THE unique selling point of Toshiba’s new tablet is its operating system, a full and faithful version of Windows 8.1, complete with Office Home & Student 2013.
Envisaged as a productivity tool as much as an entertainment device, the pre-loaded software it comes with is testament to the Japanese company’s ambition to offer a substantial alternative to a busy marketplace.
Shoehorning such a beast of OS into eight inches is a risky idea and the results are mixed. It felt odd at first to see the tile layout of Windows 8.1 displayed on a compact tablet screen. A design that seemed expansive on a laptop became hemmed in by the Encore’s modest dimensions. On a good sized screen, the space above and below the tiles was pleasing to the eye; on the Encore’s 20.32 centimetres, it came over as a needless waste of space.
As a result, browsing through the tiles was not the easiest proposition, as text and images felt unnecessarily confined. Fortunately, the Encore’s 1280 x 800 resolution and AutoBrite display meant that although items were small, they always remained crisp. Browsing through photographs revealed a tablet with far superior visuals to others of a similar price tag.
The tablet felt secure when gripped thanks to a dimpled rear surface, a texture that reduces the chances of it slipping from the hands. Gently curved edges add to the feeling of security, in spite of a chassis constructed mainly from durable plastic. In portrait mode, the design is suited to holding it with one hand as every button is safely out of reach from wayward digits. Accidents can still happen, though, given the close proximity between the power and volume controls near the Encore’s top right corner, with barely a centimetre separating them.
The true test of the Encore, however, is how it copes with its OS. Its battery life performed admirably considering the demands placed on it in terms of performance, yet switching between applications was a frustrating experience, with the sense that too much was being asked of the Intel Atom Quad Core processor at times.
A four to five second wait while loading some apps was not uncommon and it took just as long to close apps on occasion. Cumulatively, these delays undermined the idea of fluent multitasking which underpins Windows 8.1 and asked searching questions of the Encore’s ability to it OS justice.
Sluggishness, regrettably, was not the most damning problem encountered with our test unit. An attempt to activate the 8.0MP rear facing camera using the tile in Windows 8.1 resulted in a blue light and an ominous black screen, unresponsive to any combination of the home and power buttons.
This unexpected feature did not seem to tally with Toshiba’s vow that “right out the box,” the tablet was “ready for anything,” a system restart aside.
Left yearning for a keyboard
Fortunately, that was the only significant crash encountered during reviewing, and once it was up and running, the rear camera delivered a sharp image even in surroundings with soft lighting. The 2.0MP front camera did not enjoy the same degree of sharpness or detail, but again, compared to similarly priced tablets on the market, gave a decent performance.
Given the productivity tools that come with Encore, photography is unlikely to be its most in-demand feature. For those who view the bundle of Word, Excel and Powerpoint as its most attractive proposition, the good news is that the virtual keyboard proved responsive.
Yet just as the Windows tiles felt squeezed, the small screen size left you yearning for a Bluetooth keyboard when it came to writing anything longer than an email or social network status update.
Hard to work out Encore’s audience
The Encore is a powerful tablet in theory and Toshiba deserve credit for producing such a feature-packed device. But the specs tell only part of the story. It is hard to fathom quite who it is intended for. The screen size undermines the generous suite of software designed to appeal to students and business users. The seeds of a good idea are here, it may just taken a bit more time - and a few more inches - to make it work.