Windows 8 on a cheap tablet: The Toshiba Encore 2 review

Toshiba Encore 2

geek week emblemRarely do I come across a Windows slate/ slab and neither do my geek friends so this will be my first hands on experience. The one we’ve been looking up to is Microsoft’s pricier Surface Pro 3.  The Toshiba Encore 2 impressed at the price tag, at just $350 you can pick up this 8 Inch tablet for own self adding Kagina’s sum (I heard she retired)  and conclude with a price in shillings. Surprisingly, it runs a full version of Microsoft’s latest windows 8.1 and can work for price cautious consumers who can’t afford the expensive iPads and want to do away with Google’s Android. Consumers enthusiast about a whole new experience different from what the market offers.

With this tablet, Toshiba’s take is not aimed at Apple’s iPad but instead it tackles a turf where Android has come to gain a solid ground regarding budget pricing with cheap tablets especially those below 10 inch and this 8 inch from Toshiba wants a piece of that pie too.

Once you start the tablet, you’re greeted with Toshiba’s red label (not the whiskey) and a user’s guide christened Toshiba Central to walk you through the basics of using the tablets and other Toshiba offerings. The Help + Tips inclusion  was worth it as it further doubles in on how to use the tablet. These tools take you through the basic staff of swiping rightwards to switch between apps to the complex staff just to ease the UX. Now lets jump to what the tablet had to offer:

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Under the hood the Encore 2 had the following specs to keep you web browsing, watching videos, playing games and so much more just like any basic tablet and tablets are known to be strong in these areas. It’s powered by a 1.4GHZ quad-core Intel Atom processor using 1GB of RAM. Though I will have to admit that some apps acted non-responsive and lagged in comparison to the above specs as I tried to utilize its multi-tasking capabilities on its 8 inch 1280 x 800 pixels LED backlit display. That’s not enough for this tablet to qualify for having a HD display coming at 189 ppi which was a huge disappointment compared to say a Nexus’s 323 ppi density count and other competing tablets out there. It also measures 211 x 132 x  9.4mm though it weighed a bit light coming at 385g.

The Windows home button key being at the top edge made it a bit frustrating to return to the modern interface as a capacitive button or onscreen keys would ease the whole process of reaching out to the home button. Also the speakers (with Dolby Digital Plus) were placed at the back plate making them vulnerable to being blocked by ones hand while using the tablet. On the contrary, they hardly had any bass output that necessitates the use of enhanced headsets on the headphone/microphone jack which is also found on the top together with the micro-USB port.

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 Connectivity

On the other hand it packs Wi-Fi 802.11n, Bluetooth 4.0, a micro USB port and 54GB on board SSD storage (at least the one I had) meaning you have plenty of storage to play around with.On top of the microSD, the port also supports MicroSDHC, MicroSDXC port for expandable memory of up to 128GB.I have to remind you that the Encore 2 came in two models with a 10 inch model and an 8 Inch model like the one I had though the later lacked a HDMI port unlike its bigger 10 Inch sibling.

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Software

Toshiba Encore 2_4

Actually this tablet made me realize why Windows 8 was a miss on click mouse and physical keyboard since it wasn’t meant for machines using the aforementioned input.  (I hope Windows 10 fixes this). The windows interface especially the Modern UI looked fluid on this tablet except that it would actually work better without the desktop because it virtually did nothing. Windows 8.1 was fluid and switching apps was much easier. I only experienced problems when I opened apps simultaneously and this made the tablet act slow calling for patience else you restart it. These issues became a norm as I switched from Evernote , Twitter, Flipboard and a load of other apps that normally go with me along.However, I had issues with finding most of my favourite apps like i will explain later.

“Microsoft wont prove a good contender without a strong eco-system and heavyweight apps”

Windows 8 is plagued with lack of apps and so finding your favorite cross-platform apps was like looking for an oasis in a desert. The household names like Facebook, Twitter, Viber were much easier to find though they still lacked important features unlike their IOS and Android counterparts and this made the whole experience dull. I found a  majority of app offerings in hundreds especially sports apps though centered around American sports and it wasn’t uncommon finding almost no App to a Ugandan name. Luckily enough the test device I used had the Brain Share Apps made from our homegrown developers that’s seeks to fill the educational gaps in our curriculum. Connecting teachers, students and the education fraternity with plenty of resourceful content to play with.

On the productivity front, since Microsoft holds a strong footing here with its Office suite on almost all windows running machines and also encroached on Apple’s territory with the Office for Mac and the Encore was no exception as it came pre-loaded with office 365 with a 1 month free subscription with the exception of One Note that you could use freely with no restrictions. This prompted me to use Google Docs on from the Google app I downloaded which I used to write a few paragraphs of this review.

Windows 8.1 on tablets should borrow more from the cropped Windows Phone version especially with the swipe like word flow keyboard since I had issues with the default outrageous keyboard.And finding a replacement proved hectic. Its predictions weren’t at par with the rest of the competition. The default internet Explorer browser wasn’t a kill since it slowed down and couldn’t live with more multi web browsing activities and other alternatives proved a bore. This prompted me to use the inbuilt browser with in the Google app. With all the cons said on software, the miracast feature was of advantage since it helps one share the small 8 inch on a larger display wirelessly through mirroring just like you play around with Apple’s Airplay or casting on Android devices.

Toshiba Encore 2_6

Performance

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I only witnessed the stellar performance before visiting the Windows Store to download apps. It was all good switching from one pre-installed app to another till I built up a long list of apps to play with. The multi-display call it running two apps simultaneously gave me a lackluster performance since others were working in the background and this often slowed down the slab.

And 3D gaming was a disaster when I tried out the Asphalt Airborne 8 arcade racer and the other notable title being Despicable Me Minion Rush that slagged. Taking price into count, you shouldn’t complain having such issues with a tablet this cheap given it can give you a good experience with casual titles . With all the apps running, playing games, streaming content and alike, the Encore 2 fell short of the 10 hours battery life on paper as it could only give me hours next to 8.

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And finally the Camera

Toshiba Encore 2_5

With the increased social activity on social networks about photos and photography rather visual communication becoming a norm, this is not the tablet for photography pundits and enthusiasts as its 5MP Autofocus rear shooter capable of Full HD recording was more of a mediocre than the pixels suggest. And for the 1.2MP selfie cam like I would prefer you call it, it wasn’t an exception falling far behind its rear counterpart. Remember Apple’s iPad Air spots cameras of the same pixels back and forth though the two fall in different price categories and so the iPad outperforming the Encore 2 camerawise shouldn’t be a surprise. This brings me to a conclusion that it’s not all about pixels but rather the camera build technology.  Good cameras should perform in low-light conditions but you shouldn’t play it up for bets on this one since

 

 

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