Why would you take notes with a pen and paper when you can write directly on your tablet's screen? That's the advantage of Toshiba's Encore 2 Write, a 10-inch Windows tablet that comes with a stylus and a Wacom digitizer integrated into the screen. Few tablets offer this level of pen precision.
But the 10-inch Encore 2 Write has a few hurdles to overcome in the hardware department. Its plastic design feels cheap, its performance is middling and its low-res screen leaves a lot to be desired. So, can this $399 slate stand up to more premium stylus-equipped slates, like Microsoft's upcoming Surface 3 ($499) or Lenovo's ThinkPad 10 tablet ($540)?
The silver sheen of the Encore 2 Write's plastic back looks nice, but it feels cheap; when you tap on the tablet, it produces a hollow sound. And I doubt it will even look nice for long, as the silver paint on my review unit was already collecting hairline scratches by the end of my test period. Overall, though, it's not a bad-looking tablet, with smooth, rounded corners and a silver bezel around the display.
At 1.3 lbs., the slate is light enough that it won't weigh you down on your daily commute, and at 0.35 inches thick, it's reasonably slim. The Lenovo ThinkPad 10 has roughly the same dimensions, but it's a hair lighter (1.2 lbs.). Both tablets feel hefty compared to the 9.7-inch iPad Air 2, which weighs 1.02 lbs. and is 0.26 inches thick, but lacks a digitizer.
At 1280 x 800 pixels, the Encore 2 Write's resolution is a lot lower than I'd like to see on a 10-inch screen; I could make out individual pixels on the screen without even trying. And topping out at 240 nits of brightness, it's quite a bit dimmer than the average tablet (367 nits). Still, it's fine for basic tasks like responding to email, browsing the Web and scribbling notes in OneNote.
Sure, you can buy a basic capacitive stylus for just about any tablet, but the pen tech here is far more advanced than that, providing a digital writing experience that feels almost as precise and natural as a real ballpoint pen. That's a big perk if scribbling notes is part of your daily work routine. Capacitive styluses, in comparison, aren't very useful for serious note-taking.
The excellent pen experience comes from the integrated Wacom digitizer, which lets the tablet detect how hard you're pressing down on the display. Each pen stroke on the device is clean and buttery smooth, and it's easy to feather or darken your lines by varying your pressure. The only tablets that can compete with this level of precision are other Wacom-equipped slates, such as the Lenovo ThinkPad 10 and the Asus VivoTab Note 8, as well as tablets that use N-trig pen technology, such as Microsoft's Surface Pro 3, and the upcoming Surface 3.
Other tablets are compatible with "active" styluses that measure pressure using the pen tip rather than a pressure-sensitive screen, including the Dell Venue 11 Pro and the Android-powered Samsung Galaxy Note tablet. That technology is decent for basic note-taking, but those pens don't offer the precision and smooth lines that you'll find in a slate with a Wacom digitizer. When I tested Dell's Active Stylus on the Venue 11 Pro 7000, for example, there was a noticeable wobble in each pen stroke; that wasn't the case with the Encore 2 Write, which creates smooth, clean strokes.
As I expected, the palm-rejection technology was excellent; I never had to worry about making stray marks when resting my hands against the screen while writing. However, you will have to worry about the pen's AAA battery running out of juice, so you'll probably want to carry a spare in your work bag. Toshiba didn't say how long each battery should last.
Like the tablet itself, the plastic pen feels a bit flimsy. I would have preferred something a bit weightier.
There's also no silo on the body of the tablet in which to stow the stylus, but that's typical. Although Toshiba did include a small slot on the side of the device for the pen's clip, I worried that the clip would break off if I slid it into my bag the wrong way. A cap to protect the pen's nib is also included, which is a nice bonus.
Specs and performance
The 10-inch Toshiba Encore 2 Write comes in just a single configuration, which includes the same hardware as our review unit:
- 1.83-GHz Intel Atom Z3735F CPU
- 2GB of RAM
- 64GB of onboard storage (upgradable to 128GB via microSD slot)
Toshiba also sells an 8-inch version of the Encore 2 Write — which is functionally identical, but smaller — for $350. Personally, I'd pay the extra $50 for the larger model, but you may want something more portable.
We tested the Encore 2 Write's real-world performance with our spreadsheet test, which tasks a device with matching 20,000 names with their address in OpenOffice. It took the Encore 2 Write 23 minutes and 25 seconds to finish, which is far slower than the tablet average (13:49) and the ThinkPad 10 (15:18).
It didn't fare very well on the Geekbench 3 benchmark test, a synthetic test that measures overall performance. Toshiba's tablet scored 2,088, which is quite a bit worse than the tablet average (2,256) and the ThinkPad 10 (3,120).
Ports and connectivity
The Encore 2 Write includes a healthy selection of ports, which is a big perk for business users. In addition to the standard USB 2.0 charging port, you get a micro HDMI port, which lets you link the slate to a larger monitor for desktop use, or to a projector for presentations. There's also a microSD card slot for expanding the slate's 64GB of onboard storage.
Get ready for some dark video chat sessions. The Encore 2 Write's 1.2-megapixel front-facing camera has trouble capturing images in indoor environments, so everything is a bit darker than it should be. For example, you would never know how brightly lit my office is by looking at the dim photo above. That said, the Encore 2 Write is good enough for basic videoconferencing sessions. Toshiba's slate is also louder than competing tablets, topping out at 85 decibels in our audio test (compared to the 80-dB tablet average), so you shouldn't have any trouble hearing a colleague or client on the other end of a video call.
You might want to charge the Encore 2 Write before each business meeting. The slate has below-average battery life; it lasted just 6 hours and 42 minutes on a charge in our battery test, which simulates continuous Web browsing via Wi-Fi with the screen set at 100 nits of brightness. That's far short of the tablet category average (8:26) and the ThinkPad 10 (8:43).
The Encore 2 Write comes with a relatively clean installation of Windows 8.1. Toshiba also packed in a free one-year subscription to Microsoft Office 365 (which includes Word, Excel and PowerPoint) plus 1TB of cloud storage for all your files and documents — a $99 value. That's a big perk for business users.
There are also a couple of good note-taking applications that come preloaded. Microsoft's excellent OneNote software is there, as well as Toshiba's new TruNote app. OneNote is more intuitive, but TruNote has some nice features of its own, like a camera utility that lets you snap a photo and insert it into your notes without leaving the app. It also makes it easy to send snippets to email or Office apps.
Asus' VivoTab Note 8 ($260) is an 8-inch slate with built-in Wacom tech. Its small size is a perk if you want something more portable than the Encore 2 Write, but the screen might feel cramped by comparison.
Microsoft's 10.8-inch, stylus-equipped Surface 3 (which launches May 5 for $499) offers better performance and more premium build quality than the Encore 2 Write, plus a handy kickstand.
Lenovo's 10-inch ThinkPad 10 ($540) tablet also offers a Wacom pen, and it's faster and lasts longer on a charge than the Encore 2 Write. Lenovo sells it for a relatively high price, but you might be able to find it at a much lower price from third-party retailers such as Amazon.
Dell's Venue 11 Pro ($499) is more powerful than any of those devices, and although it doesn't have an active digitizer built in, Dell does sell an active pen (for an additional $35) that provides about the same functionality. But, as previously mentioned, Dell's stylus isn't as precise as the Encore 2 Write's Wacom pen.
If you can afford the ThinkPad 10 — or find it on sale — there's no real reason to consider the Encore 2 Write over that device. The tablets are very similar, but Lenovo's slate (which is more than a year old, by the way) offers better overall performance, a better screen and better optional accessories, like a desktop docking station. And if you don't mind waiting for its May 5 launch, Microsoft's $499 Surface 3 might be an even better option, since it includes a built-in kickstand that will give you a nice angled surface for writing.
Otherwise, the Encore 2 Write isn't a bad device if you're looking to replace your notepad with something a little more high-tech. It has mediocre performance and relatively short battery life, but its suggested retail price is significantly lower than any competing machine. I also like the good selection of ports and the free year of Office 365. And, most important, the stylus experience is top-notch. It all adds up to a package that's worth a look for business users who prefer a pen to a keyboard.