There is a part of design that is math and engineering. Weight, power, SAR ratings, maintenance envelopes… the basic stuff you get in any mechanical or systems engineering curriculum at your friendly neighborhood college. Then there is part of design that is art. And an additional part that is empathy; that part where the designers try and guess the subjective viewpoint some users will take, and use that to drive some of the design trade-offs they choose to make.
Why do I wax so poetic about the art of design? Because I think Toshiba deserves some credit for making some bold moves in its design choices resident in the Toshiba Thrive [tracking page]. Our pal Brad Linder over at Liliputing got his hands on a demo unit and offered his first impressions. What has me most impressed about the Thrive is that Toshi went with function over form, and that’s not something easy to do in the face of the class-leading iPad.
The primary focus of the Thrive is for the device to offer hooks into more standard ecosystems and infrastructures that most tablets do not. The list of proprietary apps that come pre-loaded on the Thrive is a mile long. One of these implementations that jumps out at me is the app that allows you to connect to universal plug-and-play (UPnP) devices on your home network. This should make the Thrive capable of reaching out and touching NAS units and UPnP capable DVRs. The thought of accessing all of my video files and photos on my NAS or streaming from a compatible DVR is very compelling, to say the least.
Typically, a long list of proprietary apps on an Android device today is indicative of a lack of Google licensed apps. Fortunately, the Thrive comes with the standard (properly licensed) Google app package, including Gmail, Gcal, and, most importantly, access to the Android Market. The device runs Google’s Android 3.1 Honeycomb OS. Thankfully, this OS has recently received updates that add more functionality when a tablet interfaces with USB devices that require USB-Host. Toshiba strives to take full advantage of these updates by equipping the Thrive with a full-size USB port, as well as an SD Card slot, mini-USB, and full-size HDMI.
Full-size means not having to compromise or hunt for adapters for USB components a user would like to pair with the Thrive. It means reaching behind your TV and grabbing the standard HDMI cable you might already have plugged in to a device and connecting your Thrive instead of ordering a min-HDMI cable for one device. While I am very happy taking only my iPad along on a photo shoot and using the camera adapter to immediately view photos on a larger screen, the problem is just that…I have to use an adapter. It is an extra piece of gear on my photo checklist. A lot of people might say “So what? Big deal”, but the point is that it is just one more thing that might be forgotten. The Thrive eliminates the need for taking along these pieces of pocket lint and lets you run the devices as they were originally intended.
All of these advantages come at a price, however, and that is primarily in weight and girth. The Thrive comes in at 1.6 pounds. That is about a quarter of a pound heavier than the iPad 2, and around 0.35 pounds heavier than the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1. Toshiba’s web site does not officially list the dimensions on the product sales page, but you can see photo comparisons against the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 here.
I am personally ok with this trade-off. Much ado has been made recently about how a device is not innovative unless it is the lightest device in its class. However, I think that weight, like any other characteristic in a consumer electronics device, is an attribute that can be traded for other advantages. I spend a lot of time with my tablets in cradles or on easels. I do not mind holding a tablet with two hands. The Toshiba Thrive also has a soft-touch, textured back, which, as I have mentioned before, can go a long way towards making additional weight a non-issue. Any of these trade-offs might be worth it to a user more concerned with breadth of functionality over weight.
The Toshiba Thrive, with models ranging from $430 to $580 for 8GB, 16GB, and 32GB models, is priced very competitively against other 10inch tablets on the market. Liliputing has yet to post a full review, but Brad appeared to be very interested in Toshiba’s approach.
One problem with the tablet market these days is that there are a ton of “me too” devices in the retail and online channels. Each of the manufacturers is going to need to come up with a riff on the general theme that grabs the attention of potential buyers. Toshiba’s approach of hooking the Thrive into more conventional desktop and laptop infrastructures might just do the trick.
Liliputing’s video of their first impressions is embedded below.