Gadget Review: Insignia 8-inch 32 GB Microsoft Windows Tablet

Poor battery life, only 1 GB of memory and a low-end processor are balanced by a 'hidden' USB socket and plenty of storage potential

By , Columnist
Given that the cheapest brand-name tablets on the market currently retail for around $300, it's hard to believe you can get anything half-decent for half that price. Hence, Best Buy's $130 8-inch Insignia Windows tablet comes as something of a surprise.

Like most tablets in the same price bracket, it's chunky and has a low resolution screen (1280 x 800 pixels), limited RAM (1 GB), a low-end processor (Intel's 1.33 Ghz Z37365), mediocre cameras (2 megapixels front and rear) and only four hours of in-use battery life (at best, half that of brand name tablets, according to CNET). Yet, it has some impressive features for a budget tablet that mean you still get a respectable amount of bang for the relatively few bucks you would pay for it.

10369413_4 (Custom).pngMy test unit came with Windows 8.1 preinstalled and was upgraded to Windows 10 without a hitch. However, on mobile devices Microsoft's newest OS still lags behind iOS and Android because of problems inherent in Windows' desktop interface and the lack of Modern apps in the Windows Store. Desktop applications are not designed for tapping and swiping and the size of desktop objects cannot be increased with the pinch-to-zoom method that is available in Modern, Android and iOS apps.

The visibility of Windows 10's small type suffers still further on the Insignia tablet when it's running off the battery because the brightness of the screen is low. Along with the slow wi-fi adapter and poor battery, this is probably the Insignia tablet's biggest weakness. When the tablet is powered using the included Micro USB cable, however, the screen is as sharp as you can reasonably expect at this end of the market.

Desktop (Custom).jpgConversely, Insignia tablet's biggest strength is its versatility. Low priced slates like this one are typically used primarily for media consumption but the Insignia  also has the potentially be a serviceable small-footprint desktop device if connected to a Bluetooth mouse and keyboard. It comes with Microsoft Office preinstalled and has a Mini HDMI socket that allows for easy attachment to a larger external display.

Media playback was hindered at full HD by the tablet's hardware limitations. However, 720p and SD videos ran without a problem when played from iTunes, directly from the internal storage or streamed from Plex over a local network. Game play was largely restricted to downloads from the Windows Store or titles with low graphics demands. Music playback was unproblematic except for crackling through the headphone socket, which could be due to cheaper components, lower construction standards or wear-and-tear in the test unit we received.

sideview (Custom).jpgReliance on cloud storage or hard-to-access microSD card slots limits the productivity value of some  budget Windows tablet by making it difficult to upload and download files and impossible to attach external peripherals. The Insignia has an advantage, here, though, because the charging socket can double as USB input when coupled with an appropriate adapter. This makes it easy to use thumb drives and offers the option to attach a USB-to-Ethernet adapter or office tools such as a printer.

Complementing the option to attach external storage and the included 32 GB of internal space is an easily accessible Micro SD card socket that can take cards with a capacity of up to 128 GB. This feature gives the Insignia impressive storage potential.

Best Buy's Insignia tablet is one of the more versatile slates available at its price point. There is no getting away from the issues that still plague Windows as a mobile OS on small devices or the limitations imposed by low hardware specifications. If you are on a budget, however, and don't expect a mobile device capable of executing tasks demanding high processing power or more than four hours of battery life, you are unlikely to be disappointed.

NOTE: The Insignia tablet for this review was a test unit provided by Best Buy Canada upon request and was returned when the review was completed. An equivalent model is available in the US.

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Michael Simpson is a freelance writer, editor, presenter, researcher, instructor, gadget freak and sci-tech consultant based in British Columbia’s beautiful Okanagan Valley. Formerly from the UK, he’s converted from tea to coffee and written and presented on film, TV, science, nature, technology,…

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