Windows 8.1’s tile UI makes it better suited to touchscreen input than other desktop operating systems, and by now we’re used to seeing hybrid systems, like Microsoft’s own Surface 3 Pro, that offer both tablet and notebook functionality. Over the last six months we’ve seen the OS expand into a new category – the budget tablet. These devices combine functionality and low prices, and can serve as alternatives to the wealth of wallet-friendly Android tablets available this Christmas.
While there are some downsides to running a desktop OS on a tablet, particularly a low cost one, they present an undeniable value proposition. Trying to navigate the traditional desktop side of the OS doesn’t always make for a good user experience, so it’s best to view the tile UI interface as your go-to computing environment, resorting to the traditional desktop only when the need arises. For more on the ups-and-downs of Windows 8.1 on a tablet, check out our full review of the Toshiba Encore 2.
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Caveats aside, let’s jump straight in to our roundup of five of the most wallet-friendly Windows 8.1 slates out there.
HP Stream 7
The Stream 7 is one of the nicest looking devices on this list, offering a sleek, uncluttered design and black plastic finish. The tablet is rated for 8 hours on a single charge and weighs in at 0.36 kg (0.8 lbs). Its 7-inch 1,280 x 800 display (with 215 PPI), quad core Intel Atom processor and 1 GB RAM certainly aren’t anything to get excited about, but its price tag makes it worth a look.
In addition to a one-year Office 365 subscription, the Stream 7 comes with 60 minutes of Skype video calls for a month and 1 TB of OneDrive storage for a year, making it one of the best value tablets on the market.
HP Stream 8
HP’s 8-in tablet shares its little brother’s design language and specs, including a 1,280 x 800 resolution. While the extra 30 percent screen real estate will likely make OS navigation easier, its pixel density also drops to an even-more concerning 188 PPI.
The larger of HP’s two tablets does have the added benefit of a 4G radio, with 200 MB “free” monthly allowance included in the price.
Toshiba Encore Mini
The Mini sits at the bottom of Toshiba’s Encore range, offering a 1,024 x 600 display over 7-inches. That’s a step down from what you’ll find on the HP Stream 7, and equates to just 169 PPI – the lowest pixel density of the bunch.
There’s a single gigabyte of RAM on board, and a quad core Intel Atom processor powering the device. Like the other tablets here, it ships with a one year subscription to Office 365.
Toshiba Encore 2
The 8-inch offers the same 1,280 x 800 resolution as the HP Stream 8, but strips things back to a single gigabyte of RAM, paired with a quad core Intel Atom processor. Toshiba claims that the tablet is capable of running for 10 hours of general usage, and offers stereo speakers, 32 or 64 GB storage, as well as both a Micro HDMI port and microSD card reader.
In our review we found that the Encore 2 provides a good experience if you stick to the tile UI side of the OS, but its lack of horsepower and uninspiring resolution make using the traditional desktop a chore.
Once again, you’ll get a year of Office 365 subscription included in the purchase.
Acer Iconia Tab 8 W
Acer’s latest Windows tablet offers a familiar 1,280 x 800 resolution over eight inches. It’s not the most stunning tablet we’ve seen, but its simple white design is attractive and is fairly thin and light at 9.75 mm (0.38 in) and 370 g (0.8 lbs). The slate is equipped with dual stereo speakers and there’s a microsSD card included, meaning you can easily up its 32 GB internal offering.
The company offers a full-sized keyboard dock with the Iconia Tab W, meaning you can significantly increase functionality if you’re willing to shell out the extra cash for the accessory.
Acer isn’t currently listing the tablet as available for purchase in the US, but the last we heard it was scheduled to launch in November, so we’d expect to see it start hitting shelves any day now.