If not for its annoyingly bulky design and slightly expensive price, the Toshiba Encore 8 would be your best option for a small Windows 8.1 tablet. As it stands, the Dell Venue 8 Pro is lower priced, thinner, and lighter.
The Encore 8 features microSD storage and something few tablets -- including the Venue 8 Pro -- have: Micro-HDMI. As a full Windows 8.1 system, the Encore 8 runs all Windows legacy programs. That is, as long as you can find space. The tablet comes in both 32GB (for $330) and 64GB ($400) configurations, but honestly, neither size is large enough to comfortably install more than a few large programs. Thank goodness for built-in storage expansion.
The lack of a keyboard/touch pad accessory means you'll want to stay away from the desktop interface -- the tablet however works great in Metro -- as attempting to use your fingers to navigate a UI that was designed with a mouse in mind is frustrating, to say the least. Fortunately, Toshiba's capacitive styli start at only $15.
The Encore 8's battery lasts long, and its overall performance is fast. As long as you never leave the Metro interface -- not likely -- navigating the UI is seamless. However, I recommend investing in a stylus pen if you're planning to take full advantage of Windows 8.1 and install legacy programs.
The textured silver backside of the Toshiba Encore 8 (pictures) See full gallery
Design and features
The Encore 8 features a by-the-numbers tablet design that looks like it came fresh out of a "make-your-own-tablet" cookie-cutter tray. With its black bezels offset by a silver trim, it eschews any sense of elegance or panache, and at first glance harkens back to cheap tablets from yesteryear (2011 through 2012).
At 0.96-pound, the Toshiba Encore 8 is also one of the heaviest small tablets around. However, if your experience with tablets is limited, you may not even notice. But as a (self-proclaimed) connoisseur of tablets small and large, to me it stands out like a sore heavy thumb.
It's also one of the bulkiest tablets -- small or large -- I've encountered in quite some time, but it works to justify its corpulence with some useful extras. Notably, a micro USB port, micro HDMI, and a microSD slot.
The power button and volume rocker sit along the right edge but are too flush with the tablet's body and as a result don't deliver much tactile feedback when pressed. A pair of well-spaced speakers sit along the bottom edge, and a headphone jack is placed on the top.
In the top-right corner of the front bezel is a 2-megapixel camera, and directly opposite it is an 8-megapixel shooter. Neither takes the most colorful pictures or delivers the clearest video, but as long as there's enough ambient -- and preferably natural -- light, pictures usually turn out decent enough. Even with adequate lighting however, most of the pics taken with the rear camera lacked color and looked a bit washed out.
The backside is plastic silver and textured with a bumpy finish that should make it more grippy, but actually doesn't. The corners are smoothly rounded, though, and don't dig into my palms, so I do like that.
Windows 8 on a small tablet
I'm a fan of Windows 8.1's touch interface as it's come a pretty long way since Windows 8.0. Still, its reliance on the old Desktop interface can prove problematic for small tablets with no keyboard accessory options, like the Encore 8.