Hands on with the Acer Iconia W700 tablet

ITProPortal got the opportunity to preview the Acer Iconia W700 tablet, and so far it's an interesting look into the future of computing. While previous tablets touted their "post-PC" philosophies, the Acer Iconia W700 marries the two: It's a Windows 8 PC in a tablet form factor with a touchscreen. We're not sure if it's a natural fit for all your workers, but it is a natural evolution for users in vertical markets (healthcare, customer service) who already use tablets.

Design and features

The Acer Iconia W700 is essentially a slab tablet, similar in philosophy to the Apple iPad and Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1. It follows the standard modern design ID, with a large Gorilla Glass screen, aluminium sides and back panel, and controls on the side edges. If you orient the tablet with the Acer logo right side up, it has a hardware button below the screen to bring up the Charms menu, with similar functions to the Windows Start key on a regular keyboard.

The right side of the unit hosts the power button, volume +/- rocker switch, and headphone jack. There is an issue with the power button being so close to the volume control: It put the system to sleep several times when we wanted to turn the volume up. There's a USB 3.0 port, micro HDMI, and AC adapter port on the left, and an orientation lock switch on the top. The bottom of the unit houses the tablet's stereo speakers with Dolby Home Theatre optimisation. Turned up all the way, the volume is loud enough for a small group (3 to 5 people) to listen to the soundtrack from a movie or TV show.

The screen itself is a 1,920 x 1,080 (full 1080p HD) resolution display, which is really nice if you enjoy watching videos. The tablet's IPS panel ensures a decent viewing angle, so you don't have to crowd on top of each other during a viewing session. The 11.6in screen has a 16:9 aspect ratio, so current HD videos and movies fit full screen. Unfortunately, this also means that icons and text will appear too small in Windows 8 desktop mode and in certain apps.

Things look fine in the new Windows 8 User Interface (aka Metro), but when you put the tablet in traditional desktop mode (as you would running legacy x86 apps), user elements like close buttons, menu items, and scroll bars become too small to touch with a finger. This was also the case when using the Desktop mode's Internet Explorer app: Screen elements looked tiny, and it was a pain dismissing tabs and browser windows. Ditto on Microsoft Word and Office: UI elements like the save button were too small to reliably activate without using a capacitive touch stylus like the Wacom Bamboo Stylus Pocket.

Things got a little better when using apps made for the Windows 8 interface. Apps we downloaded from the Microsoft Store such as Popular Science and Accuweather displayed fine and were easy to navigate. However, for the time being, Win 8-optimised apps are somewhat scarce.

The tablet weighs 925 grams alone, which is a bit heavier than the first-generation iPad (725 grams). The W700 came with a leatherette protective case that can be used easel-style like the iPad's Smart Cover. That case adds a further 500 grams or so to the tablet's travel weight, which negates some of the system's portability.

The other included accessories (aside from the charger) are a docking station and a Bluetooth keyboard. The Bluetooth keyboard is more comfortable than typing on the screen for long memos or emails. The dock lets you use the tablet in desktop mode, adding three USB 3.0 ports to the one USB 3.0 port on the tablet. The dock can stay at your workspace, while the tablet can travel the office (or world) with you.

Performance

Since the W700 we spent some time with was a pre-production unit, we didn't run our usual round of tests on the system (wait for our full review for those numbers). What we can say is that we're thankful that the W700 comes with an Intel Core i5-3317U processor instead of an Atom processor. This means that the tablet should be able to handle everyday tasks with no problems. We couldn't run MobileMark, but the tablet survived several hours of surfing and viewing streaming video over Wi-Fi. Speaking of Wi-Fi, the W700 was able to connect to 2.4GHz and 5GHz Wi-Fi networks easily.

It remains to be seen if the full production Acer Iconia W700 passes our tests with flying colours, but the tablet seems almost ready for primetime. The Windows 8 user interface is less cluttered than the traditional Windows 7 desktop, and compatibility with previous x86 programs is a distinct plus over Windows RT or any competing tablet operating system.

The UK price still hasn’t been confirmed for the W700, but hopefully it will be shortly, given that the Windows 8 launch is rapidly approaching at the end of the month. The Core i5 model has been priced at $900 (£555) in the US.