The Thrive 7 is a long black slab with round corners and a front-facing camera made more distinct thanks to a metal half-circle wrapped around it. The back has a rubber grip texture, though this style is smoother and flatter than the larger ridges we noticed on the original Thrive. It also has the NVIDIA Tegra 2 processor that chugs along nicely and opens users up to a higher class of mobile gaming.
The Thrive 7 has a 7-inch LED touchscreen. Other display types typically garner more praise for their array of colors, but the 7′s high resolution (1280 x 800) on a smaller screen looks fantastic. The downside is that you can’t do much watching since battery life was suspect. I managed to watch an episode and a half of American Pickers on Netflix before the 7 took a big battery hit, and web browsing and reading activities didn’t seem to last as long as other tablets do. For leisure activities like reading books in transit or browsing apps on the couch, you’ll be fine, but things get dodgy if you are out and about for extended periods of time.
* 16 to 32 GB of internal memory and a chance to expand with micro SD
* The device can be held in one hand comfortable and is very portable, which is excellent for readers and travelers.
* MicroSD, mini USB, and micro HDMI ports provide more options for connecting devices and expanding memory. That means more entertainment options than you might get with other devices.
* While the original Thrive put speakers on both sides of the device for its “stereo” effect, the 7 has both speakers at the bottom in portrait and right in landscape, which often get blocked by the hand.
* Battery life is disappointing.
Toshiba offers a 2 MP front-facing camera and a 5 MP rear camera with flash. You won’t win any photography awards with either, especially since the camera takes so long that your subject may have moved already. You’re looking at a 3-5 second delay from pressing the button to the picture actually being snapped. You can still capture images in decent lighting to showcase, or have a video chat while sitting in an airport lounge, but photo-taking is not this device’s strong suit.
The rear camera isn’t very good, but it gets the job done. Just be sure to watch where you put your hands because of camera placement. The lens is near the top or left of the device depending on orientation, so the natural way to hold a tablet in landscape will cause a user’s hands to block the lens. Either keep your hand at the bottom of the device or record with one hand (it’s light enough to permit that kind of operation.)
Little has changed about the smaller Thrive’s software since we last reviewed the larger version. The 7 is running Android 3.2 and has the stable of standard Google Mobile apps that have been built with tablets in mind. The difference is that Toshiba toned down the amount of pre-loaded software that bloated the larger Thrive. The 7 still has pre-installed apps, but they are limited to a few card and board games, Kaspersky Security, Need for Speed Shift, and Printer Share. I would have preferred to see even those left off, but at least Toshiba slimmed down more than just the physical design of the 7.
On the plus-side, the Thrive 7 has standard, regular, no sugar-added Honeycomb 3.2. Most of the other 7-inch tablets we’ve seen have been heavily customized. While that’s not automatically a bad thing, it’s good to know that people who prefer stock Android have an option. Aside from a few awkward attempts to unlock the device while it slowly switched between portrait and landscape, it was a smooth ride. We can’t speak to upgrades regarding Ice Cream Sandwich because there’s no official word on it, but fingers are crossed that Toshiba will provide an upgrade.
So what’s the bottom line on the Toshiba Thrive 7? On the surface, it’s a solid 7-inch tablet that has better gaming options than the Samsung Galaxy Tab 7, but it’s tough to say that its really a better buy with the weaker battery life.
The Thrive 7 tries to make up for shorter battery life with a longer features list: more port and storage options that are great, a well-performing screen, and a comfortable feel. The person who buys this tablet must be someone who tries the Galaxy Tab 7 and finds some flaw that pushes them into the arms of the Thrive. (He or she might actually be better served with that device.) While the original Thrive was a clunky piece of hardware with enough strong points to overlook those shortcomings, the Thrive 7 offers some of the same awkwardness with more comfort. If you don’t care about cameras on a tablet and keep a charger handy, you’ll enjoy your time with the Thrive 7.