People who know me well are aware that I am one of the biggest admirers of the ipad. Though I was very sceptical of the ipad before it launched and openly pooh-poohed it after the unveiling , I had to eat crow once I got my hands on it. I was in love and over the past year and a half, have been dellighted and amazed by the device on innumerable occasions.
But, I'm not one of the ios fanboys, or the more Indian term, a member of the iMafia. I've been using an android phone as my daily driver for the past year and find a lot of areas where Android is far superior to ios. This is reflected in the sales numbers, where android has taken the lead and is pulling away. But, in the tablet market, the ipad is dominant, the 800 pound gorilla in a room full of tarsiers. So, I was very curious to find out why. Are Android tablets really that bad that they haven't been able to make any headway against the ipad? Opportunity came knocking in terms of the Thanksgiving Black Friday sales, where the retailers had heavy discounts on the Android tablets. I was able to pick up a Toshiba Thrive for around 300$. My brother, who lives in Boston, picked it up and I finally got my hands on it last weekend.
The Thrive was(is) one of the most unappealing of the Android tablets. It's bulky(looks like something made in Soviet Russia), was plagued by quality issues at launch and was expensive to boot. A perfect trifecta which caused it to quickly sink to the bottom of the also rans. But, my reasoning went, flaws that are killers at a 500$ price point could be bearable when the price drops to 300. They had also cured the sleep of death issue and it had a few redeeming qualities like a full sized USB, HDMI and SD card slot plus a replacable battery. All these factors made me choose the Thrive over the competition. And the fact that the discounted price was a full 100$ less than the others. Never discount the importance of a good bargain.
The Short Verdict
Now that I have it, what's the verdict. The short answer is that If the ipad 2 is a 10, I'd rate the ipad as a 9. When I first got my hands on the thrive on saturday, my first impression was so negative, that i would have given it a 5. But as I got used to it and understood it a little better, I'll change it to a 6. With the release of Ice Cream Sandwich, which fixes a lot of the issues that have plagues Honeycomb, that'll move to a 7. But, it is a big question mark whether the Thrive will ever get ICS.
Does this mean that Android tablets have no chance, if even with the latest software, they don't even come close to the ipad? I don't think so. Remember, the Thrive is not even the best tablet, there are tablets like the Galaxy Tab 10.1 and the Asus Transformer Prime that have far better screens and build quality and would rate a 8 or 9 with the ICS build. But, the issue is that Apple is very close to releasing the ipad 3, which going by past history, would rate as a 11 or 12 at the minimum. How will the manufacturer's be able to counter that? I'm glad that it is someone else's problem and I do not envy them.
The Longer Version
Here's the long version of what I thought of the Thrive
Size (B): My brother had bought the original Toshiba case and boy, was it a piece of crap. Contrast to the original ipad case, which is a piece of art and looks as good as new even after 18 months. The case made the already thick tablet even thicker and was a pain to actually use. I got rid of it and found it quite usable without the case. In terms of thickness, it is not too different from the original ipad. The ipad2, however, takes it to a totally new level.
UPDATE: I discovered that Toshiba has its sound enhancement on this tablet and be default, the bass is at the lowest level. Once, I turned off the default and turned up the bass, the quality and volume improved significantly. I'd have given it a B, but toshiba should be ashamed to have set the default this low.
Display (C): I didn't have high hopes for the display as it wasn't an IPS screen. I was pleasantly surprised, as it looked quite nice. Here are a couple of comparisions with the ipad. The ipad has much better viewing angles, though.
Thrive on the left, ipad to the right
Thrive at an extreme viewing angle
ipad at an extreme viewing angle, is far better
App Selection (D): Android does scale better than ios to higher resolution, but you still need apps that are designed for the larger screen. Simply stretching out the app to the wider screen is not sufficient. A few like Plume had resigned the app to make use of the wider screen, but they were few and far inbetween. I was very surprised to see the Google + app have a lot of issues just displaying the stream.
It wasn't all negative, though. Here's what I liked
SD Card: I was able to pop in the SD card from my camera and view the pictures immediately
HDMI/USB: I connected my wireless mouse and the tablet to my TV and was able to get a fairly good video watching experience
Sadly for the Thrive, I cannot think of many more positives at this point.