By Harry McCracken | Tuesday, September 27, 2011 at 5:23 pm
I keep thinking that some company is going to release a 7″ tablet that’s nicely done and a big hit, proving that there’s a market for a device that’s a lot bigger than a smartphone but a lot smaller than an iPad. So far it hasn’t happened. But the 7″ tablets keep coming, and today Toshiba gave me a peek at the Thrive 7″ Tablet, which it plans to release in December.
The Thrive 7″ is very much a junior-sized edition of Toshiba’s 10.1″ Thrive, which is a tablet that’s unafraid to be kinda PC-like. It packs an Nvidia Tegra 2 processor and runs Android Honeycomb 3.2. And even though it will come with Wi-Fi but (at least at first) no wireless broadband options, it’s got more connectivity options than your average tablet, including Mini HDMI and Mini USB ports and a Micro SD slot.
The tablet’s outstanding feature may be its 1280-by-800 display, an impressively high pixel density for a device this small. (Samsung’s original 7″ Galaxy Tab and RIM’s BlackBerry PlayBook, two other prominent 7″ tablets, have 1024-by-600 screens.) It looked crisp and beautiful on the unit Toshiba showed off to me.
Unlike the bigger Thrive, this one doesn’t have a swappable battery, but it retains the chunky dimensions that scream “Pre iPad 2 era.” It’s .47″ thick, compared to .34″ for the iPad 2. (Earlier this month at IFA in Berlin, Toshiba demoed a 10.1 tablet that’s only .303″ thick, but it hasn’t said anything about bringing it to the United States.)
Toshiba hasn’t announced how much it’ll charge for the small Thrive, but it’ll presumably go for meaningfully less than the 10.1″ model, which now starts at $379.99. I can understand why it hasn’t set pricing yet: In tablet years, December is still a long ways off–especially with Amazon about to announce a 7″ tablet of its own. (Rumored prices for that one: $250 or $300, possibly bundled with Amazon Prime membership.)
At this point, the biggest problem with 7″ tablets isn’t that they’re unpopular; it’s that no tablet that isn’t an iPad has caught on. And the single biggest problem for non-iPad tablets is that app developers are continuing to take a wait-and-see attitude on Android tablets. It’s going to be way more easy to get excited by 7″ Android tablets when–make that if–it’s not a pleasant surprise to learn that an interesting app is available in a version designed with them in mind.
Meanwhile, if you’ve already decided you’re in the market for a 7″ tablet, the Thrive looks like it’ll deserve a spot on your list of contenders–especially if the nice screen sounds appealing and you don’t insist on owning something with a whisper-thin profile. And I hope that by the time Toshiba ships, it turns out that it sports not Android 3.2 but Ice Cream Sandwich, the major Android upgrade that should arrive before the Thrive does.