Microsoft has begun its assault of the budget Android tablet market with the help of Toshiba.
The Encore Mini – which Microsoft had initially called the Encore 7 back at Computex earlier this year – is about as basic a Windows 8.1 machine as you are likely to see. Built around a no-frills 7-inch 1024 x 600, the Encore Mini contains a 1.83GHz Intel Atom Z3735G processor, 1GB of RAM, and 16GB of storage.
According to Toshiba's specs, the tablet features a micro-USB 2.0 port, a 0.3MP front-facing camera, a 2.0MP rear-facing camera, a microSD card slot, and a battery capable of powering it for 7.3 hours.
It's not going to win any medals for speed, but as a platform to run apps on, consume content, and access web-based services such as Facebook and Twitter, it's enough.
On the software front, the Encore Mini runs the lower-cost "Windows 8.1 with Bing" operating system (lower cost because Microsoft it hoping to make a return from people using its services), and comes with a year's subscription to Office 365 personal. It also comes loaded with third-party apps such as Amazon Kindle and Netflix.
The price tag on all this is a low $119. The estimated ship date is September 17.
While on first blush it might seem like cheap tablets represent a threat to more expensive Windows tablets, the real threat is to the flood of low-cost Android tablets entering into the market. The Encore Mini with it's Atom processor and 1GB of RAM doesn't have the grunt to run heavyweight applications, but it does have more than enough power to make people think twice about buying a cheap Android device, especially if they come from a Windows background.
Giving OEMs access to cheaper versions of Windows could be a game-changer as it allows Microsoft to compete on a more level playing field against Android, and gives OEMs a way to bring Windows to market on cheaper devices.