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Toshiba Encore Challenges iPad mini with $329 Windows 8.1 Tablet

The Toshiba Encore's target is pretty clear. This Windows 8.1 tablet will have the same $329 price as the iPad mini when it launches in November, but it will feature a sharper 1280 x 800-pixel screen, Office Home & Student 2013,  and a fully optimized Skype experience. Will that be enough to make this 8-inch work-and-play slate a worthy Apple alternative?

Sporting Intel's latest 1.8-GHz Bay Trail Atom processor, the Encore is designed to deliver more than just long battery life. The IntstantGo feature allows the slate to receive updates while its sleeping, which should save users time

Other features on the Encore include a microUSB 2.0 port, micro HDMI port and 802.11n Wi-Fi. There's also 32GB of internal storage with a microSD Card slot. 

MORE: Top 8 New Features of Windows 8.1

Toshiba says that the Encore is one-hand friendly, with a design that weighs 16.9 ounces and is .42 inches thick. That's manageable for one-handed use, but heavier than the 10.8-ounce iPad mini, which also sports a thinner .28 inch profile. However, the Acer Iconia W3 is heavier at 1.1 pounds and a thicker .44 inches. Another plus is that the Encore has a textured backplate, which should make it easy to grip.

The Encore also promises to outdo both the iPad mini and W3 in terms of display quality. This tablet's 1280 x 800-pixel resolution beats Apple's 1024 x 768, while the HFFS technology should yield wider viewing angles than the Acer. What Windows 8.1 brings to the tablet table is full-screen web browsing and a better Start screen view in both portrait and landscape mode.

This is the first Windows 8 tablet we've seen that's optimized for Skype, which is made possible by the dual microphones and sharp 2-MP front camera. The back camera snaps 8-MP photos. 

When it comes to software and apps, Toshiba bundles Amazon's Kindle app, Xbox Smart Glass (a second screen app for the Xbox 360 and Xbox One). You'll also find easy access to Xbox Movies, Music and Games.

Overall, the Toshiba Encore looks like a reasonably priced tablet for those looking to create as well as consumer content, but we're hoping Windows 8 gets better tablet apps between now and November. Stay tuned for our full review.