The 8 inch tablet market is incredibly competitive, especially at the cheaper price points. Androids have typically owned that territory, but there’s a fair share of companies producing Windows tablets to do battle in the segment. Most have fallen flat in performance, or were simply undercut in price by their Android rivals.
Toshiba’s original Encore - yes, that was as awkward to write as you’d think - fell into the latter category, its $300+ price tag a deterrent to those shopping for an eight or seven inch tablet. But their second Encore is much, much cheaper.
And because of that, it actually makes sense. Well, mostly.
Model: Toshiba Encore 2 WT8-B32
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Size and Weight: 8.29 x 5.20 x 0.37 in., 13.58 oz.
Display: 8.0”, 1280x800 (720p), 189 ppi
Camera: 5MP rear, 1.2MP front
Platform: Windows 8.1
Performance: Intel Atom Quad-Core Processor Z3735G 1.33GHz, 1GB RAM
Memory: 32GB internal storage, expandable via microSD card to another 128GB
Connectivity: Wi-Fi, Bluetooth® 4.0, USB 2.0
It’s much better than you’d expect, given its cheap $200 price tag. Despite that, Toshiba’s found a way to make a device that feels - for the most part - like a quality device. The buttons all sit relatively flush with the body, but still require a fair bit of force to activate. So you’re not going to break any switches.
And I doubt you’ll break anything by dropping the Encore 2, since it’s just about perfectly sized for one-handed anchoring and the backing plate is nice and grippy when your fingertips touch it.
The screen is a 720p unit. It’s not class-leading, but the display does just fine for itself. Deep blacks lose marginal intensity and some shapes aren’t as crisp as premium displays, but overall it works well for a budget eight inch tablet.
The Encore 2 is decently quick with an Intel quad-core processor, but its game performance won’t get you all that jazzed. It’s best suited to media consumption, especially when audio is involved. The speakers are much better than they have any right to be - this has to be the first tablet with back-facing speakers that I didn’t have to pump to max volume to hear everything clearly. Again, considering how cheap the Encore 2 is, that’s pretty impressive.
What’s really surprising is the amount of storage space you get on the Encore 2. Most of the seven and even some of the 8 inch tablets come with 8 or 16GB of internal space. Others offer 32GB models.
The Encore 2 - standard - comes with 32GB of space (25GB of which is usable, after the OS takes its share), and a microSD slot for additional storage. That’s a huge deal if you download a lot of big apps and games. Battery life is pretty decent (averaged 8-10 hours) as long as you're not pushing it with heavy gaming.
Well, it’s not exactly a looker. The shape is fine, and the bezels aren’t particularly obtrusive, but something about that color scheme looks cheap. I can’t quite put my finger on why...but if this was available in black like the original Encore, I’d find it much more appealing.
The worst part about it is how easily the backplate gets marked. I only used this Encore 2 - which was brand new in box when I received it, mind you - and a week and a half later the back is all marked up like it was a year old.
But the biggest problem is the Windows home button. Why. Why do manufacturers ever put Windows home buttons on the rims of tablets? I’m not asking for a capacitive button (that’d push the price tag higher), but physical button on the front would have been fine. The Windows button here is only sorta helpful when you hold the Encore in landscape mode, which isn’t particularly helpful, even when you hold the Encore 2 in landscape orientation. The Encore isn’t the only Windows tablet to do this, but that doesn’t make it any less annoying.
It’s not perfect, but the Encore 2 is one of, if not the best small Windows tablets when you’re talking about value per dollar. If you’re looking for a cheap Windows 8 tablet, this should be at the top of your short list.