Toshiba Encore Tablet Review

Toshiba’s budget Windows 8.1 tablet cuts a few understandable corners, but the entire package offers excellent value if you’re after a productivity device.

Toshiba Encore Tablet: On the plus side

As I noted in my hands-on, Toshiba’s Encore tablet is one of a number of Intel Bay Trail specific Windows 8.1 tablets hitting the market right now.
Specifically the Toshiba Encore offers an 8″ 1280×800 16:10 LCD display, Intel Z3740 1.33GHz processor, 2GB of RAM and either 32 or 64GB of onboard storage. As with all things Bay Trail, it’s not a system that’s designed to explicitly be a performance beast, but more a system designed for everyday tasks and above all solid battery life. That’s long been the claim with Intel’s line of Atom processors, of which Bay Trail is just the latest iteration, but to its credit, it seems to have largely cracked it this time.

That was certainly the case with the Toshiba Encore, which is rated for “up to” seven hours of battery life. Testing with constantly looped full screen video saw it exceed that target by a full forty-five minutes. It’s not quite an all-day-every-day type of tablet, but then I doubt anyone buying an 8″ tablet would look at it as their full day work machine. If you used it lightly, it’d certainly be feasible to make it last that long.

Decent battery life?  CHECK.
Decent battery life?

The tradeoff for that battery life is performance, and here the story is a little more ordinary. The integrated Intel HD Graphics managed a modest 17342 in 3DMark’s Ice Storm test and 1242 in Cloud Gate; the more demanding Fire Strike test was pure crash city every time I tried to run it.
On the productivity side, PCMark 8’s work test returned a score of 2322 and the home test ran to a score of 1391.
In real world use, this gets clear quite quickly; the Toshiba Encore is indeed not a performance powerhouse, but it’s a solid enough option for browsing, web video watching and the odd bit of document manipulation. Toshiba sells a line of Encore-specific peripherals — they supplied them to me for the review, but they’re not standard in the box, so I can’t really comment on them — and naturally being Windows any Bluetooth accessories should work smoothly if you wanted the kind of hybrid experience you get out of something like the Asus Transformer Book T100.
The Encore isn’t exactly loaded with additional apps to differentiate it from other Windows Tablet offerings, although the inclusion of Office Home & Student 2013 adds decent functionality. Oddly, the Toshiba Encore also includes a GPS module. That’s something you don’t see in too many Windows tablets.

Toshiba Encore Tablet: On the minus side

The Toshiba Encore isn’t a high priced tablet, and that shows in the construction. I’ve certainly tested cheaper feeling tablets, but equally I’ve tested those with a far more premium feel. Put the encore right next to the Surface Pro 2 or the iPad Mini with Retina Display, and it’s not hard to pick the cheapest one simply by picking them up. It’s a relatively harsh industrial design that, at best, feels average rather than outstanding.

Toshiba calls this colour "light gold", but the reality is more like "light plastic".
Toshiba calls this colour “light gold”, but the reality is more like “light plastic”.

That same observation covers the screen; at 1280×800 it’s somewhat pixellated depending on your source material.
Real-world Skype calls may not appear quite so dorky.
Real-world Skype calls may not appear quite so dorky.

The use of micro ports is somewhat understandable, due to the general size of the Encore tablet, but at the same time it’s somewhat disappointing, because it means you’d want to carry around a raft of adaptors for most standard devices to hook up to the Toshiba Encore.
The amount of storage on the entry level 32GB model might sound reasonable, but as with anything running Windows, you’ve got to allocate an amount to cover the operating system overhead, and that leaves you with relatively little actual free space. It would be wise to opt for the 64GB version, because honestly you’d pay more than that for external storage to keep hooked into the Toshiba Encore if you were using it on a daily basis.

Toshiba Encore Tablet: Pricing

Toshiba sells the Encore in two different storage capacities. The 32GB version will set you back $399, while the 64GB version costs $459.

Toshiba Encore Tablet: Fat Duck verdict

Budget devices are always about compromises, because if you want it all, you’ve got to pay accordingly.
At its price point, the 64GB Encore tablet is a quite attractive buy. I can’t quite say the same for the 32GB model once you take the storage hit for Windows 8.1 and Office 2013 out of the equation, but for the asking price, and as long as you don’t need lots of computationally powerful stuff to run, the Encore competes well in the Windows tablet space.
What about the broader tablet space in which it competes? It’s marginally cheaper than the 16GB iPad Mini with Retina Display, and more expensive than any Nexus tablet you can buy, but I have little doubt about which is the premium offering in that particular space.
In some ways it’s a matter of matching up your needs; a Windows tablet has a stronger productivity focus where iOS and Android devices are more consumption centric. If you’re in the market for a budget tablet experience, the Encore is definitely a solid contender.

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