Tablets

Toshiba Thrive: The best business-grade tablet on the market

Find out why Joshua Burke believes that the 10.1-inch Toshiba Thrive is the best best business-grade tablet on the market today.

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to engage in some high level discussions around tablet usage in the enterprise. One of the participants went on at length about how tablet devices are bloated with too much software, that they are only good for games and movies, and that in the aggregate, they decrease productivity and provide more distraction for end users. This same person then went on to extol the benefits of the true business tablet. When the presentation opened for questions, the room was uncomfortably silent. I could almost feel people quietly putting their "consumer" devices away with embarrassment.

This "anti-tabletarianist" discussion got me thinking about what I might choose as the quintessential business tablet on the market today. If I was going to try to make a justification for which tablet is best for business, what criterion would I use, what parameters would I set, and what currently available devices would make the grade?

The criterion

A business tablet must be:

  • Powerful under the hood -- processing power, RAM, storage
  • Easy for IT to manage
  • Expandable in meaningful and familiar ways
  • Uncluttered by bloatware
  • Help desk/End user replaceable parts
  • Able to run enterprise-level apps
  • Cost effective within the tablet space

The challenge

This was a significant challenge for me, bigger than I expected. As a full-time mobile device manager for a large insurance organization, I handle a lot of devices and especially a lot of tablets -- in fact, I have four on my desk right now. In one sense, I agreed with the foundational premise that the gentleman laid out. End users are so accustomed to using consumer-grade tools at work, that it's sometimes hard to look past the familiar into what might be best for the business.

Sometimes, the push for a certain tablet or brand overwhelms the "C-Suite's" sense of reason and good planning. This is often the case with mobility because the mobile initiative tends to occur from the top down. The key then becomes getting the "top" to approach mobility with the same focus and sharp pencil as other initiatives in the business. This rarely happens.

The normal course for tablet integration looks more like this: your CIO says, "I got this cool tablet, make it work -- and get my assistant one too." Now, it's off to the races with everyone justifying their tablet acquisition against the holy grail of integrating more closely with their direct manager. Soon, everyone has the tablet du jour and IT is wondering where all of these devices came from. A much better approach is to look at mobility as a force multiplier and a business platform and plan accordingly.

Removing our preferences for a particular brand, the "cool factor" of a particular pad, the implied status that having certain types of tablets inevitably confers, and a whole host of other personal and political complexities is difficult. Basically, we aren't always rational when it comes to choosing our mobile devices.

When I set out to make my choice for the quintessential "business-grade" tablet device, I thought I'd just put on my IT propeller beanie and make a selection. Stripping off the layers of preference was a bit more difficult than expected, but I think I was finally able to make a reasonable choice.

Not everyone will agree with my selection, and that's completely OK. In fact, I'd very much like to hear your reasons for choosing a different tablet, but I'd also like to have you ask yourself why you have chosen differently. In many cases, you'll find your core reason to be represented in my short list above.

The winner

What is the overall best "business-grade" tablet on the market today? After reviewing most of the available options, I've chosen the 10.1-inch Toshiba Thrive. The Toshiba is fairly new to the tablet space, and I've had good experiences with the company overall.

Why Thrive? First, the facts with a splash of opinion. In regards to the specs, it met every criterion with greater flexibility than its competitors.

1. Powerful under the hood -- processing power, RAM, storage

Toshiba puts the power where it counts:

  • NVIDIA Tegra 2 1GHz Dual-Core Mobile
  • 1GB DDR2 RAM

Toshiba makes its first really impressive move in the storage department. There are 8, 16, and 32GB models available, but I was very impressed with the inclusion of the full-size USB port. I tested this out fairly rigorously, even streaming 1080p video from a flash drive onto the tablet; it worked well with video enhancements turned off. The ability to easily and simply attach storage to the device makes even the 8GB model look very attractive.

2. Easy for IT to manage

Yes. Remember that this is a tablet for business, not a platform for "agitated aviaries." The Thrive offers some advantages over other tablets from an IT management perspective. First, the ability to easily back up data from the device without any proprietary cables is a big plus. A flash drive or mini USB cable will do the trick.

The Android OS itself makes the device very controllable from a mobile device management (MDM) standpoint. There are many vendors offering very robust Android controls for device management, but my favorite is 3LM (Three Laws Mobility). 3LM functions like a BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES) for Android, and it lives up that promise. In my opinion, Android + 3LM will make it the OS of choice for IT and operations-level governance of corporate devices over the next two years. When Android releases a Federal Information Processing Standards (FIPS) compliant device -- I predict within the year -- watch out, because it will be a game changer for enterprise level adoption.

I realize that the Android + 3LM combination will apply to most Android devices and not the Thrive exclusively. It was worth mentioning as a criterion for excluding more popular tablets in the space that simply don't play as well with corporate IT.

3. Expandable in meaningful and familiar ways

Thrive has this nailed. With the Thrive, it's "all your base are belong to us" when it comes to expandability. Thrive's terrific Multi-Dock allows for HDMI out, two additional USB ports, attachment to USB keyboard and mouse (yes, they work), and connection with meaningful physical assets like an external USB drive of any size.

Thrive has delivered what I really wanted from a tablet all along. The ability to "dock" it and use a bigger screen, have a full-size keyboard and mouse, and share media easily. Toshiba has taken a grand step in creating a native File Manager to help out where the native Android OS is lacking in this regard. The File Manager makes it super simple to move data from a computer to the tablet (and vice versa) with a simple and familiar file interface. When I'm not at my desk, I can just grab it out of the dock and go -- when I return, I put it back and everything is there. Frankly, this rocks.

The HDMI feature is great, but what I really wanted to see was the ability to extend my tablet screen onto a larger monitor -- not just mirroring. It would have been great to have one of the adjacent desktops on the Thrive show up on my monitor and allow me to use the native screen as a smaller, additional screen in a sense. Nobody has done this yet, but it would make things so much more flexible.

4. Uncluttered by bloatware

There wasn't much in the way of additional apps on the Thrive, and I could uninstall most of what I didn't want. I wasn't impressed with the Toshiba-only apps -- App Place and Book Place were obvious add-ons. But compared to other tablets on the market, it wasn't loaded down with apps I'll never use. I did miss the obvious presence of a task manager.

5. Help desk/End user replaceable parts

Here again, Toshiba got it right -- user replaceable battery and back cover. The Thrive is fairly big and almost "chunky" as compared to the iPad or Samsung Galaxy, but with all of those full-sized ports, what else could they do? In all frankness, I appreciate the fact that Toshiba expressly avoided the gravitational pull of the iPad and decided to actually go in an original direction. I think it could be slightly slimmer, but it works, and it basically comes with its own lightly protective case.

6. Able to run enterprise-level apps

I will avoid the obvious question of "what is an enterprise app" by saying that there are actually a few, but that's a different article. I found the Toshiba Thrive to have more than adequate power for whatever I tossed at it. I credit the Tegra Processor and 1GB of RAM with its adroit handling of some of the major apps for business, like an enormous PDF in Good Reader. The USB interface was also interesting in this regard, since the transfer speeds were very good -- even good enough to watch video directly from the USB drive without issues.

7. Cost effective within the tablet space

Totally. Cheap tablets are getting cheaper and the "less cheap" tablets are holding steady on price these days. Comparing the cost of the 16GB Thrive to the 16GB iPad was a $100 difference at MSRP. Better deals on each could be found online. A business purchaser could easily get a 16GB Thrive, Multi-Dock, and Toshiba (Android optimized) wireless keyboard for less than just the comparable iPad without accessories.

Final analysis

The Toshiba Thrive is a very capable tablet. Its full-sized ports and replaceable parts make it a great choice for IT and help desk departments looking for something that's easy to maintain and service. The Android OS, when coupled with top-tier Mobile Device Management (MDM) vendors, like 3 Laws Mobility (3LM), will make managing the Thrive as comprehensive as managing a BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES). The lower cost of the tablet and the replacement parts makes it viable for operations and departmental budgets alike. But that's just the business side of the equation.

The truly exciting features of the Thrive are its ability to dock and connect easily and seamlessly with keyboard, mouse, monitor, and storage options that you already have on site and in the end user's cube. From a business standpoint, leveraging existing and familiar architecture is an easy win. IT doesn't have to build a mobile hardware silo because it can use its PC infrastructure as-is.

In my final analysis, the Toshiba Thrive is worth a serious look as a "business-grade" tablet that works well and can integrate with the way employees are already working today. The Thrive isn't an iPad. That can be good or bad depending on your perspective and the political issues surrounding the "status" that having a corporate tablet confers. If those issues are surmountable, the Thrive can save the enterprise considerable dollars and implement easily, which saves you money to purchase the MDM system to manage the devices with the same level of policy that IT manages computer workstations and laptops.

23 comments
Mr. Jonas
Mr. Jonas

Well I do not know if the Toshiba has voice over (Screen reader) out of the box (Most Tablets do not)! There are 161 million Blind and low-vision users and the ageing population is estimated to increase Blind and Low-vision users by an additional 25%! Not that I Love Apple or anything like that but, Appel includes screen reader in the I-Phone & I-pad out of the box by default! However some of the Android can install a screen reader for more $ and to the best of my knowledge you will need a sited person to do that for the end users!

chdchan
chdchan

I am not yet a Thrive user but looking for a better tablet with a reliable sleep mode. So can I safely save my state and turn off for some time, then power on and instantly restore my state with any tablet(s)?

Susanrr
Susanrr

I bought the Thrive for myself (not an enterprise) for almost all of the reasons you listed. The only thing you didn't mention was the ability to add an SD card which is able to expand the memory even more than a USB flash drive and it is always there in the inside. The file manager is indeed a valuable "app" and in answer to the above comment - I have had no issues with the glass screen cracking. I am a very satisfied Thrive customer!

dcarr@winning.com
dcarr@winning.com

It seems that there may be an issue with the display. There have been unfortunately more than several instances of the glass screen cracking in a corner. This has not been caused by abuse (dropping, banged against a surface, etc.) It is just happening spontaneously. I believe it may be being caused by expansion/contraction due to temperature changes (from outdoors to indoors). It may be that Toshiba did not allow for this, and the glass display fit is too tight. The more disturbing thing, is that from everything I can gather, Toshiba is NOT honoring this under their warranty. They have been telling consumers that they will repair it for a cost of approx. $150 to $400 dollars!!!!! I find this totally unacceptable. I hope that Toshiba has/will change this policy, and also rectify the design flaw in future units. Joshua, you may want to check with Toshiba on this to verify both the issue and their handling of it. Other than that I have personally setup a NEW Thrive recently for one of my clients, and it is otherwise quite impressive. I agree with you on the lack of installed bloatware. My only issue was with Printer Share app. It is the trial version (5 pages and it stops working). I DO recommend purchasing the Printer Share Premium Key. YOU MUST purchase this app from the Toshiba app store (Printer Share for any other Android based system can be purchased from the Android Market). Toshiba does not necessarily tell you that Printer Share for the thrive is unique, and if you purchase it from the Android Market, it will NOT work!!! Kinda silly to have a printer app that works fine for the rest of the Android World, and has a version that is ONLY for the Toshiba??? Other than that, I think it is a very well designed and productive Tablet (with all the features you mentioned) and should be considered.

dcarr@winning.com
dcarr@winning.com

It seems that there may be an issue with the display. There have been unfortunately more than several instances of the glass screen cracking in a corner. This has not been caused by abuse (dropping, banged against a surface, etc.) It is just happening spontaneously. I believe it may be being caused by expansion/contraction due to temperature changes (from outdoors to indoors). It may be that Toshiba did not allow for this, and the glass display fit is too tight. The more disturbing thing, is that from everything I can gather, Toshiba is NOT honoring this under their warranty. They have been telling consumers that they will repair it for a cost of approx. $150 to $400 dollars!!!!! I find this totally unacceptable. I hope that Toshiba has/will change this policy, and also rectify the design flaw in future units. Joshua, you may want to check with Toshiba on this to verify both the issue and their handling of it. Other than that I have personally setup a NEW Thrive recently for one of my clients, and it is otherwise quite impressive. I agree with you on the lack of installed bloatware. My only issue was with Printer Share app. It is the trial version (5 pages and it stops working). I DO recommend purchasing the Printer Share Premium Key. YOU MUST purchase this app from the Toshiba app store (Printer Share for any other Android based system can be purchased from the Android Market). Toshiba does not necessarily tell you that Printer Share for the thrive is unique, and if you purchase it from the Android Market, it will NOT work!!! Kinda silly to have a printer app that works fine for the rest of the Android World, and has a version that is ONLY for the Toshiba??? Other than that, I think it is a very well designed and productive Tablet (with all the features you mentioned) and should be considered.

mlewis
mlewis

We have been looking seriously at the iPad and using remote desktop, for the simple reason of the battery life. I didn't see any comments about that with the Thrive. Because this is a tablet, the important thing is that it can be used away from a desk for extended periods of time.

lkarnis
lkarnis

So, you are recommending last year's tablet (specification wise) because it has a user replaceable battery? Did you check out the Asus Transformer and Transformer Prime? The Prime outclasses the Toshiba... 5-core CPU vs 2, optional keyboard, 64GB of onboard Flash memory, Clean (no crapware) Android 3.2.x with a guaranteed upgrade to ICS. I have both and they are great.

jdebender
jdebender

This all high praise for a product that the Mother ship won't admit has a serious flaw in the latest version of the OS. Since the rollout of 3.2.1, there has been a problem with accessing an external 32 Gb SD card. Whether its a case of saving face or just don't care Toshiba has not addressed this problem in any manner. Should I recommend this company's product for corporate use? Let's see, November, December, January and now February with not so much as a "we understand that there is a problem. We are working on a solution and will publish as sonn as we have a solid solution." I think not.

lwalden@ebmud.com
lwalden@ebmud.com

If you want to be compatible with the office environment, why run a tablet with a phone OS that isn't a phone? There are at least 21 tablets on the market right now that tun M$ Windows 7. For your performance requirements listed the Samsung XE700 and the ASUS eeeSlate are the top performers as both use intel Core i5 processors. The slate also supports a TPM module. If Android is your choice then the TF-201 from ASUS is the leader of the pack. (Transformer Prime). Having all of the ports is meaningless if the OS isn't ready. My current tablet has three USB ports, a full sized HDMI and microsd. It's also running a hacked OS to make it somewhat functional.

aflynnhpg
aflynnhpg

I couldn't agree with your more, but didn't you see Jason Hiner's article pronouncing Andriod Tablets Dead?

Technamir
Technamir

When I read this, I swear, it sounded nearly the same as the Acer A501 - from the processor, to the USB and HDMI ports (I ise a full sized USB keyboard as well), size wise and all. Even the option to extend memory, and the available options for purchasing which comes at 16 or 32 GB. However the only difference is the Toshiba accessory - the multi dock. Acer, come on, you can do it better!

william.gavin
william.gavin

I've been using an HP Slate 500, a tabletPC for nearly a year now. The hardware out spec all devices mentioned so far with full Windows 7 professional as the OS. I've installed and routinely use all of Office 2010 including Outlook and Access, Adobe Acrobat pro, Firefox, Thunderbird and Cisco's VPN client. WiFi allows for seamless integration with "mapping" to network servers. The docking station allows for second, independent monitor via HDMI port. The Slate allows for all Win 7 desktop applications to run on device weighing less than 1 pound.

OldHenry
OldHenry

And the price looks good. My seat mate on a recent flight had a neat ASUS Windows tablet. Had a 13.5" screen too. It was about 2.5 lbs. It runs Windows 7 well and has a touch screen, a stylus, and multiple USB ports but I didn't ask about HDMI. And it will run all my Windows apps. But it's two or even three times as expensive as the Thrive. I've never tried 3LM but while BES does give me good manageability over clients it was a nightmare to keep running on the server side. So is 3LM better on that end? BES also significantly increases the IOPS necessary for an Exchange server. Does 3LM do that? Thanks

user support
user support

I don't see how you can evaluate the machine without determining which apps are essential to your mission. Our Enterprise evaluated Lenovo IBM Thinkpad tablets with Windows Tablet PC edition several years ago prior to the introduction of Apple's ipad and Droid competitors. At that time device was light weight, ran Office XP plus new on the block One Note and was able to convert hand written text with stylus to type written text. Good for VPN field connections. Draw back was short battery time, problem docking to DVD drive, changes to normal keyboard layout and only scroll button no trackpad. I was testing a Toshiba Satellite with Windows Tablet PC Edition with 14 inch screen. Drawback were too heavy, short battery time, keyboard layout, too many built-in memory hogging utilities. I recently came across a training video for Microsoft which features te Asus EEE Slate. Until I can test one it looks pretty good. It would be nice to have models by Lenovo, Toshiba and Asus that operate with Windows or if they would make a version of Microsoft One Note for the Apple iPad.

DLCurtis
DLCurtis

I too have looked at the Toshiba Thrive last year but I found that I liked the Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet better for corporate use. It has all the same specs but also comes with the styles (does not have to bought after). Also, Lenovo having the backing and years of being a highly available business centered company. It made it an easier sell to the higher ups.

hbatton
hbatton

I'm the type that buys based on a purpose and that's why I bought a Toshiba Thrive. For as you mentioned above, I like the options of a full USB and HDMI, mini USB and the SD Card reader. I like the option of adding external devices and external storage. I currently have an 8gb Thrive with 2 16gb SD cards and will soon purchase a small keyboard and mouse.

M P
M P

maybe not now. when i purchased my Thrive last year, i did my research--and based on what i needed, the Thrive was the winner, hands down. if i were to purchase a tablet today, Feb 3, 2012, i might get the Asus Transformer Prime. they've basically got the same features--with standouts for the Prime being quad core and ICS, and for the Thrive being the price and the replaceable battery (which has saved my behind on a few occasions). they're pretty similar to me. but current lack of ICS for the Thrive highlights a larger problem--Toshiba tech support for the Thrive has been pretty bad so far. that alone makes me lean toward the Prime and its "newer" technology (less than a year), tho i would sorely miss the user replaceable battery.

denbo68
denbo68

I don't see from this review how the Thrive stands out compared to other Tegra 2 tablets. The review seems to make a big deal about the Thrive having a Tegra 2 processor and 1Gb of memory. So do most Android 3.0 tablets, right such as Samsung, Asus, etc.. If performance is so important why not mention the tablet with a Tegra 3 Quad core. And USB? Well that exists on many other tablets as well. And as the review pointed out, Android helps IT departments so why not pick a Tablet with Android 4.0 instead of the older 3.0 that the Thrive runs?? If I had to choose a "Tegra 2" based tablet I would go with the Asus TF101 with the keyboard dock which provides many more hours of battery power. I've been on 9 hr flights and never had to worry about the charge (the specs say with the dock you get 16 hrs... but more like 13hours)... Battery life is most important to me and to most everyone else in a large organization. You need to spend more time working and not worrying about where to plug in to get a charge. Of course... if I could choose any tablet I'd go for the TF201 with the Tegra 3 processor and running Android 4.0 right now.

T3CHN0M4NC3R
T3CHN0M4NC3R

I believe most tablets have better battery life than notebooks. If I'm not mistaken, the thrive can last around 7 hours on continuous usage.

joshuaburke
joshuaburke

Thanks for your comments. Wondering if you can name any other tablet on the market, regardless of processor, can meet the other criterion listed? There are lots of great Android tablets on the market, no doubt and Asus is offering some truly interesting tablets these days. I appreciate your feedback.

rhonin
rhonin

This tablet outperforms and has less issues than the Thrive and meets all your criteria excluding the removable battery. It has less known issues and offers a keyboard accessory that has all the known Lenova business features. Additionally it is built specifically for business use unlike the Thrive.

scndtnr
scndtnr

but I'm truly digging my Asus TF201. Quad core processor, 1GB RAM, 32 GB storage, ICS...and from what I can tell, meets the criterion specified. The tablet has a microSD slot and a micro hdmi port, and the mobile dock (highly recommended) adds a full size USB port and SD card reader. Still working on the "business capabilities"...I've had it for only a week...but already know that Touchdown and Pocket Cloud are functional.

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