Acer Iconia W3 64GB review

Pros

  • Smallest Windows 8 tablet on the market
  • Very portable and convenient
  • Long battery life

Cons

  • Sub-par display
  • Shoddy accessory keyboard

We've seen a lot of Windows 8 tablets in the last several months, but Acer's newest entry in the category is a big deal because it's so small. The first 8in Windows 8 tablet to market, the Acer Iconia W3 takes all the Windows functionality – full Windows, not Windows RT – seen in tablets like the HP Envy X2 or the Samsung ATIV SmartPC Pro 700T, and shrinks it down to a size that can be used with one hand.

Design and Features

Saying the Iconia W3 is small doesn't accurately describe it. Measuring 220 x 135 x 11mm (WxDxH), it’s roughly the same size as the Android-only Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0, and significantly smaller than the 11in HP Envy X2 or the 10in Dell XPS 10. It's also light, weighing only 500 grams, thanks in no small part to the smaller size, but also due to its lightweight plastic construction. Designed for one-handed use, the tablet features a physical Windows button at the bottom – when held in portrait mode. In landscape orientation, the button is found on the right-hand side of the display.

The Iconia W3 is small enough that when I held it in one hand, I was able to scroll and thumb through menus with the same hand. When typing with the onscreen keyboard, I was able to comfortably type with my thumbs while holding the tablet. In comparison, thumb-typing on a 10in or 11in tablet is much more awkward.

The small size also means that you'll be limited to running one app at a time, because the Iconia doesn't support snapping apps, and also because the screen is too small for side-by-side windows. It also requires a bit of optimisation for comfortable use; you'll definitely want to tweak the default text and icon sizes on the desktop, because the out of the box experience isn't great.

While the tablet is small enough to hold one-handed, the display is large enough for good (but not great) visibility. The 8.1in display offers a 1,280 x 800 resolution and five-digit multi-touch, and you'll be able to do all of your Facebook, Google, and Netflix viewing with relative ease, but you might not want to look at it for long. While tablets have traditionally been web and media-consumption devices, this display isn't the best for those applications, looking decidedly low-res when compared to almost any current smartphone or tablet. This was especially noticeable when watching video or reading for any amount of time. Colours look dull and flat, and fine details look grainy. On top of this, there’s a thick bezel around the screen, and the display does a lot to leave the Iconia W3 looking and feeling less like a new innovation, and more like a budget device.

The speakers are middling at best, with no bass (The Knife's Silent Shout lost its bass-heavy intro entirely) and quiet but buzzy speakers. As it stands, the built-in stereo speakers aren't likely to get much use – for listening to anything where audio quality matters, you'll be opting for headphones.

The small tablet doesn't have a lot to offer in terms of ports, but that's fairly standard when working within the narrow confines of a tablet. What ports are there are all small – a microUSB port, microHDMI output, and a microSD card slot, along with a regular stereo headset jack. With the appropriate adapter dongles, however, you should be able to use USB storage and peripherals with little trouble, and even connect an HDTV or monitor for use as an independent second screen, with full HD (1080p) output.

You'll probably want to take advantage of the microSD slot as well, because the Iconia W3 is equipped with only 64GB of internal memory, and only about 30GB of that available out of the box. Preinstalled on the tablet is Windows 8 (32-bit), along with a slew of apps and programs, like a 30-day trial of Microsoft Office, Norton Online Backup, Kindle ebook reader, Netflix, Skype, Spotify, and Encyclopedia Britannica. Acer covers the Iconia W3 with a one year warranty.

Accessories

The Iconia W3 also has an accessory case which doubles as an easel stand (see below). The case we were provided with had a sleek looking silvery nylon exterior and a soft interior lining. The tablet clips into a clear plastic cradle, and set at one of two angles or carried like a book with the flap either open or folded back.

For typing, aside from the onscreen keyboard, the Iconia W3 is also available with an accessory keyboard (again, see below). Unlike the docking keyboards seen on the likes of the HP Envy or the Samsung ATIV, this keyboard doesn't connect to or share power with the tablet in any way. It has a small stand built in, but otherwise is a separate Bluetooth keyboard.

The keyboard itself is full size, measuring 285mm long, whereas the tablet itself is only 220mm long. That discrepancy makes for a comfortable typing experience, but it drives home how small the tablet display really is, and the combination of tablet and keyboard looks clunky and mismatched.

And while the Iconia W3 tablet may not be the most luxurious product, the keyboard feels downright shoddy. The plastic construction is so thin that the entire keyboard bows under the lightest pressure, and the whole thing squeaks and rattles with every slight bend. To make matters worse, after just two or three days of only occasional use, the keyboard began having problems, registering incorrect or multiple keystrokes and sometimes a full second lag occurring between the time I pressed a key and when it would appear onscreen.

The keyboard has one unique feature, however. On the underside of the keyboard is built-in recessed storage for the tablet. Click your tablet into the slot (as pictured above) and you can carry the two together. But while you can attach the tablet for carrying purposes, you can't do the same for normal use with the keyboard, instead only resting the tablet edge-first in a cradle that runs along the top of the keyboard.

The result is a tablet and keyboard that can be taken anywhere, but only used in specific circumstances – with nothing securing the tablet in the cradle, you'll need to set up on a flat surface, like a table, or risk the tablet falling to the floor. The stability is so poor that even in these circumstances, you also need to use the built-in stabilisers, little extended tabs that stick out the back of the keyboard to prevent the tablet from tipping the keyboard backward. On-the-go use on a lap or airplane tray table isn't really an option.

Performance

For the sake of a low price and long battery life, the Iconia W3 is equipped with a 1.8GHz Intel Atom Z2760 processor – the same model CPU found in the Dell XPS 10 and HP Envy X2 – along with 2GB of DDR2 memory. It's worth noting that while this tablet does run the x86 version of Windows 8 (rather than the crippled Windows RT), it does so in 32-bit mode, so it won't run any software optimised for 64-bit systems. And while this tablet is a Windows 8 PC, if you were expecting something to compete with, say, Acer's other Windows tablet, the Core i5-equipped Acer Iconia W700, you'll be sorely disappointed.

In PCMark 7 the Iconia W3 did well enough scoring 1,454 points, offering fairly good day to day performance for an Atom-powered tablet. It actually fell behind in Cinebench, scoring 0.47 points compared to the Dell XPS 10 and HP Envy X2 (both 0.55 points), and the Lenovo IdeaTab Lynx K3011 (0.56 points).

While the Iconia W3 will do quite well for web browsing and media consumption, you may find yourself frustrated using it for more demanding tasks. For example, it completed our Handbrake video transcoding test in 8 minutes and 48 seconds. Though it was able to run Photoshop, it was unable to complete our Photoshop test due to insufficient RAM. Like the other Atom-powered tablets we've seen lately, the Acer Iconia W3 was also unable to run our graphics and gaming tests.

While the Atom processor at the heart of the Iconia W3 may not offer blazing performance, it is astonishingly energy efficient, and as a result the tablet lasted 9 hours and 24 minutes in our video rundown test. Even among long-lasting tablets, the Iconia W3 produced the best longevity for a tablet alone, although the Dell XPS 10 stretched to nearly 20 hours with a secondary battery.

Verdict

All told, the Acer Iconia W3 does have the unique distinction of being the first 8in Windows 8 tablet to market, but if you've looked at other Windows tablets, the small size might not be enough. The poor display, mixed performance scores, and less-than-satisfying accessory keyboard are a tough sell, even with the tablet's excellent battery life, small form-factor, and budget price.

If you must have Windows 8 and can't go larger than 8in, then the Iconia W3 is worth considering, since it's the only one out there. If you can be flexible on size, you might consider the Windows-8-equipped Lenovo IdeaTab Lynx – and if you’re willing to splash out a bit more, the HP Envy X2 (and if you can accept the limitations of Windows RT, the Dell XPS 10 is a good but similarly pricier bet).

Specifications

Manufacturer and Model

Acer Iconia W3 64GB

Processor

Intel Atom Z2760

Operating System

Microsoft Windows 8

Weight

500 grams

Graphics Card

Intel GMA HD

Screen Type

Touchscreen

Type

Tablet

RAM

2GB

Dimensions

220 x 135 x 11mm (WxDxH)

Networking Options

802.11n

Processor Speed

1.5GHz

Primary Optical Drive

External

Screen Size

8.1in

Storage Capacity

64GB

Storage Type

SSD