With all the hype and claims about putting Android tablets or iPads in the hands of kids, one important point has been ignored: these systems use different software that the school has to separately purchase ort license. Not the case with Windows tablets, like Toshiba’s Encore.
As slates for school get smaller, they get easier to use and fit better into a school’s curriculum. Encore’s screen is 8 inches and the whole device fits easily into the hand. It’s just as good for teaching as for learning and has a built-in software bonus.
At just 0.4-inches thick, it is as easy to handle as an iPad or Android tablet. Its 5.4- by 8.4-inch footprint is slightly wider than Dell’s Venue 8 Pro and at 15.3-ounces, it is 2 ounces heavier. Still, the silver and black design has a flush screen that makes poking, swiping and tapping easy.
Unlike some small Windows tablets, the Encore has a Windows button upfront and delivers a gentle vibration when it starts up. The 8-inch screen can show 1,280 by 800 resolution and has Intel’s HD Graphics, but only responds to five independent touch inputs, rather than the expected ten. While it looks bright, rich, has gently rounded corners and is perfect for small hands, the 8-inch screen can sometimes take a couple (or three) pokes or swipes to get the machine to do what you want it to do.
It worked well in normal use and was a step up from a full-size notebook or tablet for working with things like the University of Colorado’s PHET science and math simulations or watching a Khan Academy instructional video. On the downside, Toshiba doesn’t offer an optional pressure-sensitive stylus for more precise work, but the system worked fine with a generic stylus.
In addition to a dual microphone array, the Encore has speakers on the bottom when you hold it vertically. The system comes with Dolby Digital Plus audio as well as cameras front (2-megapixel) and back (8-megapixel).
I looked at the 32GB version that at $300 is on a par with Android slates. Toshiba also has a 64GB version that goes for $350. At any time, you can use its micro-SD card slot to add a 64GB card for extra storage space. There are micro-HDMI and audio ports. Like its peers, the Encore comes with 802.11n WiFi and Bluetooth 4.0 built-in.
Inside is an up-to-date quad-core Atom Z3740 processor that runs at between 1.3- and 1.9GHz. On the other hand – like many other Atom-based tablets – the system is limited to using 2GB of RAM. While not crippling its operations, it does put a damper on its performance.
The system’s performance potential is modest and roughly matches that of the Venue 8 Pro with a Passmark PerformanceTest 8 score of 526. That’s on a par with a low-end Core i3 system and should be more than enough for 99-percent of what’s needed in a classroom.
Encore’s 2,000milliamp-hour battery is charged with a micro-USB adapter plug, which at 2-ounces is not only light and small, but the prongs fold-up. The battery was able to power the Encore for 7 hours and 17 minutes of continuous use, nearly an hour longer than the Dell Venue 8 Pro and likely twice as long as the typical notebook in your school. With some power conservation, this should translate into something like needing to charge the system every other or third day.
It comes with Windows 8.1 and Norton Internet Security with a month of updates. The bonus is that the mini-tablet comes with a full copy of Office 2013 Home & Student, which includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote; all you’ll need to do is type in the license number.
The bigger bonus is that the Encore will work with just about every piece of Windows software that the district or school has invested in. This is a technological feat that no Android or iPad can touch.
Good things do come in small packages these days, but don’t let its $330 list price on Toshiba’s Web site fool you. Dig deeper and you’ll see that with a 1-year warranty, the Encore sells for closer to $300, exactly the same price as the slightly smaller and lighter Dell Venue 8 Pro, making two very compelling arguments against filling a classroom with iPads and Android tablets.
+ Excellent battery life
+ Dual microphone array
+ Office included
+ Windows software
- Limited to 2GB of RAM
- Slightly heavy and bulky
- No stylus option
- 5-finger touch-screen