Toshiba Encore 2 WT8-B-102 review
Processor: 1.33GHz Quad-core Intel Atom Z3735G , Screen size: 8in, Screen resolution: 1,280x800, Rear camera: 5 megapixels, Storage: 32GB, Wireless data: None, Size: 211x9.5x132mm, Weight: 386g, Operating system: Windows 8.1 32-bit
Toshiba's new 8in Encore 2 WT8-B-102, which replaces the Encore we reviewed in January, is the first tablet we’ve seen running "Windows 8.1 with Bing". This is a lower-cost version of Microsoft's operating system, which manufacturers are allowed to install on their tablets as long as they leave Bing as the default search engine in Internet Explorer; the normal licence doesn't have this stipulation. The user can, of course, change the search engine in IE or install whatever browser they want once they get the tablet home.
The cheaper licence helps keep the cost down compared to other Windows 8.1 tablets we've seen. It's around £70 less than the original Encore, for example, and around £20 less than the super-bargain Lenovo Miix 2 8. Considering how easy it is to change your default search in IE (with the little down arrow next to the magnifying glass in the address bar), we think the new operating system version is a bit of a bargain.
The Encore 2 feels reasonably well made for an inexpensive tablet. The design isn't going to set the world alight; the tablet's chassis and the bezel aren’t particularly thin and the plastic rear proved easy to scratch, but there's no flex in the chassis.
Inside is a quad-core "Bay Trail" Intel Atom processor, coupled with 1GB RAM. This is a powerful mobile processor, as shown by its score of 19 in our benchmarks - as much as we see from some laptops. The Encore 2 has no problem running Windows 8.1 smoothly and dealing with complicated web pages, or playing HD video from the BBC iPlayer website (there's no official Windows 8.1 iPlayer tablet app yet).
The tablet's small 1GB RAM could prove to be a sticking point, however. Office 365, for example - a free 1-year subscription comes with the tablet - was occasionally laggy, if easy to use with the touchscreen.
As the tablet runs the full version of Windows, you have the luxury of choosing from tablet-specific apps from the Store, or using any traditional Windows application that takes your fancy. This means that, for example, you could forget about Office 365 and use LibreOffice, or use the full version of Windows Media Player instead of the more limited tablet-specific versions.
Because none of the applications above are designed for a touchscreen, they can be fiddly to use. You have to be careful with your prodding to make sure you hit the option you need. Plugging in a keyboard or mouse is also tricky as the tablet has no full-size USB port, so you have to make do with Bluetooth peripherals designed for tablets; unlike the Surface Pro 3, this isn’t the tablet that can replace your laptop.
^ Hearthstone is now optimised for Windows touchscreens, and runs reasonably on the Encore 2
You also have to be careful which games you install. Tablet-specific games from the Microsoft Store, such as rock-hard tower defence title Radiant Defense, are of course fine, but we were also hoping to play some traditional PC titles. Unfortunately, unless the title is designed specifically for a touchscreen, you'll run into difficulties; in the Secret of Monkey Island Special Edition, for example, you can't move the cursor around the screen without clicking, leading to much mis-clicking on objects, and it’s not possible to access in-game menus to save.
PC titles with touchscreen modes are beginning to appear, however. In Blizzard's Hearthstone electronic fantasy card game, for example, the in-game interface works fine and the game is playable. However, the tablet's low-power graphics processor couldn’t really cope with the intro video and animations could be jerky.
The Encore 2's display is certainly not going to set the world alight. It has a 1,280x800-pixel resolution, which is pretty standard for an inexpensive Windows tablet and enough for the Windows Desktop and for web browsing. You're paying a premium to have the Microsoft operating system compared to Android; tablets running Google's operating system such as the Dell Venue 8 Android and Google Nexus 7 have Full HD screens at this price. In our calibration tests the display could cover 72.1% of the sRGB gamut, which is reasonable if not spectacular for a budget tablet. A contrast ratio of 881:1 is more impressive, and we found it easy to pick out detail in the light and dark areas of our photos.
The new, cheaper Windows licence has helped Toshiba bring a Windows 8.1 tablet to the market for a very good price. The lack of USB ports limits the usefulness of having the full version of Windows, so if you're after a tablet mainly for surfing the web and sending emails we'd still recommend an Android model such as the Google Nexus 7. If for whatever reason you'd like a tablet with access to the full range of Windows applications, the Encore 2 is impressive value, but we prefer the Lenovo Miix 2 8 Windows 8.1 tablet, which is around £20 more expensive, has twice the RAM and storage and better battery life.
|Processor||1.33GHz Quad-core Intel Atom Z3735G|
|Front camera||1.2 megapixels|
|Rear camera||5 megapixels|
|Memory card slot (supplied)||microSD|
|Bluetooth||Bluetooth 4.0 + LE|
|Operating system||Windows 8.1 32-bit|
|Battery size||Not disclosed|
|Warranty||One year RTB|
|Price||£179 inc VAT|