So far, here at ITProPortal, we haven't been particularly impressed with what Windows 8 has to offer the world of notebook PCs. But, in truth, it wasn't really meant for the standard laptop format with keyboard and no touchscreen that has persisted for more than 20 years. Instead, this was the Microsoft operating system to take the fight back to all those tablets that have been chipping away at the traditional format, via devices markedly different from previous portables. The Acer Iconia W700 epitomises this new creative trend.
Essentially, the W700 is a Windows 8-powered tablet with an 11.6in screen. But it also comes as standard with a docking stand and Bluetooth keyboard. So it can masquerade as an all-in-one PC as well. If you regularly use an iPad with a keyboard, and wish you had access to fully featured Windows software rather than cut-down mobile OS versions, this could be the crossover device for you.
Despite looking like a thick iPad, the W700 is very much a fully fledged PC inside, albeit a modestly specified one.
The good news is that it doesn't rely on an Intel Atom processor, instead offering a full Intel Core i3 or i5 instead.
Our sample was supplied with the Core i3 2365M, which is unfortunately from the previous Sandy Bridge generation, not the latest Ivy Bridge. It runs at 1.4GHz, and being an i3 has no Turbo Boost mode to temporarily increase clock speeds when required. Hyper-Threading, however, is still in evidence, so the dual cores can run four threads at the same time. This is a 17W processor, so not as miserly as an Atom, but it should still help provide decent performance for a low level of power consumption.
Because the processor is from the Sandy Bridge range, it only sports Intel's HD 3000 graphics, which is no match for the latest HD 4000 iteration. For tablet-oriented multimedia activities, the HD 3000 graphics will be sufficient, but it will mean this system won't be up to playing mainstream Windows games particularly well. On a more positive note, the W700 is equipped with 4GB of DDR3 SDRAM, which will help it to run regular desktop Windows applications properly.
A device like the W700 isn't about performance, however. Beyond the fact that it can run Windows desktop applications like an Ultrabook, it's the innovative form factor that matters most. The dock does look a little chunky, with styling that will be an acquired taste, and it's also made of plastic. However, the dock is designed to allow you to use the W700 in either portrait or landscape mode, which is quite handy for different usages - for example landscape mode for watching a movie, portrait mode for writing a letter or reading a recipe from a web page.
The different configurations are achieved by moving an L-shaped plastic stand into two different slots. There's no angle adjustment available, though, and the stand is a little fiddly. The tablet slides into the dock, with a USB 3.0 and power connection the only things keeping it in place, although high-friction rails ensure there is little chance of accidental slippage.
The 11.6in screen uses IPS technology and has an extremely high 1,920 x 1,080 resolution, so is pretty stunning. Colours look rich and there's a wealth of detail, with excellent viewing angles in every direction. The surface is a little shiny, so bright lighting can be a bit of a problem, but no worse than with an iPad. However, the pixels on this screen are so small that using the regular Windows desktop with your fingers requires a painful level of care and attention.
If you do want to use regular Windows applications, rather than the finger-friendly Windows 8 versions, you will need to invest in a mouse - and probably some decent reading glasses as well to be able to read the tiny onscreen text.
Audio quality is surprisingly good from the stereo speakers located either end of the bottom edge when the W700 is held in landscape mode.
Unsurprisingly, the sound is rather treble heavy, with not much bass available. Since the speakers point down in landscape orientation, the sound gets a little muffled if you rest the tablet on your lap. When the W700 is docked, however, the speakers match up with recesses that guide the audio through 90 degrees, so sound volume remains pretty high.
The W700 itself doesn't have very many ports. In fact, aside from the power connection, there is a grand total of three. Held in landscape mode, there's just one USB 3.0 port on the left, with micro HDMI above it, which is still accessible when the tablet is docked. Acer also supplies a VGA adapter for this port, in case you need to hook up to a legacy analogue screen or projector. The combo headphone and microphone minijack is on the right, with the volume control and power button above it. The most glaring omission is an SD card reader, and with just a 64GB Toshiba solid-state disk on board, you will be hitting storage limitations rather quickly. There's no wired LAN port either, not even on the docking station, but this probably won't be so sorely missed by most users. Dock the tablet, and the USB 3.0 is expanded to three, but that's it, apart from the power pass-through. No other ports are added via the docking station.
The tablet itself has a couple of extra buttons, including a discrete button for turning autorotate off and on. There's a button for calling up the new Windows 8 Start screen, although this seems a bit superfluous when the slide-out virtual panel on the right-hand side of the operating system desktop makes this so easily accessible. The W700 also sports both front-facing and rear cameras, so you can use the tablet for Skype or as a giant, flat camcorder...
Moving on, the last significant physical feature is that Bluetooth wireless keyboard. Pairing this with the operating system isn't entirely intuitive, but you only have to do this once. It takes AAA batteries, which come in the box, but a set of rechargeables would probably be a good investment. The keyboard is decent by notebook standards, but cramped compared to a desktop keyboard. It is more comfortable to type on than most tablet-oriented wireless keyboards. However, with no trackpad, nor mouse included in the box, it feels like Acer has gone 75 per cent of the way towards making the W700 an all-in-one PC, rather than all the way. With the screen's high resolution making it so hard to use with touch in Windows desktop mode, a mouse or trackpad is essential if you do want to use the W700 as an all-in-one on a regular basis. You would then have to carry a lot of separate bits on the road - dock, charger, keyboard, and your own mouse as well as the tablet itself.
With its relatively lowly Core i3 processor, the W700 is no speed demon. But it is considerably faster than an Atom-based system. Maxon's Cinebench R11.5's rendering test returns a score of 1.33, which is several times better than what a netbook such as Toshiba's NB510-10D can muster. The graphics is also significantly more powerful. Where an Atom doesn't support OpenGL sufficiently to run the Cinebench R11.5 graphics test at all, the W700 manages a score of 7.89. It also achieves a 3DMark06 result of 2,589, which is one of the lowest we have seen, but still in a different league to a netbook. The battery life is impressive too. A looped video played for 388 minutes at 75 per cent screen brightness, which means you could get three feature-length movies out of the W700 - perfect for a transatlantic flight.
Windows 8 makes so much more sense for a tablet crossover device like the Acer Iconia W700. The operating system's interface is in its element in tablet mode, as is the W700, but the latter also does a pretty decent job as a desktop Windows device. We have to admit to being generally impressed by the W700, despite its flaws (with the storage limitations and lack of pointing device other than touchscreen top of our list of gripes).
As is generally the case for Acer products, the W700 is quite reasonably priced, starting at just under £600 for the basic model we have here. So if you do want the armchair ergonomics of a tablet, but in a device you can also use to run full Windows software, the Acer Iconia W700 is only a small premium over an iPad, and well worth considering.
Manufacturer and model
Acer Iconia W700
1.4GHz Intel Core i3 2365M
4GB DDR3 SDRAM
Intel HD 3000
64GB Toshiba THNSNS064GMCP solid-state disk
11.6in LED backlit TFT with 1,920 x 1,080 pixels
802.11a/b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 3.0
1 x USB 3.0, 3 x USB 3.0 (on docking stand), micro HDMI, VGA via micro HDMI adapter, combo headphone / microphone.
Width x Depth x Height
295 x 191 x 11.9mm
1 year carry-in