When it comes to the myriad competitors to Apple's iPad—BlackBerry's PlayBook, Samsung's Galaxy Tab, Motorola's Xoom—they all pretty much look like, well, an iPad: dark borders, glossy displays, smooth back panels in shades of either black or gray. Toshiba's latest entry, the Thrive tablet, which is available for pre-order June 13, takes a different design approach that is both refreshing and predictable: Toshiba drizzled color on its tablet.
Novel concept? Hardly. But in the world of neutral two-tone tablets, the Thrive, with its lime-lollipop greens and sherbet purples, is a welcome alternative. The Thrive is not trying to be just another iPad clone. Perhaps Toshiba (unlike many other competitors) realized that's a losing battle—and this might be the device's biggest advantage.
"Some of the early players are smartphone guys, so their thinking was, the tablet is just a bigger screen," Carrie Cowan, of Toshiba's digital products division, told Fast Company. "But we're laptop guys." In that sense, Toshiba aimed to pack all the benefits of a laptop inside a tablet, which can make the device feel accessible and crammed at the same time. Yes, it's awesome that the Thrive features a full-size HDMI port and SD-card reader, USB 2.0 and mini-USB ports, and a replaceable battery. But that also means the tablet's borders are dotted with a slew of slots and removable panels, which, from what I saw, require strong fingernails to pry open.
The Thrive's back panel, in my opinion, is the most appealing part of its design. Featuring a slip-resistant, almost-herringbone pattern, the tablet's cover is rubbery and easy to grip, and won't suffer from the light scratches or finger smudges common on most other tablets. The panel is also replaceable: Toshiba offers covers in a variety of colors (blue moon, lavender bliss, raspberry fusion, etc.).
The device overall, at 1.6 pounds and with 10.1" screen, is heavy and thick for a tablet. It was designed by Toshiba's design team in Tokyo, which as one rep told me, is responsible for "everything from mass transit to washing machines."
"We're definitely not the thinnest or the lightest tablet," admits Cowan. "We focused on usability."
In that regard, the Thrive boasts Android Honeycomb 3.1, one of the first OEMs to ship the OS out-of-box. Yet it's unfair and inconsequential to judge the Toshiba Thrive on an OS that Google built—and that other tablets also feature.
What we can judge the Thrive on, however, is what Toshiba added to the OS. "We didn't want to take away from the Android experience," says Cowan—let Honeycomb be Honeycomb, in other words. Yet Toshiba certainly made its mark, and although I didn't have time to play with the apps, I can say some of Toshiba's additions certainly looked like bloatware, which up until now, hadn't crept too much from laptops to tablets.
Toshiba has added an "App Place," for instance, which—not to be confused with the Android Marketplace—is just a way for Toshiba to feature its own content. (So, now there are two places to find apps?) Then there's the "Book Place," an e-book store and reader. Toshiba also threw in QuickOffice, a mobile-productivity app. There's also a media-center app that's supposed to pull all your music and video and photos in one place.
Then, in the settings tab, there's a ton of Toshiba audio-enhancement options that should be under the hood, but instead provide users a way to ruin the tablet's sound—Toshiba calls this customization. During the presentation, for example, a Toshiba rep played me "Rapper's Delight" by The Sugarhill Gang. A classic tune, no doubt. So the song is bumping along, and the rep takes me to the Toshiba audio-customization panel, where she flicks off a half-dozen options. Suddenly the bass is gone, and the treble is off, and the voices are flat, and the "hip hop the hippie to the hippie to the hip hip hop you don't stop" is a muffled jumble of noise that would be better sung by a castrati gargling Scope while warbling the ditty over a transistor radio. All right. I'm exaggerating a bit here. But the point is, why even include these options? Just make good sound quality the default, and be done with it.
Disregarding the bloatware, the Thrive is certainly a sexy tablet, but not one that's likely to offer non-iPads an iPad-like competitor. (One other huge reason why? There are no 3G data plans available for the Thrive.)
The Thrive will ship in mid-July, and comes in models of 8GB ($429.99), 16GB ($479.99), and 32GB ($579.99).