Studies that show iPhone and Android marketshare miss an important fact: iPhones aren't the only things that run iOS. There's also the iPod Touch, perennial favorite of teenagers, which is basically an iPhone without the phone.
It's been selling like hotcakes, and Android doesn't have anything like it. Until now, that is!
Introducing the LG Thrive
There have been Android-powered media players from companies like Archos and iAudio. These tend to be slow and clunky, however, and to lack features taken for granted in Android smartphones ... like capacitive, multitouch screens, and the 150,000 apps in the Android Market.
The LG Thrive, on the other hand, isn't just like an Android smartphone. It is an Android smartphone, for the price of an iPod Touch ... $179 off-contract for the Thrive, compared to $229 for an iPod. Even if you throw in an extra MicroSD card for music (the Thrive only comes with a 2 GB one), that's still cheaper than an iPod.
So what's the catch?
Well, first off is the difference between a deluxe MP3 player and a budget smartphone. The Thrive has a plastic-y case and buttons, and is a lot thicker than the iPod's gleaming chrome shell. It also can't run iPhone apps ... and just like with Nintendo during the Gamecube years, the iPhone exclusives are often better than anything on other phones.
Furthermore, the iPod Touch's interface and its apps are better thought-out than Android's. If you've never used either before, you'll spend less time getting accustomed to the iPod Touch, and less time being frustrated by it.
Does the LG Thrive have a good side?
Yes! First, it's not just a music player. It's a phone that you can buy AT&T GoPhone plans for. As little as $25 will get you 500 MB of 3G wireless Internet for a month, and there are cheaper plans, too (I opted to pay $15 for 100 MB). Prepaid voice minutes rollover for 90 days, or if you use your phone infrequently you can just pay $2 on each day that you use it.
Second, it has some of its own exclusives. Google's Android apps tend to be better and more fully-featured than its apps for the iPhone and iPod Touch, plus Amazon has a "free app of the day" promotion in its Appstore for Android. AT&T doesn't allow phones to buy apps from Amazon's store yet, but at appstoreaccess.com you can sign up to have AT&T tell you when it's ready.
In many ways, the LG Thrive is less of an "Android iPod Touch," and more like the cheapest smartphone ever -- even Cricket's Huawei Ascend, available for under $150 off-contract, costs more per month to use as a smartphone (and that's inside Cricket's coverage areas). The fact that it runs Android is only a plus, since it means Android Market access ... and the freedom to upgrade to a more powerful phone later on, without losing all your apps.
If I didn't already own an HTC Aria (which I converted into a GoPhone), I'd be all over the LG Thrive. Even if I wanted a music player, I'd be tempted by it ... but only because I'm a fan of Android and its customizable, open-source nature.
I'd hesitate to recommend the LG Thrive to someone else, just to use as a music player. But as an entry-level way to get in on Android's action, or to have real mobile Internet with an incredibly cheap data plan, I'd give it a thumbs-up.
Jared Spurbeck is an open-source software enthusiast, who uses an Android phone and an Ubuntu laptop PC. He has been writing about technology and electronics since 2008.