Whether you're a student, artist or executive on the go, Toshiba believes it has the tablet for you. As the first tablet-and-pen combo to use Toshiba's active electrostatic technology for more precise drawings, the Encore 2 Write ($399) promises best-in-class pressure sensitivity for your notes, drawings and sketches. This 10-inch Windows 8 slate also packs handy productivity apps and loud speakers, but a couple of key flaws hold it back.
I've been known to gleefully put on a little show when I have a new product to review, but I felt no excitement when getting my hands on the Toshiba Encore 2 Write. Other than the stylus hanging on the Write's side, there isn't much to show off about this tablet.
The rounded-rectangle slate features a 10-inch display surrounded by an inch-wide bezel on its front. Unfortunately, the glossy black screen easily catches fingerprints and smudges. The tablet's smooth, gold-plastic back sports an 8-megapixel camera on the top right and the Toshiba logo on the bottom left.
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The Write offers a good array of connectivity options, with a microphone/headphone audio jack, a microSD card slot, and micro HDMI and micro USB ports on its left side. Along the bottom-right corner is the slot for the stylus and a hole for key-ring loops, and the top edge houses the power button, volume rocker and Start key.
At 10.2 x 6.9 x 0.35 inches, the Write fit comfortably in my medium-size purse, but at 1.2 pounds, it was a heavy addition. For comparison, the latest iPad Air is a little less than 1 pound. The Lenovo ThinkPad 10, which also includes a stylus, is almost the same size (10.1 x 7 x 0.35 inches), but it's slightly heavier (1.3 pounds).
Equipped with an active stylus, the Encore 2 Write is best for those who like to take notes or draw on their tablets. The rounded silver pen has buttons near the tip to trigger eraser and right-click functions, and it comes with a cap to protect the nib.
You can attach the pen to the tablet by sliding the pen clip into the slot. While this is a handy way to avoid losing the pen, the clip is so flimsy that it feels like it could break off at any time.
Unscrew the top of the pen, and you'll find a AAAA battery in the barrel, which you'll need to replace when it runs out. (Toshiba did not provide an estimate on battery life.) There is no battery indicator on the stylus, tablet or app to warn you when your pen is running low on juice.
Toshiba uses Active Electrostatic (Active ES) technology in the Write's pen, which helps its pressure sensitivity approach that of Wacom's higher-end EMR (Electro-Magnetic Resonance) devices. The trade-off is the battery -- EMR styli do not need them, so they're smaller than Active ES input devices.
Drawing on the Write was a generally smooth experience. I sketched the Tom's Guide name in block letters and shaded it in the TruNote note-taking app with ease. The app's palm-rejection software worked effectively, not drawing strokes when I leaned my palm on the screen.
You can use the pen with dozens of apps in the Windows Store, such as Notable, Scrble and CyberLink YouNote. Toshiba includes its own TruNote and Microsoft's OneNote with the Encore 2 Write.
At 1280 x 800 pixels, the Encore 2 Write's low-res, 10-inch screen is nothing to write home about. When I watched a trailer for Hot Tub Time Machine 2, the floral patterns on Craig Robinson's shirt looked clear but not as sharp as I'm used to seeing on other screens. The reddish-brown rim of the hot tub and blue pool lights appeared vibrant but slightly blue. Viewing angles were limited, with images washing out at about 45 degrees.
Text on apps and websites like Amazon and Tom's Guide looked sharp. However, graphics -- such as the edges of a Chromecast photo and a USB hub -- were blurry.
Measuring 240 nits on our brightness meter, the Write is dimmer than the average slate (366.9 nits) as well as the Lenovo ThinkPad 10 (309 nits) and the VivoTab 8 (351 nits). On our colorimeter, the Write displayed 67.7 percent of the sRGB color gamut. That's well below the average tablet (84.02 percent), the ThinkPad 10 (71.6 percent) and the VivoTab (76.6 percent).
The Write's colors aren't quite right, either. With a Delta-E rating of 14.4, the Write reproduces colors much less accurately than the average slate (5.9), the VivoTab 8 (8.5) and the ThinkPad (3.9). Numbers closer to 0 are more accurate.
The Encore 2 Write made it easy to hear my favorite TV shows over my noisy roommates. The tablet notched 85 decibels on our audio test, which involves playing a tone on max volume and measuring it from 13 inches away. The Write is louder than the average slate (79.8 dB), the VivoTab (74 dB) and the ThinkPad 10 (81 dB).
Taylor Swift's voice sounded clear but slightly tinny in "Blank Space," while Florida Georgia Line's rousing music in "Sun Daze" echoed and sounded somewhat canned.
The 1.33-GHz quad-core Intel Atom Z3735F CPU (with 2GB of RAM) in the Encore 2 Write will provide ample power for your daily needs, but not much more. I smoothly watched an episode of Fresh Off the Boat on Hulu while apps such as Camera, Photos, TruNote and several tabs in Internet Explorer were open. However, it took a few seconds to fully launch apps such as TruNote and the Big Hero 6 Bot Fight game.
The Write didn't shine on synthetic benchmarks. Its Geekbench 3 score of 2,088 was lower than the average tablet (2,256), the VivoTab (2,608) and the ThinkPad (3,120). The ThinkPad 10 sports a 1.6-GHz quad-core Intel Atom Z3795 CPU with 2GB of RAM, while the VivoTab carries a 1.33-GHz quad-core Intel Atom Z3740 chip with 2GB of RAM.
Taking 23 minutes and 25 seconds to match 20,000 names with their addresses in the OpenOffice Calc spreadsheet app, the Write performed far more slowly than the average slate (13:49) and the ThinkPad 10 (15:18). It was also slower than the VivoTab (21:08).
On Laptop Mag's File Transfer Test, the Write copied 4.97GB of mixed media files in 2 minutes and 45 seconds, translating to a rate of 30.8 MBps. That's slower than the tablet category average (74.4 MBps) but faster than the ThinkPad (26.9 MBps).
With Intel HD graphics, the Write can deliver smooth performance on casual games like Big Hero 6 Bot Fight. The Candy Crush-like matching game's colorful gems looked smooth and shiny. However, the characters in the storytelling component of the title looked somewhat pixelated.
Scoring 15,124 on the 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited benchmark, the Write beat the average tablet (7,691) but lost to the VivoTab (15,830) and the ThinkPad 10 (18,010).
I don't like taking pictures with tablets, but when you just have to, the Encore 2 Write will do. Its 8-MP rear camera took bright, colorful and sharp images. The deep-blue sky and red buildings looked rich in my snaps of Manhattan streets, and windows on far-off structures looked sharp.
The videos I shot in full HD of street traffic at Union Square showed vibrant colors and clear detail.
In low light and indoors, however, the camera did not do so well. Pictures of my lovely co-worker, clad in a purple plaid shirt and orange scarf, in our office studio looked gray, washed out and grainy.
The Write's 1.2-MP front camera is good enough for Skype sessions, but don't expect to look amazing. Selfies had accurate colors, such as my bright-red dress and brown hair, but the picture was dull and grainy overall.
Apps and Warranty
Running Windows 8.1 with Bing, the Write ships with some Toshiba apps designed to enhance productivity. Besides TruNote for drawing and note-taking, there's TruRecord for sound recording and TruCapture for taking pictures of documents and converting them into files.
You'll also get a year's subscription to Office 365, which includes Microsoft's OneNote app for note-taking.
TruNote's layout is minimal, with the right side taken up by a blank canvas and a small toolbar on the left with unlabeled icons for selection, eraser, pen, undo, redo, dictation, camera, search and help.
Although I had fun drawing the Tom's Guide logo and signing my name in TruNote, it took me a while to figure out how to do things like change the pen color or thickness. Microsoft's OneNote is more intuitive, and saves your documents to OneDrive for use across devices.
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TruNote does offer some compelling features, though. You can search for a specific mark (e.g., asterisk, smiley face, hashtag); use TruCapture integration to snap a picture of your whiteboard without leaving the app; and easily port your notes over to Office and email apps.
The Write also comes with 64GB of onboard storage, which is expandable by up to 128GB via the microSD card reader.
Toshiba includes a one-year limited warranty with the Encore 2 Write.
Don't forget your charger when you leave the house with this tablet.
Lasting just 6 hours and 42 minutes on the Laptop Mag Battery Test (Web surfing over Wi-Fi), the Write fell far below the tablet category average (8:26) and the ThinkPad 10 (8:43).
With the Encore 2 Write, Toshiba is targeting a very specific niche. If you're looking for a 10-inch tablet with smooth and accurate pen input but don't want to shell out for more expensive options like the Surface Pro 3 (starting at $680 on Amazon), you'll appreciate the value of the $399 Write. Its helpful software will come in handy for taking and sharing notes.
However, for the same price as the Write, you can get the Asus VivoTab Note 8 (64GB), which also packs a handy Wacom digitizer that slots into the smaller 8-inch tablet's body. The VivoTab offers better performance, a brighter display and an extra hour of juice. But if you need a bigger screen and more audio oomph, you shouldn't write off Toshiba's tablet.