Toshiba Encore review

Pros

  • Reasonable performance
  • Good connectivity
  • Runs full Windows 8.1

Cons

  • Mediocre screen
  • Average battery life
  • Screen too small for full Windows apps

It was inevitable that, just as Apple eventually moved into the smaller tablet market with the iPad mini, so Windows tablet makers would finally follow suit. Earlier in the year Acer released the Iconia W3, and now we have rival models from Dell and Toshiba, with Dell’s promising-looking Venue 8 Pro matched by Toshiba’s Encore, which we’re reviewing here. Toshiba hasn’t had any huge success in the Android tablet sphere, but with the Encore there’s hope that its heritage of great Windows Ultrabooks and laptops will pay dividends. Has it, and does the Encore make a convincing case for Windows on a smaller screen?

Design

First impressions aren’t exactly great. Even though at 445 grams it’s not particularly heavy, the Encore is thick at nearly 11mm, and with its dot-textured silver plastic shell it looks more like a budget Android tablet from a year ago than the cutting-edge, high-end device it should be. Put it next to the £119 Kindle Fire HD – a tablet costing half the price – and it looks worryingly dated. Build quality is reasonably solid, though there’s a little creaking when you twist the corner, but if this is the best Toshiba’s design department can come up with, then it’s time to think about a different tack.

Luckily, connectivity is a different story. The Encore finds room for a microUSB port, a microHDMI output and a headphone socket on the top edge, along with a microSD card slot on the left-hand side. 32GB of on-board storage doesn’t seem bad by Android standards, but Windows 8 is notoriously more expansive, and with the OS and a selection of Apps installed I only found 7.14GB remaining, so you’re probably going to need some extra space. The volume rocker and the power button can be found on the right edge.

Screen and sound

The Encore has an 8in, 1280 x 800 resolution IPS screen. It’s not bad, with impressively wide viewing angles, but leave Windows to manage your brightness levels and the display looks really dull. Adjust it manually and it looks much better, but it still doesn’t have the clarity or vibrant colour of the screens we’re seeing on some budget tablets, like the Asus MeMO Pad HD7 or Kindle Fire HD. It’s fine for working, browsing the web or watching video, but you can’t help wishing it had a little more zing.

As for the sound, the Encore gets reasonably loud but the output is weak in the low-end and tinny at the top. Find some headphones, then plug them in is my advice.

Software

Windows RT appears to have fallen out of favour, and even the new crop of 8in tablets is coming packing full-fat Windows 8.1. On the one hand this means you can run the whole gamut of Windows 8.1 applications, and you’re not restricted to the steadily improving selection in the Windows store. On the other hand, the vast majority of applications will be virtually unusable on an 8in touchscreen, even more so than with a 10.1in display. In fact, anything with fiddly scroll bars, drop-down menus or tiny buttons is virtually unusable.

This leaves the Encore in a curious position. It’s best used as a device for content consumption, email and light web browsing, when the strength of Windows 8.1 over Android or iOS is as a productivity platform. You can use it for Word, PowerPoint and (just about) Excel with the touch-friendly UI option enabled, and there are more good business and productivity apps appearing on the Windows Store, but the overall feeling here is that one of the big advantages Windows has on a 10.1in or larger tablet has disappeared.

Performance

Windows 8.1 is powered by one of Intel’s new Bay Trail Atom processors, running at 1.33GHz with the ability to burst to 1.82GHz. This is accompanied by 2GB of DDR3 RAM. In Geekbench 3 the Encore managed a single-core score of 786 and a multi-core score of 2604, which wouldn’t disgrace some low-end Core i3 laptops, let alone other tablets.

This gives the Encore one advantage – theoretically, you could connect it to a Bluetooth mouse and keyboard along with a monitor, and use it as a basic, everyday PC, then disconnect everything and carry it around as a tablet. It doesn’t have the power for demanding applications, but if you spend most of your day in Office or simple productivity applications, you’ll be fine.

GPU performance is also quietly impressive, with the Encore hitting 21 fps in GFXBench’s onscreen T-Rex HD Test and 35 fps in Egypt HD. While the selection of games in the Windows Store isn’t exactly phenomenal, the Encore could play some older PC titles. If you have a Steam account and some form of controller – even a mouse and keyboard – it’s worth experimenting with some vintage classics.

Cameras

The Encore has an 8-megapixel rear-facing camera and a 2-megapixel front-facer, though I wouldn’t really want to use either for anything more than a quick snap or video chat. The rear-facing camera captures shots with more detail than your average tablet snapper, but the colours are flat and lifeless. The front-facing camera, meanwhile, struggles badly with noise unless you’re in bright lighting, which isn’t frequently the case indoors.

I should also note that the first time I used the camera app it crashed the tablet, leaving me with a blank unresponsive screen until I could reset it. In the era of Android 3.0 this kind of thing wasn’t unusual, but it’s not something you expect from a Windows tablet produced by a major manufacturer.

Battery life

Toshiba claims you’ll get somewhere between seven and fourteen and a half hours of battery life out of the Encore, depending on whether you’re playing HD video, browsing the web, or, erm, putting it in Standby. In practice, seven to eight hours seems to be the going rate, particularly once you turn the brightness levels up a bit. That’s not awful by the standards of budget Android tablets or even the 2013 Nexus 7, but when a tablet is as chunky as this, you expect a little more.

Verdict

The Encore isn’t a bad Windows tablet by any means, and there is something intriguing about having a usable Windows 8.1 PC in such a small and light form factor. But here’s the problem: As a tablet it’s going up against devices as light, powerful and versatile as the Nexus 7, the iPad mini and the Kindle Fire HDX 7, and when it’s £50 more expensive than the Google and Amazon tablets it’s hard to justify the premium price. If you needed convincing that Windows could compete with iOS and Android on a small-screen tablet, the Encore isn’t likely to make you a believer.

Specifications

Manufacturer and Model

Toshiba Encore

Processor

1.3GHz Intel Atom Z3740

RAM

2GB

Memory

32GB

Memory Expansion

MicroSD memory card

Display

8in 1280 x 800 IPS

Connectors

MicroUSB 2.0, microHDMI, headphones

Main Camera

8 megapixel

Front-facing camera

2 megapixel

WiFi

802.11b/g/n

Battery

2 Cell Lithium Polymer

Size and weight

135 x 213 x 10.68mm, 445g