Unlike many tablets, the Thrive lacks IPS technology, which permits a wider-than-normal viewing angle. I didn’t find this to be a problem, though.
Beyond the nice display, the Thrive’s hardware is a mixed bag. I liked the 2-megapixel front-facing camera, which let me make video calls on Skype with a minimum of fuss. The 5-megapixel camera on the backside, however, took an eternity to focus even in decent light, making it tough to take photos that didn’t come out fuzzy. The Thrive suffers from the fundamental conundrum that hobbles almost all tablet cameras: Manufacturers think they need to include them to be competitive, but they don’t care enough to make them really good. (Of course, if you have a phone with a respectable camera, you might not care.)
Battery performance seems to be a weak spot, too. I didn’t perform formal testing. But battery tests by Engadget, PCMag.com and The Verge show the Thrive 7 running for 4 hours and 42 minutes, 3 hours and 50 minutes and 3 hours and 51 minutes, respectively. None of those figures are impressive compared to other 7-inchers, and all fall far short of Toshiba’s claim of “up to” nine hours.
Then there’s software: The Thrive runs Google’s Android 3.2.1, also known as Honeycomb. Toshiba, unlike many of its tablet-making peers, has resisted the temptation to futz much with the operating system. For the most part, it’s Android as Google intended it, without “improvements” that add bloat and confusion. That’s a good thing.
Even full-strength Honeycomb has its downsides. Despite the Thrive’s robust tech specs — it has a speedy dual-core processor and a theoretically roomy 1GB of RAM — Android was occasionally pokey, failing to immediately respond to my taps. Like nearly every Android device I’ve ever used, it crashed within about 10 minutes of the time I turned it on for the first time, displaying an unhelpful error message. And while there are hundreds of thousands of Android apps, very few are tailored for tablets; most are designed for phones, and expand to fill the Thrive’s roomier display with varying degrees of success. Apple’s iOS 5 remains far slicker, with a vastly better selection of tablet-friendly software.
Google’s new version of Android, version 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, is much more polished and pleasing than Honeycomb. It hasn’t arrived on any major tablets yet, and Toshiba isn’t saying when — or even if — it’ll arrive as an upgrade for its tablet. When and if it does, it could make the Thrive meaningfully better all by itself. But with Android updates, it’s dangerous to assume anything.
For now, the Thrive is worth a look, if you have your heart set on a 7-inch tablet and want one which offers the unrestricted access to the Android Market that the Kindle Fire and Nook Tablet lack. If you’ve been waiting for the definitive 7-inch tablet, though, this isn’t it, and neither is anything else. Shall we try for 2012?
McCracken blogs about personal technology at Technologizer, which he founded in 2008 after nearly two decades as a tech journalist; on Twitter, he’s @harrymccracken. His column, also called Technologizer, appears every Thursday on TIME.com.