Cheap Windows 8 Tablets: how do they stack up?

WP_20150214_22_50_25_RichA few months back, I decided to try one of the cheap Windows 8 tablets. The tablet I chose was the Encore Mini from Toshiba.  It was under $90 from Best Buy (it was on sale, I think.)  The tablet came with 16gb of storage, an Atom processor, bluetooth, wifi and has a seven inch touch screen. It is expandable via Micro SD.

So, after a few months, how has  it stood up? Well, hardware wise, it is fine.  Not too heavy, not too light.  The screen looks decent and battery life is OK.  About the only hardware issue are the cameras…they stink.  They take really bad pictures. But, I don’t use them anyway.

The operating system is the weak spot here.  While it runs compressed and isn’t slow as a snail, more like a fast turtle, it still consumes much of the storage.  If you include the built in applets and the set of Windows 8.1 apps, you have very little storage left.  I installed the Solitaire suite, a code editor and bluetooth terminal and that was all I could fit.  I have since removed the editor and bluetooth terminal. I still run out of storage.

Windows 8.1 allows you move YOUR FILES to SD, but NOT the apps.  If the apps could live on the SD card, this thing would REALLY be useful.

It’s size lends itself to portability and is a great web browsing device. It even makes for a nice little multimedia device. But, for anything more, it is pointless since you cannot expand the main drive and you cannot move apps to the SD card.

Supposedly, people who buy these things will get Windows 10 for free. If Windows 10 allows installing to the SD card, this thing will be like a new machine. Windows 10 is far more efficient than previous builds of Windows, including Windows 8.

I would put off buying one of these until Windows 10 comes out.  Go to a store and play with one that has Windows 10 installed and see if it works for you.

 Until then, these things are turkeys.  Spend a few more dollars and get a tablet with 32gb or more.

See my latest post about upgrading to Windows 10. This thing is actually usable now.

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Toshiba Encore Mini: a Seven Inch Tablet For $99

WP_20150216_18_06_53_ProIn 2014, one of the things that Microsoft did, to push Windows 8 and Windows 8 devices, was to offer up a ‘zero dollar’ (i.e. NOT FREE) version of Windows for devices that are under eight inches.  This move did more than just give manufacturers a ‘zero cost’ version of Windows, it opened the flood gate on small Windows devices.  Now, this is a FULL version of Windows, no strings attached. Well, ok, you have BING as your default search provider, but, you can change it if you wish.

Among the devices introduced was the Toshiba Encore Mini Tablet. This is an Intel Atom powered, seven inch tablet. It has 1GB of RAM, 16GB of storage (of which about 10GB is available), WIFI, SD Micro Card slot, USB connector and stereo sound.  It runs Windows 8.1 with Bing and costs $99.WP_20150214_22_48_42_Pro 1

If you shop, you can get it for about eighty-eight dollars.

The device is comparable, in size, to the iPad Mini, though not as pretty.  It is functional, but will not garner any design awards.  It is fairly generic. My unit has a bumpy, white hard plastic back with a black bezel.  The seven inch screen is not the best I’ve ever seen, but far from the worse (no, that award goes to the Pandigital White seven inch tablet from a few years ago.)

Unboxing the unit was quick, there’s not much there: the Tablet, two booklets, an addendum, the USB cable and…that’s it. NO POWER ADAPTOR was included. I suppose they cost too much.  The manual suggests PLUGGING IT IN TO YOUR COMPUTER to charge it.  Or, use the Toshiba branded wall wart, that you have to purchase separately. In reality, pretty much any USB charger will work.  My unit was DOA, so I had to wait to charge it. 

WP_20150216_18_07_50_ProOnce charged, it took a few minutes to set it up. I entered my Microsoft credentials and everything was setup for me: my mail, favorites, even recent browsing history.  OneNote synced fairly quickly as well. I specifically told it NOT to sync my apps as I don’t have that much storage and did not want ‘muddy’ it up. 

While the device comes with Office 365 Personal, I already have a subscription, so I have not set it up. 

Overall, the performance is about on par with my Asus Tablet.  For some things, it seems a bit faster and for others, much slower. Graphics performance is abysmal, but I won’t be playing games on this thing. Well, not anything demanding, anyway.  Audio is MUCH better than on my Asus-I can actually hear it. What a concept.

One thing I have noticed is that the Windows Desktop (aside from being an antique) just is not suitable for this size.  I think Microsoft made the right choice for Windows 10 by doing away with the desktop for devices of this size or smaller.  It simply does not scale properly. Icons and links are way too small, I found myself tapping on one thing, or, so I thought, and something else WP_20150216_18_07_12_Prohappens. At 1280 by 600, on a seven inch screen, it is just too small for Windows desktop.

WiFi performance was good, but I found that it, frequently, drops the WiFi connection.  I am guessing it is a driver issue.

Battery life is also not that great. iPad Mini gets about nine hours whereas this thing get, maybe, seven hours. It also charges very slowly. That initial charge took nearly eight hours. It has taken about six hours to fully charge since then. Now, to be fair, that first charge was from the computer, which charges my phone slowly as well. The second and subsequent charges have been on my Nikon Lumia battery charger. Your mileage may vary.

The camera? It’s horrible. Nothing more to be said.

Overall, this is a good buy if you need a tablet to take with you on daily trips, but don’t need it a full day.  It is great for short Internet bursts or checking and answering email. If you have a portable Bluetooth keyboard, it may be good for Word on the go.  It is great for OneNote as well. But, it isn’t so great for many things you’d use a laptop or larger tablet to do.  If you need to do more than this, save your money and buy a bigger tablet.  If, however, you want a device a little bigger than your phone, but not a full sized tablet, then this may be for you,  Go to Best Buy and try it first.