Toshiba's Encore tablet is a compact, relatively low-cost device that runs the full-blown Windows 8.1 platform despite its 8in screen format. It also comes with a version of Microsoft Office 2013 included in the price, making it good value for money and a potential winner with some buyers, such as students.
Announced earlier this year and available to buy now, the Encore is little larger than many e-readers and also roughly the same size as Apple's iPad Mini. Despite this, there is a full PC inside the Encore's casing, powered by a quad-core Intel Atom processor, making it capable of handling traditional Windows applications.
It's tricky to know who Toshiba sees as the target market for the Encore. While its small size makes it a rival for Android tablets such as the Nexus 7, it is heavier and more costly than such devices. Meanwhile, its small screen space and Atom processor make it less attractive for running demanding Windows applications than other Windows 8 tablets.
Toshiba said the Encore could be used as a companion device to another PC in a business environment. However, the firm really seems to be aiming at students, judging by the inclusion of Office Home & Student 2013 and an emphasis on Skype video chat and six months' worth of free Xbox music access in its promotional literature.
In use, we found the device somewhat sluggish at times – despite its quad-core Atom – and the small screen makes it infuriatingly difficult to do just about anything in the Desktop environment.
Conversely, we found that the Metro-style user interface of Windows 8.1 seems to suit a device with a screen size like this, as opposed to a laptop or larger screen PC.
While the Encore is relatively compact, it is also chunkier than rival tablets with a similar screen size, at just over a centimetre thick. It is also heavier, at 445g, when compared with the 290g of a Nexus 7 or the 331g of the iPad Mini. Despite this, we found it comfortable to use and hold in just one hand, especially in a portrait orientation.
In fact, this seems to be how Toshiba envisions the Encore being used. The Toshiba logo on the front panel is placed in portrait orientation as is the Windows button, and the two speaker slots for audio output are on the "bottom" edge of the device in this orientation. However, the screen automatically rotates as usual, so you can view the screen in landscape mode if you prefer.
While the front of the Encore has the typical, almost featureless black fascia seen on most tablets, the rear and sides are formed from a single piece of plastic with a mesh of fine dimples that give the device a rather cheap look and feel when compared with the iPad or Nexus. It does, however, feel sturdy enough to take a few knocks.