Toshiba today unveiled the newest addition to its Thrive family of tablets: the Toshiba Thrive 7". This compact model has nothing to do with the slimline, 10.1-inch AT200 tablet that the company showed at the IFA trade show in Berlin in September, but it does underscore how quickly technologies and designs in the tablet market are evolving. This 7-inch model is due out in December. (Take a visual tour of the new Thrive here.)
The Thrive 7"--yes, the 7" appears to be part of its official name for now--is the first truly 7-inch model announced with a high-resolution, 1280-by-800-pixel display, offering 225 pixels per inch. Samsung already announced at IFA that its Galaxy Tab 7.7 would have the same resolution, but that model has a 7.7-inch display. For some perspective, consider that this is also the resolution currently available on the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1--but because the new Toshiba model packs the pixels into a smaller display, the pixels-per-inch figure is higher, which eliminates the dot-matrix effect that often plagues Android tablets.
Pixels clearly matter. When I tried a preproduction unit in advance of Toshiba's announcement, the 7-inch Thrive had the sharpest, cleanest text I've seen yet on an Android tablet. The text rendering--something I've frequently cited as a weakness of Android 3.x Honeycomb tablets--appeared smooth. Google's operating system may play some part in what I perceive as poor text rendering in other Android tablets, or maybe earlier tablet displays simply weren't of a sufficiently high pixel depth to achieve the smooth text I crave. (Yes, the iPhone 4's crisp Retina display has spoiled me when it comes to anything that shows dots.) Like the 10.1-inch Thrive before it, the 7-inch model uses Toshiba's Adaptive Display and Resolution+ technology, which is supposed to help boost image quality, as well.
I immediately noticed that the display on the preproduction 7-inch Thrive looked vastly improved compared with that of the original Thrive--the new model had bright, vibrant colors. Toshiba has dispatched the noticeably large air gap between the glass and the LCD beneath, reducing glare to a minimum and increasing the perceived viewing angle. Toshiba also says that it has placed a coating on the screen to help with glare, but the company declines to get any more specific than that.
The preproduction 7-incher felt surprisingly lightweight, as well. When I held the 0.47-inch-thick tablet in one hand, it reminded me of holding a first-generation Kindle e-reader: It was mostly comfortable, but it still had room to slim down further (as e-readers have done over the years). What struck me was how balanced the 7-inch Thrive seemed--it felt as if it weighed less than its listed 0.88 pound, and it felt lighter than the first-generation 7-inch Galaxy Tab, which weighed 0.86 pound. The upcoming Galaxy Tab 7.7 will weigh even less at 0.75 pound, though, so while the 7-inch Thrive is light, it isn't breaking any new ground in that respect.
What the new Thrive has that the Galaxy Tab 7.7 lacks is ports galore. You won't find full-size ports here, though (as you do on its larger Thrive sibling). Under a single, neat flap are Micro-USB and Micro HDMI ports, and a MicroSD card slot.
The rest of the specs are par for the course for Android tablets. The 7-inch Thrive runs Android 3.2, a dual-core Nvidia Tegra 2 CPU, and 1GB of memory, and it comes in either 16GB or 32GB configurations. It has two cameras: a 2-megapixel front-facing camera and a 5-megapixel rear-facing camera, with LED flash. The new tablet also sports gyroscope and GPS functionality.
The one possible weakness of this tablet? Its price. Toshiba hasn't finalized pricing, but the numbers the company has tossed out as possibilities appear to be a bit steep. According to Toshiba, the tablet will "probably cost" $379 to $399 for the 16GB version, and $429 to $449 for the 32GB model. Such costs seem high for a 7-inch tablet, though it's worth noting that the inexpensive Lenovo A1 is $200 only because it skimps on internal memory, providing just 2GB.
Besides, Toshiba has plenty of time between now and the release for it to revise the pricing. I suspect Toshiba will have to, if Amazon's Kindle tablet proves to be the competitive force that everyone expects it to be.