Apple CEO Steve Jobs in October 2010 jumped onto a company earnings call to dismiss 7-inch tablets as inherently inferior to larger models such as the iPad. Indeed, at the time, Apple and most of its rivals seemed intent on devoting resources to larger tablets in the 10-inch range.
Nonetheless, smaller tablets have managed to establish their own presence in the space. In addition to Research In Motion's 7-inch PlayBook tablet and Samsung's 7-inch and 8.9-inch Galaxy Tab, Toshiba is now making its own claims with the 7-inch Thrive 7" tablet.
Unlike the PlayBook and the Galaxy Tab, each of which boasts its own unique look, the new Thrive offers an unaltered Google Android 3.2 (Honeycomb) experience. The rest of its features are similarly middle-of-the-road: an Nvidia Tegra 2 dual-core processor paired with an Nvidia GeForce GPU (enough power for most applications), a combination of microSD card slot and micro-HDMI port, a 5-megapixel rear camera along with a 2-megapixel front aperture, WiFi connectivity, and a screen with 1280x800 resolution.
The Thrive 7" fits more easily than an iPad or similar tablet into pockets and bags, and at 13.2 ounces it feels relatively light. You can hold it in one hand, ideal for functions like activating the camera or typing out a quick message without having to balance the device on your knees or a table. The textured backing doesn't slide on smoother surfaces, but the tablet's overall construction feels ever-so-slightly loose.
Those who like flipping their screens between landscape and portrait mode, prepare to be disappointed: as a seeming consequence of its smaller form-factor, the Thrive 7" resolutely refuses to rotate its screen along with the device's orientation. This could prove bothersome to those who like to perform most of their tablet duties in portrait mode.
The device comes preloaded with the usual Android apps, including Gmail and Google Music. In addition, Toshiba has provided a File Manager, which could facilitate workflow for those people who use tablets in a daily, intensive way. Interface-wise, the tablet is responsive and accurate, even to smaller gestures and taps.
Toshiba is pricing the 16GB version of the Thrive 7" at $379, and the 32GB at $429. That's a fairly steep price point at a time when tablet prices are generally falling, with Amazon's Kindle Fire selling for $199 and other, more business-centric tablets (notably the PlayBook) discounted significantly from their original prices. If anything, Toshiba's price-points serve to highlight those middle-of-the-road specs: is it worth shelling out that sort of money for a device virtually indistinguishable from others on the market? Especially when, for $499, customers could score a larger-screen iPad 2 or Motorola Xoom?
That's ultimately for those customers to decide. In the meantime, though, the Thrive 7" demonstrates that the 7-inch tablet category is a viable one.