Testing Toshiba's new Encore tablet
One of the perks of this gig is that occasionally we get invited to events for others to show off their new toys and projects, writes Dominic Hemy. This fine Thursday morning I am at the famous Abbey Road Studios in north west London so that Toshiba can try and impress upon me the creative side of their new Encore 8" tablet.
To help in the task is singer-songwriter Dan Croll, who provided the music for Toshiba's advertising campaign. To accompany the first cup of tea and sensational chocolate brownie (so good even Kylie was moved to Tweet about them, apparently) we are treated to a sparse acoustic rendition of his track 'From Nowhere'.
And then the fun really starts! Using the latest version of Music Creator, now developed to fully utilize the touch aspect of Windows 8, we're given a while to remix, re-imagine and generally mess with the stems of 'From Nowhere'. Despite a steep initial learning curve and few plugins, within half an hour everyone had managed to produce very different reinterpretations of the original track. Ranging from ambient relaxation to echo-drenched extremism (the latter being mine, unsurprisingly), Dan took the bastardisation of his music with good grace – though the brief look of "What's he done to my baby!?" that flashed across his face as mine descended into madness was priceless.
This was most definitely a fun little event, but immediately threw up a few niggles with the tablet. The screen itself, at only 8", is simply too small to be very practical. The busy layout of any mixing program means it feels cramped and buttons are difficult to hit. Meanwhile, the knobs and faders are nigh-on impossible to control, in reality giving you the option of 0 or 100 only. Whilst these issues don't mean too much in playful environment such as this, ultimately this is throws into question whether the Encore is going to be a useful tool for anyone taking music making seriously. I can't promise I'm going to be mixing my next project on it for one thing.
Over recent days I have had time to explore the Encore more thoroughly in everyday use. There is one over-riding issue that dampens the enthusiasm: Windows 8. I don't have much experience of it in PC format until now, but I have been using a Windows Phone for over a year, and my overwhelming conclusion it that this operating system is doesn't lend itself to this environment. On an 8" touch screen you spend longer just trying to hit the right icon than doing anything useful - not that there is much useful you can do with it once you've succeeded.
For a system designed around apps, where are they? It is a constant annoyance on the phone that so few developers bother with WP8, but even the few I use there are not on the PC – where's my MLB At Bat? BBC iPlayer? Sky Sports News? The store throws up lots of poorly developed knock-offs, but in the last week this has done little more than become a glorified Kindle. The sleek design and pin-sharp screen all look very pretty and sits comfortably in the hand, but the Encore falls between two stools. What it does well I already use my phone for, while everything else is easier - and better - on my Windows 7 laptop. Beyond the initial burst of "New! Shiny!" this has inspired frustration more than creativity and it's clear that that in the mobile world at least, Apple still have the upper hand when it comes to music making.
The music production workshop at Abbey Road Studios was to celebrate the launch of the Toshiba Encore, a Windows 8.1 tablet designed for creativity and productivity on the go.