Toshiba Encore 2 Windows 8 Tablet

I recently looked at the Acer Switch 10 convertible laptop and was, for the most part, pleasantly surprised by the sub-$400 laptop/tablet running Windows 8. Despite a couple of issues and concerns, the Switch 10 is a tempting alternative to iPads or Chromebooks for the classroom. The Toshiba Encore 2 WT8-B is a smaller, cheaper, Windows 8 tablet that has similar specifications to the Switch, but cuts a lot of corners along the way.

Encore 2 WT8-B

The most obvious change is the size. The Encore 2 has an 8-inch screen but keeps the same resolution as the Switch. While this does mean the Encore 2 has a higher PPI (pixel per inch), it was significantly more difficult to accurately interact with Windows Desktop applications. I often found I was not touching in the correct spot to minimize a window or click a checkbox.

The Encore 2 is also a tablet-only device. You could connect an external keyboard, but it would simply be another accessory that you have to carry with you. Toshiba sells a Bluetooth keyboard case for the Encore 2, but it is designed around the 10" model. It is also expensive making the combined price higher than the Switch 10.

Internally, the Encore appears to be nearly identical to the Switch. It uses the same chipset (CPU and graphics), has the same resolution screen, and the same amount of storage. The biggest difference is that the Encore 2 only has 1GB of RAM, half that of the Switch 10. This is not enough for any Windows device, and in fact the pre-installed Symantec utility warned of potential performance issues due to high memory usage. This message appeared immediately after powering the device on for the first time, and it was complaining about a core Windows service.

Speaking of pre-installed software, it always amazes me that Windows OEM's continue to find value loading up devices with applications that not only provide no value to the customer, but are actually detrimental to the experience the customer has with the device. The Switch 10 did have some pre-loaded software, but it was minimal and I was never prompted or interrupted by it. It is a different story with the Encore 2. The Symantec software has repeatedly popped up warning me about performance, asking me to register, or asking if I want my "toolbar back" in Chrome. The other drawback to pre-installed software, especially on these entry-level Windows devices, is the impact on storage. The Encore 2 has 32GB of storage, of which only 18.3GB is free out of the box.

The button layout of the Encore 2 was odd as well. The power and volume buttons were in fairly standard locations (on the left edge of the tablet when held in portrait mode), but the Windows button is on the top of the device. The Switch 10 used a capacitive button on the front of device just below the screen which is far more convenient. Reaching for the top of the Encore 2 for the Windows button just felt awkward every time.

At roughly $250 the Encore 2 is definitely in iPad Mini and Chromebook territory. The touch precision issue and lack of keyboard means that you would realistically be limited to apps specifically designed for Windows 8. Windows Desktop applications are virtually unusable. Considering the small amount of RAM and the device constantly complaining about memory-hogging processes, using the Encore 2 regularly would be quite frustrating. The Switch 10 was a compelling alternative to iPads or Chromebooks, but the Encore 2 8-inch tablet just cuts too many corners.

Note that there is a 10.1 inch Encore 2 that has specs nearly identical to the Switch 10, but it does not include the keyboard. If you add the keyboard, the Encore 2 10.1 inch model is significantly more expensive than the Switch 10.

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