Blog Post

New $199 Toshiba Windows tablet shows why Surface Mini isn’t needed

Toshiba is showing Microsoft(s msft) how to aggressively price a tablet. The company launched an 8-inch slate on Tuesday that has a quad-core Intel processor, high definition touchscreen and 10 hours of expected battery life. Oh, and it runs the full version of Microsoft Windows 8.1. A follow up to last year’s Windows slate, the Toshiba Encore 2 is precisely why Microsoft was wise to reportedly pull the Surface Mini from a launch event last week.

Toshiba Encore 2 front

For under $200, Toshiba has put together a compelling package in under a pound of weight and it didn’t have to resort to using a smartphone chip paired with Windows RT software to do so. Surely helping here is Microsoft’s recent decision to eliminate the Windows licensing fees for small tablets. Consumers, however, don’t care about the deals between Microsoft and its hardware partners. They want a good value and they’re likely to see it with the Encore 2, which will also be available in a $269 10-inch model when the tablets go on sale in July.

Both slates offer 1280 x 800 resolution screens, up to 64 GB of internal storage with optional expansion through a microSD card slot, and a micro USB port for accessories. Each has stereo speakers as well as dual cameras for video chatting and snapping pictures. The larger model also includes a micro HDMI port. You’ll also get the full Microsoft Office suite through an included one-year Office365 Personal subscription.

Encore 2 side

Considering I recently spent $299 for a similar product in the Dell Venue 8 Pro, you can see how aggressively priced these slates are. More importantly, however, the Encore 2 clearly shows that there’s no need for a Surface Mini that doesn’t run full Windows 8.1 software.

Microsoft would have to price such a device at $179 or even less to compete against products like the Encore 2. Even if it did meet that price, consumers would have to decide whether saving a few bucks is worth using a Windows computer that can’t run older Windows software. That’s the same choice consumers have faced since the original Surface with Windows RT arrived. And for a little extra cash, it has generally made more sense to buy an Intel Atom-based Windows 8.1 tablet or hybrid for more capabilities and similar battery life.

This post was updated on May 28 to correct information about the HDMI port. Initially it was reported that both models included it but it is only available on the 10-inch model.

56 Responses to “New $199 Toshiba Windows tablet shows why Surface Mini isn’t needed”

  1. Buzz Bruggeman

    I’m playing with the Asus 8″ 8.1 tablet. Works fine, but I keep reverting to using normal Windows apps, which truly require a better keyboard than the virtual one.

  2. Bobby Edwards

    Kevin, If I may correct one thing.

    You keep saying that Windows RT can only get its apps from the store, but that is simply not true. Provisions were made to allow companies to sideload with internal apps, with out having to put their app in the store.
    Think about Delta Airlines, who is getting them for all pilots, do you think the pilots hand book, will be a store item?
    Also for a company like Delta, that fact that it can only run these offers a great deal of protection, as they don’t want to have a virus problem mid-flight.
    If one look at the number of time in the last few years we have laptops lost or stolen with customer info, from financial companies, hospitals and even government workers, then RT makes sense.
    If workers have a machine that can only access their data from a custom side loaded app, and no chance for the user to get malware keystroke loggers and such, then there is a market.

    To say RT is not needed is like saying Ferrari is not needed because the Dodge part of the company already make a cheaper sport car with the Dodge Dart.

    • Bobby, that’s a totally valid point. Bear in mind those provisions for companies to sideload apps aren’t free though; they require the company to purchase sideloading capabilities through Microsoft’s Volume Licensing:

      Having said that, do you think RT was meant for / is aimed at the enterprise? Although there are definite places where it works — the Delta example is a good one — I don’t think enterprises by and large are considering RT. That’s where I’m coming from here; just wanted to explain.

      • Also it is still side-loading of Metro apps, not desktop apps.

        In the long run RT was meant for the Enterprise, though the initial target was certainly more about consumers. Always keep in mind that RT exists not because of ARM but because there was a desire to find a way out of the unfixable app model that had evolved since the introduction of Win32. ARM was just a convenient way to start rolling out a Windows variant that was legacy-free from the standpoint of non-first party apps.

        What the thinking is now is unknown.

  3. Hermann

    most 8 inch Windows 8,1 come with 32 gb which is not enough, so that why you have RT
    all 8 inch do not have a digitized pen, difficult to work on an 8 inch with your fingers

    I have a Lenovo Thinkpad Tablet 2 with 64gb, and have a pen, before I bought the keyboard I used a BT mouse, I have it for one year and I love my full version of WIN 8,1
    A little slow, so I may upgrade to the new Thinkpad with the faster Atom chip when it is available

    No more traveling with a 5 lb laptop with a heavy power supply

  4. John Koudela III

    If we were all the size of mice we might find such small devices useful….but we aren’t. Anything under 10-inches is pint-size computing and without a keyboard even worse. If companies want to build a better value….build a computer with a decent off-screen keyboard that people can comfortably use on a daily basis…..something like this vintage Toshiba Libretto 50CT style: ….which you can easily open and perhaps have a CD disc player on it.

  5. It’s a matter of personal choice. What you want and what you want to do with it. Much like people with iPads and iPhones. If all you want to do is what they want you to do then great, it’s a great device. If they ever open their system it will be great. Android is okay but it really takes some extra coders to allow it to connect to non-standard type devices. Win RT suffers from a lot of the same stuff that Android does. As for Chrome and it’s ‘security’, we all know that security is always a fleeting moment in the life of any OS. I recently (7mo. ago) purchased an Acer W510. I paid $269 for it. I immediately hooked up a hub with a mouse, keyboard and DVD drive and upgraded the OS to 8.1 pro. Joined the domain at work and now have something I can use fully. PLUS, I was actually able to install both the drivers and software for a 3D webcam, and a HD action cam. Can’t even hook up an external camera to the Apple product and to do it on Android requires some knowledge of manually loading device drivers. But as I said, it’s really a matter of what YOU want from it. I’ll stick with my ACER, coupled with a mini hub and a second small standalone HDMI display I can have a great dual display setup that I can transport. Add a solar panel and I can even set it up in the park. Just my wants, doesn’t need to be yours. But IMHO, full windows, at this time, beats all the others.

  6. Randall Cameron

    Adding another layer to the Mobile (RT) vs Desktop (8.1 Pro) OS question is the management costs. Mobile operating systems (iOS, Android RT and WP8.1) are all significantly cheaper to manage. If you can get away with RT you should. If you mother needs a new PC you shoudl consider RT. We recently took up the RT challenge 1st hand and it has worked out quite well. I think RT has a big future.

  7. Kassey

    As a long term PC user, I’m actually waiting for an 8″ tablet that can replace my laptop. I only need 4g main memory and 128g disk, with the unit weighing about 300g. My ideal tablet should allow me to easily plug/unplug into a charging/docking station which is connected to a large monitor, keyboard, and mouse. When will my dream tablet be available?

    • rcprimak

      You won’t be happy with an 8 inch tablet with those specs. Go for a 10 inch size. Those will definitely have Win8 Pro to Win 9 Pro. And with a keyboard dock, they work well in Legacy Mode.

  8. My only problem with Toshiba’s implementation is that they provide none of the great accessories Microsoft have designed and offered for their Surface line. Where’s the keyboard? What about the docking station? Does it even come with a pen?

    Accessories may not sell tablets, but they do a hell of a lot to push the device’s capabilities, and differentiate it from bare-bones tablets such as these. Again, you make the use case for legacy apps – that won’t fly without a keyboard or pointing device! Heck, this doesn’t even have a kickstand!

  9. Hildy J

    I have a 10″ Thinkpad Tablet 2 and I was hoping for a Surface Mini that ran full Windows and included a pen. Given the specs from the last rumors regarding the Mini, I think they did right to pull it. Without full Windows and without a pen, there’s no selling point except price and prices are already cheap.

    I’ve used Windows tablets since my long dead Motion m1300 with XP Tablet Edition. Most only had the desktop interface; all had an active stylus. I will readily admit that small tablets cannot compete an i7 desktop driving two large monitors. They are comparatively slow (although much faster than they used to be) and have limited screen real estate. On the other hand, they can run applications as well as apps and, using the stylus as your mouse, you can get real work done. Besides, 8″ is huge compared to my 5″ OQO2 which was my companion computer for several years.

    All that said, I decided the day of the announcement to upgrade my TPT2 to a Venue 8 Pro. For those concerned with price, the Dell Outlet has refurbished ones (relatively) cheap and runs sales all the time. My 64gb model cost $210 (plus tax, free shipping).

  10. Philip Stratford

    No, no no! This doesn’t show why a Surface Mini isn’t required, unless it comes bundled with a pen and boasts excellent pen support. There is still not a single tablet out there (that I know of) which is designed to replace the notebook and pen, Windows or otherwise. Samsung had a half-hearted attempt, but it didn’t win any great praise. This is the niche I am still hoping the Surface Mini, should it ever appear, will fill, and I’ll buy one in a heartbeat if the handwriting experience is as good as on the Surface 2/3.

  11. Frank Garcia

    Kevin, you are missing few points. All the hype with the mini was due to the rumors of a Tablet with 3:4 screen ratio with an active digitizer. Neither the Toshiba or the Del Venue PRO 8 have both conditions. The Dell comes closer but the screen ratio and a very bad Pen made the Dell a very bad choice, well a pure example of you get what you paid.

    In another hand, it isn’t the same the Office 360 one year subscription than a full version of office for free. That’s an added value.

  12. Kevin, the facts don’t support your Surface Mini conclusion. I assume the Mini will have an active digitizer, perhaps the same as in the SP3, as well as a higher resolution screen. I would bet that the entry Encore 2 8″ is also only a 16GB device while the entry Mini will be 32GB. It will be much more of a productivity-oriented device than the Encore 2. Back on May 8th I posted an analysis that suggested the Surface Mini should be priced at $299, its part of my piece at

    I’ve been saying for a while that there would be content consumption-oriented tablets running Windows for under $200, and Toshiba just proved it. But there is indeed room for a unique Microsoft entry that is targeting note taking and other pen-based input for content creation while still allowing a great touch-based content consumption experience.

    • I hear what you’re saying but I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around the conclusion. Take the Dell Venue 8 Pro for example: It offers the pen-based input you’re talking about and starts at $249. That price is *before* Microsoft started giving Windows away for free to smaller devices so it may actually go down. How does RT at a higher price offer more? Perhaps it’s in your blog post, which I promise I’ll read; the LG G3 event is going on at the moment. ;) Thanks!

      • I do cover more details in the blog post.

        The DV8P pen works, but barely. Even in its latest revision. And Microsoft might include the pen with every Mini whereas it is extra cost with the Dell. But I don’t dispute your point that even $299 might be a little pricey depending on what is included in the package.

        • Hildy J

          I think the problem with your analysis is RT. MS, in my opinion, made a severe mistake in creating it. Compared to Windows, the perception is that it’s cheap, limited, and a bit desperate. MS would have been better served beefing up Windows Phone to run on a tablet (and not using the Surface name).

          I can agree with most of the rest of your blog post on the Mini, but only if it’s a Mini running full Windows on an i86 chip. If not, it will require explanations and caveats and that’s the death of a product. “It runs all your iPhone/Android apps but on a big screen” people can understand.

      • willysjeepman

        I think that it will be a challenge for Microsoft to produce a Surface Mini (running Windows 8.1 and toting an active digitizer) and be able to sell it for less than $399. That is why I believe that they didn’t produce a Surface Mini.

        If Microsoft could hit a pricepoint of $299 then they would have done it.

  13. I have one of the Dell Venue 8 Pro units as well, and while I find it remarkable I can run a full Windows 8.1 experience on one thin device — both tablet and desktop modes — it actually “fails” me as a computing device in general. As a tablet, Windows 8 is terrible — there’s virtually no app ecosystem and the touch experience overall is kinda slow. As a Windows desktop machine, it works okay, but the screen is so small and the desktop interface is so touch-hostile (everything is too tiny to tap) that it fails that test, too.

    These days I take the tablet with me if I’m in a situation where I need a Windows desktop setup in a pinch, but I don’t pull it out unless I’m actually “pinched” to use it. An iPad and a good remote desktop solution is actually a superior platform for most situations.

  14. “shows why Surface Mini isn’t needed”

    It shows exactly why Surface Mini is needed. The Toshiba doesn’t run RT. I want an 8 inch running RT! Full Windows is needless overkill for most users of such a small device.

    • Interesting, Rick. What would you be gaining with RT? A more closed system which would help from a security standpoint, yes. Not better battery life nor performance though. I’m not disagreeing; I’m curious.

      • Curious – if one ignored the traditional/legacy desktop view and exclusively used their tablet as if it was RT and only used that browser and only installed from the store, wouldn’t they have the same security advantages?

          • Would anyone care to elaborate as to WHY? I tend to think that quick answers aren’t fully thought out. If you use the closed browser and only install from the closed store, I’m not seeing the threat.

            • If RT functions like my Chromebook does, when ever I browse the webb or use it at public places, I do so in guest mode. Many times I click on things I later regret. Yet, when I log out and reboot, nothing is left behind. Google may somehow store my browsing history, but I don’t think they have admitted it.
              You could give away the small full windows tablets for free, but they will not give you a fresh OS install upon each boot up. That piece of mind is priceless.

      • Silversee

        Kevin, have you actually tried to run desktop software on an 8″ tablet? Especially one that cannot be easily be docked to a desktop monitor (since most of these devices lack HDMI and cannot be charged while attached to an external USB device)? It can be done, but to call the experience “sub-optimal” is putting in very mildly. Running apps like Photoshop or iTunes on an 8″ consumption-oriented tablet is simply not a real-world use case for most people.

        Who the heck wants to deal with PC levels of administration, and the risks of malware that comes with a completely open, non-sandboxed desktop application environment on a device that competes with a Kindle Fire? Windows RT is actually be the ideal version of Windows for such a device if Windows is ever to have a chance in the consumer space for tablets.

        I don’t know why you guys (and by that I mean, most tech bloggers who look at Windows from an Apple/Google ecosystem perspective) can’t think outside the box far enough to recognize that Windows can be a legitimate tablet OS *without* the desktop. Do you feel that Android or iOS is compromised on a mini-tablet because they don’t support desktop applications?

        Just like a Chromebook or an iOS or Android tablet, Windows RT is made for people who don’t need or want the complexity of a “traditional” PC. Expand your readers’ views of what modern Windows is.

        • Have I tried to run desktop software on an 8-inch tablet? Absolutely. Most recently with the Dell Venue 8 Pro I bought and for years on multiple devices when I was one of the largest UMPC proponents from 2006 to 2009 as a Microsoft MVP in Touch and Tablet PC.

          The experience back then was pretty bad and — to your point — it’s not great now. Touch friendly apps are finally here after I wanted them on my UMPCs. So in that regard, I completely agree. And RT provides a better “consumer” experience to your point about people not wanting the complexity of Windows.

          I’m not saying there’s *no* market for Windows RT. There is. But at the same price point with the additional value of being able to run legacy apps on an external monitor as well as the touch friendly apps available for Windows 8.1/Windows RT, I think most will opt for full Windows all things being equal. Device sales seem to imply a bit of validity to that thought.

          You raise an excellent point on the similarity of a Chromebook vs. Windows. I see a difference there though: Price / value. You can spend $300 on either a Chromebook or a Windows laptop, for example. I’d argue that the overall experience at that price will be higher on former. To get a better experience from a Windows laptop, you might need to spend more. That’s arguable of course. Back to Windows / Windows RT; you can get a similar experience overall with added functionality at roughly the same price.

          If Intel hadn’t been so aggressive on its Atom pricing (or subsidies) this might be a different story as RT devices would be noticeably less expensive than their full-featured brethren IMO.

          • I have found two reasons so far for x86 on an 8″ device. First, since Amazon doesn’t have a Windows Store version of Unbox its the only way I can take Amazon Instant Video offline. Sure the UI experience isn’t great, but all I’m trying to do is launch a video and once it’s running you can’t tell.

            Second is the ability to run certain system software, like VPN clients, that aren’t available through the Windows Store. You can’t sell into most enterprises without Cisco VPN support, and you don’t get that support on Windows RT. Of course these system software items are generally orthogonal to the 8″ Desktop usability issue.

        • Silversee

          This probably comes off as a bit of a rant, not really my intent. I think Microsoft bears the brunt of the blame for failing to explain exactly who and what Windows RT was for. Rumors are that Windows 9 will merge RT with Windows Phone and that the desktop will finally disappear altogether on ARM devices…. This at least will make the use case clear to people.

          • I didn’t take it as a rant; you raised good points. Agreed: the explained vision for RT wasn’t truly made clear and/or RT wasn’t ready to implement that vision 2 years ago. I still blame Intel to a large extent for pushing way down into the Windows market. ;)

          • Jordan A Hough

            I absolutely love my Windows Phone. I would love to see Windows RT adopt a lot of the UI/UX of the phone but with minor tweaks for tablet size screens. RT would have been better off with a different name all together or something cheesy like Windows Lite. I would like a premium grade 8-10 inch Mini Surface Lite (RT) with pen slot and the same type of pen that the Surface Pro 3 comes with.

            I got a dual screen desktop at home and a 3 screen desktop at work and a awesome small Windows Phone. All my stuff syncs perfectly together. What I want is a small but powerful tablet that is premium but is cheaper and less powerful then a x86 i3/i5/i7 device. It would be great when meeting with clients and being able to take notes about a project and let them interact with it to. I think the Surface Pro 3 is beautiful but is a bit overkill for what I need and a Dell/Toshiba with missing hardware features is to limiting.

            Long story short. I agree with you :)

    • I’d rather have full Windows and ignore the legacy view than not have it at all, for those that want to just hang out in the Metro/Modern side. I think the majority of sales have been for the “Pro”, right? I think the main attraction of RT for most people has been the lower price.

      For me, I want my full script (screenplay) writing software and Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop.

            • The original statement was pertaining only to SURFACE devices only. So if ALL Surfaces models, even PRO can access the Windows store apps, then you have to believe that some of them grabbed at least one app. Also, you have to believe that some of the Surface RT owners NEVER obtained a single app and simply used the apps shipped with it. I know in my four years, I have NEVER obtained an app for my chromebook from the google store.
              So with the story dated May 19,2014, it would suggest that there is more than, “zero evidence of RT accounting most of the Surface sales”.

            • So I’m seeing lots of assumptions and not evidence here. And I don’t mean that disrespectfully: I’d love to work together and figure this out. Having said that: can you share the May 19 link that you’re working off here re: Windows Store usage.

              I don’t disagree with your two “you have to believe” statements but without more context or data, they don’t mean anything. Put another way: If I wanted to take the same approach, I could say “Most Chromebooks don’t use the Chrome Web Store” based on your statement that you’ve never gotten one. It’s just too much of a leap.

              And to close this out with a funny thought: You have to believe that if Surface RT was outselling Surface Pro models, Microsoft would be shouting from the rooftops how successful RT is. ;)

            • Appreciate the link; thanks! Did you read the comments to the post – by and large, they reiterate my point. This is a hand-picked subset of data on 800 particular apps. It really only tells us what the report wants to tell us, not the reality of what is.

              Put another way, we know that Microsoft took nearly a billion dollar write-off on the Surface line. That means it overproduced those devices and/or people didn’t buy them as much as Microsoft expected. That write-off is a fact.

              Let’s take that fact and apply it to this report. Somehow, after taking the write-off, the written off product (Surface) has outsold more than it’s successor AND the full-featured Surface Pro models? That simply doesn’t make any sense to me but I’m happy to continue the conversation if there’s a way in which you think it does make sense.

              Essentially this report suggests (to you, I think) that the original Surface is the best selling product in the entire Surface line. By a bunch. Yet Microsoft’s own actions strongly suggest otherwise.

            • Stu Lowe

              The thing with the write-down is that Microsoft took a huge hit on the profit, they sold on the machines at a massive loss to places like schools. They didn’t write off and have a mass surface grave in the middle of the desert. I know in my organization (education based) we own near to 1000 surface rt units bought at huge discount and only own 3 surface pro devices. I would probably agree that they have sold more rt devices but I doubt they made any money on those units.

            • Agreed; they decided to liquidate the devices at lower costs. They’re surely not all gone yet though as the Microsoft Store still has stock, so it’s difficult to say how many were sold at a discount vs how many are still unsold. Regardless, that’s a great point on potential sales – lower pricing may have enticed some to purchase the original Surface RT.

            • You seem to be focused on profit and loss. I do not believe that Microsoft will drop RT. At the current price of the original RT, we will see the numbers down the road. I see it much like when I purchased my Acer 700 Chromebook a few years ago. Still to this day, it functions at it did on day one, but I have not had to do not one single update to it, other than re-booting it. Many more people seem to have gotten that epiphany now. That is what will happen with RT someday. Microsoft, I think, will continue to evolve RT. I still believe they think it is their way forward.

        • Other than AdDuplex it is hard to come by hard data of any kind because few sources break out by specific devices. But from a manufacturing volume standpoint the original focus was on the Surface RT, and that is what generated the write-off. And they emphasized the Surface RT throughout the holiday season as a low-priced offering. That continues as they work off the remaining 64GB inventory as well as the remaining Touch Cover 1 inventory. I think they are pretty close to exhausted at this point. Most promotional and merchandising efforts have also been around the RT-based devices.

          The Surface Pro/Pro 2 has been successful in part because they never forecast it to be wildly successful, never over-hyped it, and never ordered much inventory. But I don’t believe there are actually very many out in the wild. Let me turn this question around, what hard data do you see that suggests the Pro family has outsold the RT family?

          • I agree; it’s hard to come by data so we can only use proxy information and educated guesses.

            And that answers your question about me providing hard data. There isn’t any. Then again, I didn’t make a sales claim; I was questioning one that was made. ;)

    • willysjeepman

      Do you know that Windows RT has virtually all of the same subsystems as Windows x86? Windows RT has all of the same complexity, richness, quirks, and issues as Windows x86 except for the ability to run x86 binaries and the ability to install unsigned apps.

  15. The RT based Surface is needed because I want the same kind of OS protection that I get from my Chromebook. That is, a closed system, that is continually updated without the worry of applications or viruses being installed. Not everyone has the same needs. Surely as a tech writer, you are not trying to enforce your needs on others, are you. “Surface Mini isn’t needed”, seems a bit strong does it not. Competition is never a bad thing. A 249.00 64 GB first generation Surface RT with a 30.00 touch keyboard is about as good as it gets. Loaded with 8.1, along with office/outlook plus the ability to print LOCALLY from any rt compatible or networked printer. I’m not saying Surface is for anyone, but I would NEVER say it isn’t needed.