You don’t have to spend a fortune for a PC experience — at least Toshiba doesn’t think so.
The company recently launched its Encore 2 tablet, which packages the full version of Windows 8 into a 8-inch, dirt-cheap $US200 tablet.
That’s really cheap for a tablet, especially one that runs a full desktop operating system, not mobile software like Windows RT, iOS, or Android.
But don’t expect this to be as smooth of an experience as you’d get with an iPad Mini or Nexus 7. The Toshiba Encore is much cheaper than these tablets, but for a reason.
After spending some time with the Encore 2, here’s what I came away with.
The Encore 2 is available in two sizes: a $US200 8-inch version and a $US269 10-inch model. Both tablets come pre-loaded with Windows 8.1, Microsoft’s newest version of the OS.
Toshiba’s tablet isn’t the sexiest gadget on the market, but the Encore 2’s design does have its perks. For example, Toshiba’s choice to use a hard matte material on the back rather than glossy plastic makes it less susceptible to fingerprint smudges.
The overall look, however, is fairly plain. Thick silver bezels frame the tablet’s display, and its plastic back is rather bland. But if you’re in the market for a dirt-cheap tablet, these characteristics probably won’t bother you.
The 8-inch version of the Encore 2, which is the version I tested, runs on a fourth-generation Intel Atom processor. Intel’s Atom line is designed to enable fast Web browsing and quick app loading while also being compatible with the company’s line of desktop CPUs.
This makes the Atom an optimal choice for a device like the Encore 2, which tries to blend both desktop and mobile experiences.
The Encore 2 comes with a 1280 x 800 screen that’s a bit lower in resolution than flagship tablets, but it’s still sharp enough given the price. To put that in perspective, the screen on a high-end gadget like the $US399 iPad mini with Retina display features a 2048 x 1536 resolution.
More importantly, Toshiba has thrown in a few goodies that make the Encore 2 a particularly appealing deal for Windows fans. The tablet comes with a free one-year subscription to Office 365, Microsoft’s cloud-based version of Office. (That’s a $US70 value). The base model also comes with 32 GB of storage space rather than 16 GB like most tablets.
On most accounts, the Toshiba Encore 2 adequately met all of my needs. The tablet is compact and light enough to carry around in my bag with ease, and I found it most useful for reading during my commute home from work. I did notice, however, that the tablet’s display was awfully reflective. Each time I used the tablet, my reflection appeared almost as clearly as the text on the screen. It’s not a huge complaint, but it can become distracting.
The Encore 2 is perfectly suitable for reading and light work, but don’t expect text to look nearly as clear as it does a tablet with a higher resolution screen.
One of my biggest drawbacks when using the Encore 2 was its Windows button. The placement of the button feels awkward and a bit unnatural. The Windows key sits at top of the tablet just above the camera, rather than at the bottom underneath its display. I kept instinctively reaching for the Windows button to turn the display on and off, and my fingers naturally drifted toward the bottom of the screen to return to the Start screen. It took me a few days of usage to get used to this button placement.
The Windows button on my review unit wasn’t working properly either. Each time I pressed the button, nothing happened. I asked Toshiba if this was a known issue, or if my review unit was just screwed up, but I haven’t heard back yet.
The Encore 2’s battery life didn’t disappoint. The tablet’s battery drained after about two days of light usage, which is enough to handle casual reading, web browsing, and playing games. If you plan on using it frequently for work-related purposes or streaming Netflix, however, you’ll probably get a little less out of the Encore 2’s battery.
With the full version of Windows 8.1 and a free Office 365 subscription, the $US200 Toshiba Encore 2 is a great value. But you should seriously consider what you intend to use it for before you buy. If you’re in need of a Windows tablet and feel like an 8-inch screen will be sufficient enough for getting work done, the Encore 2 is a great choice. But if you’re willing to spend a little more cash and aren’t tied to Windows, there are relatively cheap Android tablets like Google’s Nexus 7 that offer a better experience.
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