Review: Toshiba Encore 8

Tablets are taking over and PC manufacturers are trying a different tactic to get Windows in the hands of people, with pint-sized portable computers. We’ve seen plenty of 10 inch tablets, but Toshiba is trying an 8 incher of its own, and it will even let you play with all those Windows apps you already own.

Features

Toshiba’s first truly handheld Windows tablet in a long time, the Toshiba Encore relies on Intel’s latest and greatest Atom processor, with the Bay Trail version popping up in here in the form of the Z3740, a quad-core processor clocked at 1.33GHz and paired with 2GB RAM.

Two variations of storage exist in Australia, with a 32GB model retailing for $399, while a 64GB model comes in at $459. Regardless of what model you choose, a microSD slot can be found on the tablet, making it possible to expand the storage.

Connections for the Encore 8 are pretty standard, and include the 802.11a/b/g/n wireless networking (WiFi), Bluetooth 4.0, DLNA, a microUSB port, and a microHDMI port for sending the Encore 8 to a bigger display.

You might want that, because all of this sits under an 8 inch screen, making it one of the smallest Windows machines you can buy, and it even runs the full version of Windows 8 (8.1, actually) and not that Windows RT stuff that Microsoft’s Surface tablet gets. The display here will show 1280×800, worthy of high definition, and a pixel clarity of 189 pixels per inch.

Cameras are pretty normal on tablets, and the Toshiba Encore 8 is no different in this regard, with an 8 megapixel camera on the back and a Full HD webcam up front. A microphone is also included, capable of recording in stereo.

Few buttons exist on this device, with two physical buttons — power and volume rocker — while the front-facing Windows logo also acts as a button, with haptic feedback behind it.

The regular 3.5mm headset jack is also included. useful if you plan on plugging in headphones or a microphone.

Toshiba’s Encore is charged over microUSB just like many phones and tablets currently available.

Performance

Toshiba isn’t shy when it comes to computers, creating the world’s first consumer-ready laptop, and helping push that clamshell style notebooks still rely on today.

It also produced a tablet long before most other companies, with the T100X, a handheld that ran Windows 3.1 with a 9.5 inch monochromatic display and a whopping 40MB of space.

Times have changed, though, and Toshiba is tipping its hat to modern day tablet computing with a Windows 8 tablet, several generations on from that old version of Windows, with a more defined colour screen, better performance, and the ability to take all of your desktop apps with you.

In the hands, Toshiba’s design is one centered around plastic, with a dotted texture encompassing the back. It’s clear upon holding the Encore that expenses were spared for this, and you won’t find a premium quality here, rather one that says “yup, this costs less than $500.”

For the Encore, that means the tablet is weighted well and balanced, but won’t make you forget about the aluminium casing Apple uses on its iPad Mini.

The screen also won’t provide you that same dose of quality you might expect from a competitor to Apple’s Retina-grade iPad Mini, but that’s ok, because the 1280×800 display used here is pretty close — if not the same — to the one we saw on Acer’s W4.

At least the display is an In-Plane Switching (IPS) panel, so that’s something, and one that you’ll find some reasonably sharp details on.

To Toshiba’s credit, at least the screen doesn’t succumb to the oleophobic oil issues we found on the Acer equivalent, but with higher resolution displays out on the market from Apple, we’re still hoping for something that’s a little friendlier on the eyes.

Over to the performance, and Intel’s Bay Trail W3740 proves its worth again, boasting quick power times, near instant standby times, and a general regard for getting things done.

We were able to run a few programs at once without any noticeable lag, and thanks to the touchscreen, could even use our fingers to pull the applications on the same screen very quickly.

While Windows 8.1 allows more than two apps to be used with the built-in window stacking, the screen resolution of 1280×800 limits the screens to two here, so don’t expect to get lots of multitasking done, because even if you try, it can get mighty cramped.

Battery life is decent, too, with around 6 to 8 hours found when you’re connected on WiFi and surfing the web, writing, and playing music. Disconnect yourself from a network and you might see more, with an hour or two extra possible, but if you decide to get some gaming done, the battery life will reduce significantly.

Some things appear to be missing from the package, though, with a product that echoes some of the concerns we had on Acer’s W4.

One of those concerns is the lack of modern wireless standards, with 802.11ac missing in action here.

You do get 802.11n, so that’s positive, but with the AC being the fastest wireless standard at the moment and having that included on quite a few laptops and tablets, Toshiba should have really included it in such a portable device.

The microUSB port can support a full-size USB converter, but one isn't included.

We’re also happy the manufacturer threw in a microUSB port, but it would have been so much better if Toshiba had included one of the microUSB to USB converters, which would make plugging in thumb-drives and external hard drives possible.

But it didn’t, and so you can’t, not unless you have one laying around or you go out and buy one. It should work. We tried one of ours and it did, but it would have been nice to see one thrown in the box.

Conclusion

Toshiba’s first crack at the 8 inch Windows tablet is a successful one, but it’s a pretty ordinary tablet, and really is just playing variations on a theme.

That theme appears to be building an 8 inch Windows tablet, which Toshiba has totally done, but it’s more or less the same experience as what you’ll find on the Acer, which is a tad more cost effective and even bundles a microUSB to full-size USB dongle in the box, something Toshiba seems to have gone without.

It’s not that Toshiba’s Encore is bad, either, because it’s not. Not remotely, even.

In fact, the Toshiba Encore is a totally excellent tiny Windows tablet that will suit so many people, offering enough performance for most users who want Windows to go, but it’s also a totally unremarkable tablet, and rather than come up with something uber-impressive like the Kirabook, Toshiba has just played it safe.