When it comes to small form factor Windows device there have been many attempts over the years to get it right but none have really pulled it off, anyone remember the UMPCs like the Samsung Q1? Maybe Windows 8.1 finally delivers a Windows OS that works on a small tablet and maybe Toshiba’s Encore 8 is the right device?
First the specs: The Toshiba Encore 8 is powered by an Intel Atom Z3740 (Bay Trail) processor runs Windows 8.1 on an 8 inch screen 1280×800 resolution. In has 2GB of RAM and my version has 32GB of solid state storage.
The Encore WT8 feels well made, it has a chrome bezel with a silver hard plastic back, it’s got a kind of dimpled rear that makes it very easy to hold and shouldn’t slip out of your hands.
It feels study, weighing 445grams which is a little heavier than my 2012 Nexus 7 but in the hand you can’t feel a lot of difference. It is also a little thicker than the Nexus 7 as you can see in my photos as the weight it doesn’t make a lot of difference.
The Encore has a MicroSD card slot which is going to be needed if you want to store media on the smaller 32GB storage version. I have the 32GB version and there is about 5GB of space left after Windows, Office and my standard selection of apps. There one USB port on it which is MicroUSB and is used to charge the tablet, initially I wasn’t able to connect a USB device to the tablet as a standard MicroUSB cable wouldn’t work so I ordered a MicroUSB to standard USB adapter which I have used to plug in usb devices to the WT8. Via a USB hub I plugged in a keyboard, mouse and external hard drive. The only issue I can see is that you can’t charge the tablet via the hub, it could be that I need a different adaptor to get that to work.
There is also a MicroHDMI port which can be used to connect to an external monitor. Multiple monitors work much better in Windows 8.1 than they did in Windows 8. You can have the modern UI on one monitor and the desktop on another or any combination of both. Once you have it connected to a monitor and with a keyboard and mouse it works just as any other standard Windows 8.1 PC. You can also pair Bluetooth keyboards and mice so you have plenty of options.
As a tablet the Encore 8 works very really well, I will probably do another post of how Windows works on an 8 inch device but my initial impressions are that Windows 8.1 does the job, Windows has come a long way on tablets and the Encode makes the most of it. The Encore feels most natural to use in portrait mode and the on-screen keyboard in portrait mode works well. I found I could type pretty fast using my thumbs on the keyboard, in landscape mode you can use the split keyboard which also works very well. Apps like Twitter work very well on an 8 inch portrait screen as do the built in apps. In fact Twitter waists a lot of space on landscape mode and looks much better in portrait mode . Overall the modern UI works very well on the tablet and it’s a pleasure to use. Where it does get a little more awkward is with the desktop. The desktop targets a little small on an 8 inch screen, things like explorer windows are ok but 3rd party apps tend to have very small icons and touch targets. You can just about get away with desktop apps that are not touch optimised. If you are going to use desktop you will probably need a mouse or very small fingers.
The screen which runs at 800×1280 which is very clear and pretty good viewing angle. The screen is nice and bright and not to reflective but it is a bit of a finger print magnate (you will want to keep a micro fibre cloth handy), it’s not as clear as 1080p displays on devices like the Surface 2 but is a very useable.
Testing battery life is always a bit tricky. With my usage I seem to be around 8 hours using Office, apps and the web. The Encore supports connected standby so has instant on which comes on as fast as an iPad or Android tablet and notification come through even when the device is not in use, it’s hard to work out the exact drain but I found that two hours of standby takes around 1% of the battery (according to the battery report).
As my podcast co-host Garry Whittaker likes to say the Atom processor in the Encore is not your Grandfathers Atom. The tablet is very snappy, the modern apps are very fast as is Microsoft Office. For desktop apps I think the biggest disadvantage would be the 2GB of RAM. I edited a podcast on the Encore and was impressed with how well it ran, I think video editing would be more of challenge. One thing to note is that it doesn’t get warm and I couldn’t hear any fan noise at all.
The Encore comes with Windows 8.1 and Microsoft Office 2013 Home and Student Edition, as I found out Office isn’t actually installed and when you run the Office app it asks you for an Office key, the key is actually the Windows key which is not very clear (see my post for how to find Office on your tablet). I wouldn’t want to spend too much time using Office with just the touch screen but it’s great for reading office documents. Actually I did do a few blog posts with the Encore, as I said above the onscreen keyboard is useable and of course you can connect an external keyboard and mouse.
Other features included are front and real facing cameras and GPS sensor. There is an 8MP rear camera and a 2MP front camera, the front camera works great for Skype and the rear is ok for taking photos. I am not a fan of taking photos with a tablet but it can be handy, I have taken photos and then put them straight into Word and its easy to post direct to Twitter or Facebook. You can also record video in 720p via the rear camera.
Photo taken with the Encore 8’s rear camera
So overall I really like the Toshiba Encore 8. It’s a great device for reading email, the web, using apps like Twitter and Facebook. Its light and the battery life is good, you can use the Windows desktop and desktop apps if you have to but it works best with the modern apps. Plus you can hook up an external monitor, keyboard and mouse and use it as a PC. So it’s a long away from the UMPC of 2007 and at £250 is a good price, it’s not much more than a new Nexus 7 and in my opinion much more productive. The Windows Store still needs more quality apps but it’s getting there and Windows 8.1 works very well on the small screen. Recommended!
In this video I unbox the Toshiba Encore 8 and take a look at what you can do with it and how it performs.
Ian Dixon is a Microsoft MVP (Most Valuable Professional), founder of TheDigitalLifestyle.com tech site and producer of the weekly The Digital Lifestyle Show podcast. Ian has been writing and talking about Windows for over 10 years and has over 20 years in IT as an IT Manager. Ian thousands of followers on Twitter and Facebook and over 4 million views on his YouTube channel.