Acer’s 8 inch Windows 8 Iconia W4 reviewed

Acer is wasting no time with a refresh of its 8 inch Windows computers, and now that Intel’s Bay Trail Atom is out, the company is taking the time to correct the mistakes of the past with a brand new tablet.

Features

One of the first entrants in the 8 inch Windows 8 tablet space was Acer, with last year’s W3 tablet. This year, the company is back with the W4, a model that aims to address some of the issues in the first model with a better and more complete tablet.

Upon first glance, it looks as though Acer has given last year’s model not much more than a new coat of paint, with the white casing switched over to something a little more silver, but there’s more that has changed than just the colour of a border.

For starters, the screen relies on a new panel, with the 8 inch 1280×800 display now relying on In-Plane Switching (IPS) technology, which should result in better viewing angles for the tablet.

Acer has also moved to the latest Intel processor underneath that screen, relying on a quad-core Intel Atom clocked at 1.33GHz, a third-generation chip relying on the Intel Bay Trail technology launched in September of last year.

Joining this is 2GB RAM and either 32GB or 64GB storage, the latter of which depends on how much you want to spend at the beginning. That said, Acer has provided a microSDXC card slot on the side, making it possible to expand the storage with up to an additional 64GB with a microSD card.

Wireless connectivity in the Iconia W4 is all pretty standard, with 802.11a/b/g/n here with Bluetooth, while the wired is handled from a microUSB port, microHDMI, and a 3.5mm headset jack.

Cameras are also included here, with a 3 megapixel on the back, and a Full HD capable camera up front.

Microsoft’s Windows 8.1 is installed here, out of the box and ready for action.

While the touchscreen practically dominates the design here, there are still a few buttons available, including a power button above the Acer logo on the top edge, a volume button on the right edge, and a Windows menu button on the very front below the screen.

The battery is rated at 4960mAh.

Accessories will be made available for the Iconia W4 including a cover case and a keyboard case, though at the time of reviewing, the keyboard case was not available.

Performance

More of an update than a completely new tablet experience, the W4 appears, at least on the surface, to be a slightly updated version of the W3, a tablet we first saw in June last year when Acer decided it would be the first company to find a way for Windows 8 to make the transition from 10 inches and above to something a little more hand friendly.

Easily the worst thing about the Iconia W3, the display was one giant let down, with disappointing viewing angles when held in portrait mode.

One of the first things that Acer has fixed in this tablet from its predecessor is the screen, and hooray, Acer has listened to the reviews (and likely complaints) by providing a screen with better viewing angles.

As if to prove the company has found a solution with portrait angles, the Acer logo and feature stickers are now in the portrait position, though you can hold and use a Windows 8 tablet in any position you like, landscape or portrait. In fact, the angles here are much better in the W4, with great colours from pretty much any position, with the 1280×800 resolution no longer feeling over-sharpened.

We’d still like to see a better screen resolution, as you can now find Full HD panels on 7 inch tablets, so we expect better than high definition on an 8 inch, but at least Acer has improved considerably in what is arguably the most important part of a tablet: the screen.

Acer has also made improvements to the inside of the W4, replacing last year’s 1.8GHz Intel Atom Z2760 chip with a much newer processor from Intel’s Bay Trail line-up of Atom processors, the Z3740. That’s the same chip we recently saw in the Asus Transformer Book T100, and one that’s able to handled itself in office and school work, as well as the occasional game, plus most web activities you’ll be throwing its way.

Windows 8.1 comes with the W4 out of the box, and while the memory hasn’t increased from 2GB, this change to the new Bay Trail chip makes everything flow just as we’ve come to expect out of the new Atom processors, with quick menus, responsive swiping gestures, and very little lag in most applications.

Also changed is the power port, and thankfully, Acer has seen the light and removed the proprietary port from the package, opting for the international standard that is microUSB for the Iconia W4.

That means charging it is much easier than previously, especially since you can find a microUSB charger practically anywhere, even if the tablet requires a little more oomph than the one you might use for either an Android or Windows Phone handset.

The W4 also comes with an accessory that relies on this microUSB port, and that’s a little plug that lets you use USB drives with the tablet. Essentially, this is just a microUSB to USB converter plug, with a microUSB port on one end, and a full-size USB 2.0 port on the other, but what this allows is for your external hard drives and thumbdrives to be plugged in.

Devices that might draw a touch too much camera won’t be supported here, and we tested an external microscope as well as a sound card, but it’s nice to know that some external data can, at least, be accessed here.

Our review model included 64GB of storage, and after Windows 8.1 was installed, we saw a little under 40GB provided to us. That’s not a huge dent, though with the microSD port on the side, it’s good to know we can increase this considerably.

The battery is also quite good here, too, and just like on the Asus T100, we’re seeing battery performance of around 6 to 8 hours for most things. If you use WiFi a lot, or even play more than the odd game from the Windows Marketplace, expect the battery to sit around six hours. Use the wireless networking less, more than this is likely, with the standby appearing pretty decent, too.

It’s proof that Intel’s newer Atom chips can work well with the juice on board, and while the battery on the Acer W4 isn’t particularly large due to the 8 inch form-factor, this isn’t a bad device in the battery department at all.

In the hands, though, it’s another plastic tablet from Acer, and while we wish we’d see more premium materials from the company — like we did on the S7 laptop, with its Gorilla Glass coated top — it’s not a bad feeling product at all.

Acer has slimmed the device down from the W3, too, though the materials haven’t changed dramatically. The back looks like one of brushed metal, but that’s clearly not the case here, as it’s just coloured plastic, and plastic that’s a touch slippery too.

We can handle the plastic, we really can, but some rubberisation would be appreciated, that way it doesn’t feel like it should slip out of your hands as you’re using the tablet or placing it somewhere.

What we would like to see, though, is some more resistance to fingers.

While Acer has clearly made an improvement on the screen technology, with viewing angles on the W4 that don’t suck (yay!), there is clearly a lack of an oleophobic coating, or something particularly weak in that department, and while this is a very touch heavy device, you will often find the rainbow effect from the minor oils your fingers secrete.

Some of the more modern (and more used) wireless standards are also missing here, including 802.11ac, Near-Field Communication, and Miracast’s wireless display technology.

Conclusion

Acer didn’t wait for its W3 to get very old before it updated the tablet, but we’re glad it did.

Barely six months since the first 8 inch Windows 8 tablet came out, we now have a model we’d be happy to take with us on the go, with Intel’s latest Atom chip, a standard charge port, and a screen that doesn’t make us want to throw the tablet out the window.

There are things Acer still needs to improve upon, but overall, it’s a decent tablet for anyone who prefers Windows to Android or iOS, and wants to take a computer with them where ever they go.