A double dose of eight: Acer's Iconia W3 reviewed
3.8Overall Score
Price (RRP): $449 Manufacturer: Acer

Can the eighth iteration of Windows be properly contained inside of an 8 inch tablet? Acer is the first to try this combination, bringing the full power of Windows 8 down to a size that can be held and used in one hand.

Features

Acer sure dabbles in a lot of devices, and with the Iconia W3, it’s showing that it can be the first in a new place: small-scale Windows tablets.

More compact than the 10 and 11 inch Windows 8 tablets we normally see, Acer has built this to be an 8 inch tablet, relying on a 8.1 inch screen running 1280×800, slightly lower than the 1368×768 screen resolution devices normally sport, but also still HD capable. The screen does of course support touch, which is a necessary requirement of any tablet.

Inside the tablet, you’ll find similar hardware to a lot of other tablets, with Acer choosing Intel’s Atom processor technology to run here. As such, there’s the Z2760 clocked at 1.8GHz paired with 2GB RAM, running alongside Microsoft’s Windows 8.

Storage is set to 32GB, and this can be upgraded with a microSD slot found on the top edge of the tablet.

Tablets generally feature cameras, and Acer has included two of those, with a 2 megapixel front-facing camera and a 2 megapixel rear camera, too.

Connectivity is pretty standard, with wireless relying on 802.11 b/g/n WiFi and Bluetooth 4.0, while wired connections can be seen in the microUSB port, microHDMI, and 3.5mm headset jack.

Even with the 8 inch touchscreen, you’ll find a few buttons here, including the power button on the left edge, volume buttons up top (next to the microSD slot), and a physical Windows button to bring you back to the Start menu screen on the front.

A power-pack is included, with a small but proprietary port connection.

Performance

The idea of a small tablet has always intrigued us, and when Apple jumped on the bandwagon after all the Android devices had been out for some time, we knew that the smaller-than-10 inch form factor had more or less been verified.

With that done, Acer is the first to try out the small size Windows 8 space, reducing Microsoft’s touch-centric operating system to a smaller device than it has ever seen.

In fact, credit to Acer goes for working with the proper version of Windows 8 and not the handicapped Windows RT. This distinction means you can run Windows apps from Vista and Windows 7 on Windows 8 and apps acquired from the Windows 8 Store, while RT-based devices – like Microsoft’s Surface tablet – can only run apps found on the Windows 8 Store.

It’s an important difference, and one that means a copy of QuickBooks or CounterStrike that you run at home on your old Windows 7 desktop can run here on Acer’s eight inch tablet.

We can’t say how well, especially since each has different requirements, but Acer’s W3 is an Atom powered tablet, and should have no problem with either of these tasks.

In fact, the set of specs powering this tablet is a familiar one, with the Intel Atom Z2760 used in last year’s Iconia W5, alongside the same 2GB RAM.

You’ll even see it in many a hybrid tablet notebook, including quite a few we’ve checked out in the past year, so the performance here is just as good.

As such, Windows 8 loads up quickly – 11 seconds from cold and off, and one second from standby to on – with regular gestures and Windows operation running completely fine. We wouldn’t run too much at once, not just because the Atom isn’t the fastest chip out there, but also because the 8 inch screen is just too small to really see lots of things on simultaneously.

Battery life also quite decent, supplying between 8 and 11 hours for most of what we tested with, surviving for between two and three days on standby.

The included storage surplus of 32GB isn’t much, though, especially when you consider that the installation of Windows takes up so much space that only 9GB is left. Acer accounts for this by offering a microSD slot, making it possible to expand the memory quite easily, though, so that’s something at least.

In the hands, the Acer Iconia W3 doesn’t exactly compete with metal bodies like the iPad Mini, but still manages to get something right.

It’s plastic all over in this affair, painted silver on the back and white everywhere else, but it’s more sturdy than you might otherwise expect, with a reasonably good balance overall, regardless of if you’re holding it with one or two hands.

One very important part choice stops the Iconia W3 from being excellent, and that’s the screen.

We’re not quite sure why Acer would opt for a low-grade panel, but that’s exactly what the brand has done here, skipping the typical high-grade In-Plane Switching (IPS) displays we normally see on machines with touchscreens, including Acer’s R7 desktop hybrid, S7 Ultrabook touch, P3 Ultrabook tablet hybrid, Iconia W5 tablet notebook, and even the inexpensive Iconia A1 Android tablet.

Acer uses IPS displays frequently because it knows the competition does, and because the excellent performance from the viewing angles is exactly what customers want, and yet on the Iconia W3, decided on something that isn’t IPS, and produces less than impressive viewing angles, which is a must have for a tablet computer.

As such, what you end up with is a tablet that has decent horizontal angles, but horrible vertical angles, even though a tablet is designed to be held in whichever position you choose. A shame, too, as the responsiveness of the screen is actually quote good.

Even if you can get around the angles, the screen does feel over-sharpened, and we suspect it’s a part of the screen production itself, rather than the display.

Up close it appears as if there’s a reflective pattern that’s next to impossible to ignore, and degrades the look substantially.

We also wish Acer had supplied some accessories as, once again, the company is known to with other products.

For instance, if you buy the P3, you get a keyboard case. Nifty. When you buy the Aspire S7, we saw a laptop case. Cool.

When you buy the Iconia W3, you don’t get anything but the tablet itself, and yet it would be awesome if it came with a stylus, which is something that comes with the Acer R7. Likewise, there is a special keyboard dock for the Iconia W3, but this doesn’t come with it, and we weren’t able to test it accordingly.

One last thing: we’re happy that the power brick for this tablet is small, but with microUSB beginning to be the standard for charging compact tablets as well as where it’s already established in smartphones, it would have been nice to see Acer use microUSB instead of a small completely different charge pack.

microUSB isn't a charge port.

Conclusion

It’s a shame that the weakest part of the Iconia W3 is the screen, because it’s not a bad tablet by any stretch of the imagination outside of that mediocre part.

Overall, it’s relatively fast – or as fast as what everyone else is producing in Atom-based tablets – and so will be perfectly suited for web, email, office work, a hint of multimedia and the odd game, except in your hands and not needing a desk to sit it on.

As such, we’d say Acer’s Iconia W3 is worth checking out, but we’d probably wait until the next version, which we hear is only a few months away.

 

A double dose of eight: Acer's Iconia W3 reviewed
Price (RRP): $449 Manufacturer: Acer
Proper version of Windows 8 in a small size; Despite plastic build, feels surprisingly solid; Reasonably quick; Decent battery life;
Low grade screen; Display feels pixelated and hard to look at; Out of the 32GB storage, you only get 9GB once Windows is installed; No keyboard dock included in the package; Doesn't use microUSB to charge from;
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3.8Overall Score
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