No, I haven’t lost it, product names have just gotten a bit silly. I’m talking about Android tablets. Let me say right now that I’m both a user and fan of Android. I picked up an original Droid at launch and that’s what I’m still using – albeit rooted and running Cyanogenmod 7.1-RC1. It isn’t a religious war for me – iOS and WebOS are fine operating systems. (I’ve never played with the QNX-based TabletOS RIM is using on the Playbook, but I have used Blackberry OS and actively dislike it.) But I have a decent investment in Android apps (yes, I pay for apps – the stereotype that Android users don’t buy apps really bugs me), and it just doesn’t make sense to me to use another OS on a tablet. Plus I just plain like Android so why switch? So don’t suggest the iPad, etc. Thanks.
Anyway, I decided a while ago to get an Android tablet, but to wait for Android 3.x Honeycomb. I don’t have a pressing need for one, mainly technolust for a new toy, so there was no reason to rush out and buy one. I decided not to pick up a Motorola Xoom because I tend to avoid the first in any product family to let them work out the bugs, and the pricing was kind of high. I also figured there would be interesting options coming later – and I was right, there are. A friend of mine has a Xoom and I’ve played with it. It is nice, but I still think some of the newer options are better.
So now the Asus Eee Pad Transformer, Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1, and Toshiba Thrive are all out, or coming very soon. The Galaxy Tab 10.1 looks great, very thin and light, but to get that Samsung cut a lot – no USB & HDMI ports, no expandable storage (no SD/microSD), etc. You basically have to do everything via their proprietary docking connector – very iPad. I don’t want to be that limited, so that’s out of the running.
The Transformer is the one I’ve been eyeing for a while, just waiting for supply issues to get worked out so they’re a) in stock and b) not overpriced to rip off impatient suckers. The Transformer has some nice features, but the most notable is the keyboard dock which basically turns it into a netbook. The tablet itself has a miniHDMI port and a microSD slot. No USB ports on the tablet, but another proprietary 40-pin docking port with a cable for USB and charging. I’m a little unhappy about the dongle for USB again, but that’s starting to feel inescapable. But the miniHDMI and expandable storage are a plus. And the keyboard dock adds two full-size USB ports to connect other devices and a full-size MMC/SD/SDHC/SDXC card slot.
So I was thinking of finally ordering this, as pricing has settled down, but decided to check what else is out there – and saw the Toshiba Thrive.
Like all of these, it has the same processor (NVIDIA Tegra 2), same display size and resolution (10.1” 1280×800), same OS (Android Honeycomb 3.1 (the Transformer shipped with 3.0 but has an update)), front & rear camera (front camera is 2.0MP to the Transformer’s 1.2MP, 5MP rear on both), 1GB RAM, 32GB storage (I’m comparing 32GB models, both also have 16GB, and Thrive has an 8GB model), 802.11b/g/n, Bluetooth 2.1, etc. The Thrive also has a full size MMC/SD/SDHC/SDXC card slot right in the tablet, and generally all of the features of the Transformer – except it doesn’t have a keyboard dock.
But the Thrive has some unique features too. It has a full-size HDMI port, not miniHDMI, so you can use any standard HDMI cable. It has a full size USB port and a miniUSB port right on the tablet, to act as a USB host device for cameras, etc. No dongles needed, no need for a dock (like the keyboard on the Transformer to get the USB ports & full-size memory cards). The entire back of the Thrive is swappable for different colors, designs – and, more importantly, to provide access to the swappable battery, the only one on an Android tablet. There is a dock connector, and charging appears to be via the dock or the dedicated power port. Just no microUSB charging on these tablets I guess. That would be nice since that’s what phones use and one charger could handle both. Though with the USB port on the Thrive maybe I could charge my phone from it via USB while it charges from the wall.
The Thrive also includes Swype, which I love on my Droid, and has some nice included extras like a file manager to handle the SD & USB mass storage devices, and a printer utility to allow it to easily print to printers via WiFi (the USB port doesn’t have printer drivers it seems), and the USB port apparently handles standard USB keyboard & pointer devices. Though I’d expect Bluetooth to work as well.
While the Thrive is a bit more expensive than the Transformer, tablet to tablet ($580 vs. $480 for 32GB models), the Transformer’s keyboard dock is $150 and up, so even if I buy the $60 multimedia dock for the Thrive (USB, HDMI, audio, and power connectors), the Thrive is competitive on price overall.
I don’t know, I thought the keyboard would be cool and useful to have, but then again I bought my Droid thinking I’d use the keyboard a lot – and now I’m planning to get a touchscreen-only phone on my next upgrade as I ended up using the keyboard less and less, until I didn’t use it anymore (especially once I had Swype). And having all of the ports right on the tablet is very convenient, as well as having the option to have a spare battery. I thought I’d made up my mind, but now I’m re-thinking my choice.
So right now I’m kind of leaning toward the Toshiba Thrive, but what do you think? Am I missing out on something critical with the Transformer – or the Xoom, Tab, or anything else? (Again, please don’t try to sell me on iOS, WebOS, etc. Really, that decision has had all due consideration already.) Of course, there are also rumors of an Amazon Android tablet coming this fall, but if I keep waiting for the Next Big Thing I’ll never buy anything! There is always a Next Big Thing just around the corner.
I still have a small grudge against Toshiba over their back of HD-DVD, but I should probably finally let that go. After all, they got whupped but good.
And I have to start thinking about replacing my Droid, I’m up for renewal this month. I’m tied to Verizon through work, so only phones on their network qualify. I definitely want LTE support, dual-core processor, and a good size screen – qHD would be nice. The Droid Bionic drops soon, but the rumored Nexus Prime sounds like it could be quite the phone, and there are a few other options out there. I’m just starting to look at those.
So if you have any Android tablet thoughts, leave a comment. Especially if you have one and want to share your experience.