on October 29, 2011
In today's tablet market, there are a lot of choices. If price is no object, you could easily be drawn to a 64 gb Ipad 2, which would give you a reliable, user-friendly package with plenty of onboard storage. Ios 5 has also brought wireless syncing with Itunes and cloud storage. With a great selection of apps, and strict quality control on the hardware and software, Apple is really tough to beat.
So why buy an Android tablet? Maybe you hate Apple. Maybe you love native Flash support in your browser. Maybe you like more flexibility from your desktop layout, to storage and peripherals. A lot of people go straight to the Samsung Galaxy Tab instead of the Ipad 2, seeing the Samsung as an Android Ipad, and why not - it is thin and light, has flashy aluminum on the back, and has a great display like the Ipad.
For me, the Ipad was both expensive and restrictive, so I went looking for the Anti-Ipad. I wanted expandible memory, the ability to plug in a flash drive, independence from Itunes, and I wanted it to be rugged. It also needed a great display, needed to be comfortable to hold, and needed to be reliable. That left me with the Toshiba Thrive and Acer Iconia A500 to choose between.
I initally bought the Acer, as it had good reviews and the price was right under $400. Three days with the A500 left me disappointed. It would go into a coma instead of going to sleep. The battery would drain, and it wasn't comfortable for me to hold, just like my wife's Ipad, because it was too thin. For me, there is a point when something is so thin it becomes hard to hold, which is why screwdrivers all have handles of a certain size, and why coffee mug handles do too, as well as why the handles on pliers flare out instead of closing to the point where they would meet- it's about comfort.
I returned the Acer (I still have an A100 that I use when I want something smaller) and ordered the 16 gb Thrive from Amazon. I knew it was among the heaviest, and most likely the thickest tablet there is, but I had a feeling it was what I was looking for. As a bonus, it had a full-sized HDMI out, takes up to 128 gb SDXC cards, has a removable battery (who else offers this?) and a rubberized back for easier grip. Like just about every other tablet, phone, mp3 player, and toothbrush these days, it has 2 cameras.
So with about 3 weeks of daily use, this has been everything I wanted. I ordered a 64gb sdxc card, dropped my favorite music and movies onto it, and have room for tons of storage left. Around the house, wifi reception is great, and I get good reception anywhere, whereas I sometimes had poor reception with the A500. Like all Android tablets, there are seemingly endless apps in any imagineable category, and Netflix streaming now works without having to fiddle with various workarounds.
The device is comfortable to hold in either portrait or landscape mode, and the border around the display lets my finger/thumbs rest without accidentally taping on something. Does it weigh a lot? I don't think so. The difference between my wife's Ipad and the Thrive are negligible, and the Thrive is more comfortable to hold, and the same is true vs. the HP Touchpad, which weighs about the same, but is as big (or small) as an Ipad 1. Its weight is hidden in how comfortable it is to hold. As for size, a tablet just needs to fit in a suitcase, small bag, or backpack, which the Thrive does with ease. It is thick, but never seems too big, or behind the tech curve. Toshiba isn't hiding vacuum tubes inside, they made it bigger because it is easier to work with. If it was a cell phone, this would have been a mistake, but full-sized tablets don't fit in your pocket, no matter what brand.
ON THE GO
This is where battery life, storage capacity, and connectivity either help or hurt you. Go somewhere without wifi, and there's no cloud access, no downloading, no streaming. Having your music and movies onboard makes this a non-issue. I can easily get 7 hours out of the battery if I turn off the wifi and just watch movies. An extra battery doubles that. If I need to plug in, I am not teathered to a 3-foot cord, like many tablets have. I can be several feet away from an outlet and not have to hold it awkwardly because the cord is too short. Charging seems to be reasonably fast, which is another plus.
This is what the user looks at all the time. The screen looks great. Colors are good, brightness is enough to use outside, and the screen responds well, too.
The speakers are not huge, and won't blow you away. HP's touchpad has better speakers, maybe it's just that the slots are bigger and let more sound out. They are adequate.
The USB port works as a host. I have used it to charge my Ipod. It sometimes wants a reboot before it will recognize some flash drives, but it has not had any serious problems, and is a real plus. HDMI out works immediately, and gives you the ability to stream Netflix to a hotel TV in a snap. Full sized SD card is very flexible, but I sometimes have trouble with micro SD cards reading. It could be the adapter itself, but i can plug the micro SD into a USB card reader and there is no trouble reading that way.
1) No charging through USB. It would be nice, but even the Ipad requires a wall charger. The Thrive's charger is just like a netbook charger with a small brick. This has not been a problem, but it would be nice if it was smaller.
2) Android 3.1 isn't always stable. Probably not Toshiba's fault, but apps crash sometimes, which is a rarity with Ios stuff. I hope 4.0 will be better.
3) The power button is hard to find sometimes. You won't accidentally hit it, unless you're going for the volume rocker right next to it. I also like the home button to be a real, bonafide button, rather than the one on the screen. Only Apple and HP have a real button on their hardware for this. I like a real button because hitting it is always intentional, and an accidental sweep of it doesn't send you home.
4) No flash for the rear camera. I think it's absurd to hold up a tablet and start taking photos, as I can't believe anyone would use a tablet primarily for this, but since they have a camera, why not put a flash in with it, like others have? I do have a device that is made for this, and will always do a better job, though. It's called a camera. Also, Acer did it right by offsetting the cameras so landscape mode doesn't cause you to inadvertently cover the camera.
My advice to people who don't want an Ipad for whatever reason is to seriously consider the Thrive. Everything else has compromises and limitations, and nothing else is as rugged. You will need to buy a protector to prevent the plastic or aluminum from being scratched on everything else. Asus has the transformer, which I have not tried, but I didn't want to spend an extra $150 for a keyboard and USB (it's really a matter of what each person values). The Thrive is unique, and in a good way.