Toshiba Encore 2 Review – A Great Budget Windows Tablet

A couple of weeks ago, on Black Friday, I picked up the Toshiba Encore 2 Windows 8.1 tablet.  Having recently left the iOS wilderness, a tablet was the one thing that I was sorely missing in my day-to-day work and life.  I loved my iPad Air.  However, as I stated in my first impressions of the Toshiba Encore 2 post, I didn’t want to spend a lot of money on a Windows tablet s I was unsure of how well I would like the platform.  So I went cheap.  But I didn’t go wrong.

The $129 Encore 2 has been impressive for what it offers for the price.  Running Windows 8.1 with Bing, it doesn’t feel under powered when using and the 8″ display is comfortable to read and use for extended periods of time.  While the Desktop mode of Windows 8.1 doesn’t lend itself well to the 1280×800 display, it is still usable.  If your a looking for an inexpensive Windows powered tablet, the Encore 2 should be on your consideration list.

Toshiba Encore 2 8″ Windows 8.1 Table – $129 with 32GB of Storage

Specifications

On the surface, the specs of the Encore 2 are nothing to write home about.  In fact you can find many Windows powered tablets with similar specs for a little bit more or a little bit less.  Still, for what it offers, it’s not bad.  It is powered by a quad-core Intel Atom processor running at 1.33GHz with bursting up to 1.83GHz coupled with 1GB of DDR3 1333MHz of RAM.  You can buy the Encore 2 with either 32GB or 64GB of SSD storage (my unit has 32GB) and you can add up to an additional 128GB of storage thanks to the MicroSD slot.  The 8″ display is 800×1280 in resolution with 189 dpi and supports up to 10 finger multi-touch input.  Finally, the form factor is 8.29 x 5.20 x 0.37 inches (210.62 x 132 x 9.48 mm) and it weighs in at 13.58oz or 385g.

Connectivity wise, the Encore 2 has 802.11 b/g/n wireless ability which is also Miracast enabled.  There is no GSM support which shouldn’t come as a surprise given the price point.

The Encore 2 features Dolby Digital Plus sound which is rich sounding either through the dual speakers on the device or through a headset.

Lastly, the tablet is powered by a 2-cell Lithium Ion battery that is reported to give 11 hours of use.  I’ll talk about the battery life later in this review but it is sufficient for now to say… not even close.

As you can see, there isn’t anything high-tone going on here.  This is certainly not on the level of a Surface or even other slate-style tablets.  But the price makes it hard to resist and the processor is fast enough to make performance not just tolerable but actually really good.

Form Factor

The Encore 2 is actually really comfortable to hold both in portrait and landscape modes.  This is helped by the physical size of the device which is roughly the same size of an iPad Mini.  It is however slightly heavier which will bother some.  I personally haven’t found it to be an issue and carry it in my satchel just about everywhere without hardly noticing it is there.  The Encore 2 can certainly be palmed with one hand even for those with average sized hands.

As you look at the Encore 2, you will find the volume up and down controls on the upper right side of the device just below the

Right Side Controls of The Toshiba Encore 2
Right Side Controls of The Toshiba Encore 2

power button.  Just below the volume controls is the MicroSD slot which will allow you to add up to 128GB of additional storage via a card.  This certainly helps as once you do your updates and installs on the 32GB unit, about half of your usable on-board storage is consumed.  I personally added a 64GB SanDisk card and moved my OneDrive content to it and still have about 13GB left of storage after my various apps were installed.

On the top of the tablet is where you will find the dedicated Windows button along with the 2.5mm microphone/headset combo-jack and the MicroUSB port.  The MicroUSB port does support On-The-Go (OTG) technologies so you can connect up an external USB drive to the Encore 2 to access files or for additional storage.  MicroUSB to USB cables are around $10 and available from a wide range of online retailers.

On the back of the Encore two you will find the 5MP camera (more on that later) along with the dual speakers for the Dolby Digital Plus sound.  These little speakers pack a good punch, offering rich, deep sound.  I’ve actually been pretty impressed with the sound quality from these speakers in listening to a wide range of music on the device.

Finally, on the front, aside from the 8″ display is the 1.2MP front facing camera.  I will talk about the camera performance later in

Top Controls of The Encore 2
Top Controls of The Encore 2

the review.

Performance

I’ll say the same thing about the Encore 2 as I said about the Lumia 635 Windows Phone when I reviewed it a few months ago:  I expected to be disappointed by the performance of this tablet but have been pleasantly surprised by its performance.  The Atom processor has plenty of zip and even using Office applications like Word and Excel, it is able to keep up with really no serious lag.  Even when I play Age of Empires: Castle Siege on the Encore 2, performance is great.

Is it going to run Photoshop?  No, but that’s not really the point of this device.  The Encore 2 is really aimed at the masses where the web surfing, email, a little bit of Office app work and a little big of gaming is the vast majority of what is needed.  For that audience, this is a great device.  You won’t suffer running any of these apps – even at the same time.

While the zippy Atom processor and 1GB of high speed RAM certainly deserves some credit, equally credit should be given to Microsoft for optimizing Windows 8.1 to run on these smaller, lower powered devices.  I have found the OS to be amazingly stable on the Encore 2 without a single crash or failure of the OS and only a handful of CTD (Crash-To-Desktop) on a few apps (seems Facebook is the most common culprit).  Bottom line is that it is the combination of the hardware and the Windows 8.1 that give the performance of this tablet.

Screen

The first thing that most will knock about the display on the Encore 2 is the resolution.  At 800×1280 it is nothing spectacular but

Toshiba Encore 2 8
Toshiba Encore 2 8″ Windows Tablet

on a 8″ display it works quite well.  The biggest challenge with the display is when you go into Desktop mode in Windows 8.1.  That mode simply isn’t touch optimized so it can be challenging to tap Just. Right. There. to close something or move something.  It’s not impossible but certainly difficult at times.  That said, it’s hard to blame the display for that issue.  That’s a Windows issue.

When you use the Start menu and the Metro-style apps, the display is great and works quite well for those apps in that environment.

Color wise the display is a bit yellowish for my liking but I’ve also liked my displays more on the cooler color side of things.  This, I think, is more of a personal preference thing than anything else but you’ve been told.  It’s not over distracting but you will notice it.

Using the Encore 2 outside was no problem when you turn the brightness up on the display.  Direct sunlight it does struggle to be seen but this is to be expected frankly on this level of a device.  In low light the colors are crisp and clean and using the Kindle app for example, it is easy to read for an extended period of time on the tablet.

The touchscreen performs very well on the Encore 2.  Swipes side-to-side and down on the display through various apps is responsive and accurate.  Frankly this is where I thought this tablet would suffer and it hasn’t in the least.

Memory & Storage

My first mark against the Encore 2 is the 1GB of RAM.  Yes it is fast and as I indicated earlier in the review, the zippy combination of the processor, RAM and Windows 8.1 certainly doesn’t make it feel sluggish.  If, however, there was an additional gigabyte of RAM, you would likely be able to run a few more intensive apps or more apps in the background.  I personally would like to have that but it isn’t a show stopper for me (and frankly shouldn’t be for most anyone if you plan on doing the basics with this tablet).

Storage for the Encore 2 comes in the form of a 32GB or a 64GB SSD built into the chassis.  This is non-removable or upgradable but you do have the MicroSD slot.  That will give you the option to add up to 128GB of additional storage space.  In my case, I added the SanDisk 64GB MicroSD to my unit, giving me a total of 96GB of storage of which about 83GB were accessible when I started up the tablet.  This really works out just fine as you can have Windows 8.1 store your documents, music and photos on the SD card by default and can save the on-board storage for applications (all Start screen apps must install onto C: Drive).

Camera

If you are one who uses their tablet as a camera (why?) then you are probably going to be disappointed in the camera in the Encore

Indoor Photo from the Toshiba Encore 2 Tablet
Indoor Photo from the Toshiba Encore 2 Tablet

2.  It is a 5MP auto focus camera and while it isn’t horrible, it’s not the most magical camera ever.  Color saturation is reasonable but not overwhelming but overall the picture quality is pretty good.

The front facing 1.2MP camera is fixed focus and for things like Skype it works just fine.  Again, it isn’t brilliant but it does the job.

Battery Life

Right, so let’s talk about this magical 11 hours of battery life.  Simply not there folks.

At most I’ve been able to get out of the Encore 2 is about 6.5 hours.  That’s not bad but it certainly well short of the 11 hours indicated by Toshiba.  When I posted my first impressions post, I indicated that I had been quite pleased with the battery life and I was over the course of those first couple of days.  I used the tablet plenty but not in full on anger.  When I did that, battery life suffered fast.  My definition of anger is basically using it as my primary computing device.  That means lots of emails, a few Skype calls per day, lots of Word and Excel action and a few minutes of gaming here-and-there.  In other words, exactly how you would use a tablet like this although at a higher level of usage.

So is this a show stopper?  For some, maybe.  If you wanted to use this tablet as your PC replacement for a day, you may struggle to make it through the day with it.  I would make the argument that the Encore 2 isn’t really aimed at being a full time laptop replacement so they way I was testing this probably wasn’t completely fair.  But it’s hard to ignore the iPad factor.  The iPad Mini, doing the same kind of testing, came in at just over 9 hours of battery life.  That’s a big jump from 6.5 hours.

I still contend that for me, the battery life is okay.  It’s not brilliant and certainly could be better.

Conclusion

Overall, I have found the Toshiba Encore 2 to be a great little tablet that performs well, particularly for its price point.  I have no hesitation in recommending it if you are looking for a budget tablet with a nice display, full Windows 8.1 and can live with the so-so battery life.  While the Encore 2 doesn’t stand tall about a crowded budget but it isn’t the runt of the litter either.  If your are looking for a sofa tablet or one you can use while on-the-go for a reasonable amount of work and fun, the Encore 2 should be on your consideration list.

Toshiba Encore 2 8″ Windows 8.1 Table – $129 with 32GB of Storage

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