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Easily overlooked tablet is loaded with smart features

To date, I've tested a bunch of nice Android-powered tablets, but I haven't really been wowed -- until now.

When I first picked up the Thrive, Toshiba's first Android-powered tablet for the U.S. market, I thought the PR people had made a mistake. It looked like something designed for emergency responders or the U.S. military, not for sitting on the couch watching Netflix.

The Thrive, you see, is actually thicker than an ASUS Transformer and a Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 stacked one on top the another. The Thrive also weighs more than either. Ah, but to my surprise, there is genius in its girth and heft. Before long, I became the Thrive's #1 fan!

Powered by a powerful NVIDIA Tegra 2 processor, the unit features a 10.1-inch, high-resolution (1280x800), LED-backlit widescreen display, optimized by Toshiba's proprietary video enhancement technologies. The tablet also features a full suite of sensors, including a gyroscope and accelerometer, to enable smooth screen rotation and control.

Among other pleasant surprises are full-size USB 2.0 and HDMI ports and an SD Card slot. The full-size ports are one reason the Thrive isn't as slim as other tablets, but the trade-off is worth it. I hate having to buy special cables to accommodate mini-this or mini-that. Bravo, Toshiba!

The device also has a 2MP front-facing webcam and 5MP rear-facing camera. Stereo speakers tuned by SRS Labs are also included, along with pre-loaded apps, such as Toshiba File Manager, which makes it easy to manage files, and PrinterShare, which makes it a snap to connect to a printer over a wireless network.

The Thrive is all black, and its back cover is covered with a soft, rubber-like coating. The cover, however, is removable, so you can opt for more colorful alternatives. Five choices are available (Blue Moon, Raspberry Fusion, Lavender Bliss, Silvery Sky and Green Apple). Each is $19.99. The best thing about the cover, however, is that it also provides access to an easily-removable, 6-cell Lith-ion battery. A spare battery can be purchased for $89.99.

Like most recently-released Android tablets, the Thrive runs Android 3.1 (Honeycomb). The OS provides five customizable home screens, plus a suite of popular Google Mobile Service applications, including YouTube, Gmail, Google Maps, Music, Videos and more, in addition to Android Market.

After a few days of using the Thrive, I found myself powering-up my laptop less and less. The ability to transfer files using the USB port has a lot to do with this, plus the fact that the Web browser is fully-compatible with Adobe Flash. Overall, the Thrive is just very easy to use.

The Toshiba Thrive tablet with 8GB storage capacity currently sells $379.99. Models with
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