A few months ago, I bought a refurbished Toshiba Thrive tablet from Woot. In keeping with my preferences, the Thrive is an Android device, currently running Honeycomb (although an IceCream Sandwich update should come out later this year).
In order to provide an easy to read review, I’ll be structuring my review of the Thrive into the following sections:
Hardware - battery life, form factor, responsiveness and other concerns (not the specifications of the hardware itself).
Practicability for work and school - taking notes, consuming technical material, etc.
Entertainment - consuming online content, game play, reading ebooks, and watching videos.
The first thing you notice about the Toshiba Thrive is that it is very large for a tablet. This is a result of all that is packed into it - an HDMI port, a USB port, an SD card slot (full sized, not micro), and of course a headphone jack. That plus a battery which can last for several hours of continuous use leave you with a relatively hefty tablet. This is the downside to the Thrive, as it can make it hard to hold for an extended period of time. Due to all this, if this system was capable of booting Linux directly, you could carry a USB mouse and keyboard around and use it as a laptop replacement.
When in use, the dual core processors in the Thrive are more than enough for ordinary usage of an Android tablet. Games are playable in real-time and video playback is smooth.
Practicability for work and school
One of the main reasons that I wanted to get a tablet was to keep copies of all my notes from classes in digital form. Getting around to scanning every page of notes I take in class (often a dozen or so pages) on a dying scanner that tends to crash after five or so pages simply wasn’t working out. By getting a stylus (a rubber-tipped one) and installing the app FreeNote (http://suishouxie.com/ - I’ll try to review this soon) I found that I was able to effectively take handwritten notes in my differential equations class.
Another factor for getting the tablet, was to reduce the number of textbooks that I have to carry around. Last semester, I was fortunate enough to be in a class with a free online textbook, in PDF form. I found that the Thrive, with its 10 inch display worked wonderfully for reading this PDF (and others), and although it was a little bit inconvenient when I had to change between the homework assignment written in the book and FreeNote for doing the actual assignment.
At work however, I found that I used the tablet far less. On occasion I used it to take notes for meetings, but since I was on a computer most of the time anyway, I mostly stuck to using a desktop or laptop.
In the end, entertainment is what most tablets are all about, and certainly is what the Thrive (or more accurately, Android) are optimized for. I found that the Thrive was wonderful for doing things like browsing the Internet, especially for passive reading (writing comments, or even signing into a site, was a bit of a pain). Certainly it makes it far easier to go through the many feeds I have set up in Google Reader, and to browse regularly formatted sites. The only problem is that the default browser (nor any I know of) does not have a way to report a different user agent for specific sites - for example, being able to claim to be a desktop browser would prevent me from having to use the mobile Gizmodo or Newegg sites, both of which are designed for a much smaller screen than the Thrive.
Another area that the Thrive does well on is games. I don’t play a huge number of games on my tablet, but I purchased both Humble Bundles for Android, and found that every one of those games were responsive. The only drawback for using the Thrive when playing games is for those that use the accelerometer - trying to frequently tilt the rather large Thrive is a bit of a pain.
Video playback is about what you would expect, in that once you have found a player that supports the codecs you need, it can playback HD smoothly.
Finally is the area of ebooks (which overlaps which the previous section). Android is perfectly capable of handling just about anything you throw at it, and for things like PDFs or web browsing, the Thrive remains my first choice for reading from. However, I recently picked up a Kindle (yet another review to come) I have found that e-Ink is much easier to read off of for formats that can flow. Additionally, as I mentioned before, the weight of the Thrive makes it hard hold up for extended sessions, unlike the much lighter Kindle, so I am finding that I use the Thrive far less for reading than I did before the Kindle.
In the end, I am quite happy with the Thrive, and certainly would look at Toshiba in the future, once I look to replace it. It works quite well for taking notes on, as well as consuming Internet content, which fulfill my basic desires for functionality in a tablet. The main drawback to the Thrive is its size.