There is a certain allure when it comes to a Windows 8 tablet you can fit into a pocket. Okay, the Acer Iconia W4 isn't exactly suitable for skinny jeans – it does have an 8in screen, after all. But I am sure some pockets can handle it; and it runs Windows 8.1, plus it comes with Microsoft Office Home and Student, for the princely sum of £250. How's that for allure?
However, to be frank, the general build quality of the Acer Iconia W4 might be enough to put you off. The "plastic pretending to be metal" chassis will fool you for about five seconds, though to be fair, the build is solid enough. The Windows button is located on one short edge of the tablet. It is very accessible, but the screen is raised up from a lip on which the button sits, and there's a small ridge all the way round, so that it looks as though the screen is entirely separate and has been stuck on top of the base. Weird. Also, the Acer Iconia W4 is rather thick at 10.8mm.
While Android-based tablets abound in a wide variety of screen sizes, including 8in models, the competition as far as 8in Windows tablets is concerned is thin on the ground. Toshiba has its Encore, Dell has its Venue 8 Pro, but you won't find a list of comparators as long as your arm.
That might not be so surprising, given that running full Windows on the Acer Iconia W4 is not particularly good fun. The 8in screen really isn't large enough for effective finger-based working, or for really ergonomic text creation.
There are some good things about the screen. It is bright and clear, and colours are good. The IPS panel ensures that viewing angles are good too – Acer says the viewing angle is 170 degrees, so you can share content pretty easily. Be careful what you read while sitting on the bus, then! I found the screen to be quite reflective, though, and the resolution is a bit embarrassing.
Compare its 1,280 x 800 pixels with other similarly sized tablets and you will see what I mean. The 2013 Nexus 7 has 1,920 x 1,200 pixels, Samsung's 2014 Galaxy Tab Pro 8.4 has 2,560 x 1,600 pixels, and the iPad mini with Retina packs in 2,048 x 1,536 pixels. Even higher end phones now offer 1,920 x 1,080 pixels.
In some respects this doesn't matter. Apps in the tile-based interface looked fine to me, video streamed nicely and was certainly watchable. Also, a higher resolution in the desktop interface could have made the W4 even more difficult to use. There are two main problems with using the desktop interface.
Firstly, icons, radio buttons and so on are very small and so they're difficult to hit accurately. The desktop interface just wasn't made finger-friendly and there's not a lot you can do about that. Secondly, the on-screen keyboard is small, which makes for a cramped typing experience. Yet it is also large in proportion to the display, covering a lot of the screen when you are using it. Writing longer documents, where it is useful to be able to scan up and down with the eye as you go, is tricky. On the other hand, email and shorter documents should be relatively easy to cope with.
The way round both these issues is to attach an external keyboard and mouse, which you can do via Bluetooth.
Two areas where the Acer Iconia W4 does impress are battery life and raw power. Acer says the battery will give eight hours between charges. What you'll actually get depends on how you use the Acer Iconia W4. Gaming will push it harder than web browsing, for example. I found I easily got through a day's use where the tablet was functioning as a web and email extension to my main computer, and it was the tablet that kept on giving into the evening when I wanted to relax and look at the old British Pathé news clips just released on YouTube.
The processor is pretty nifty too. A quad-core Bay Trail 1.33GHz Intel Atom Z3740 helped along by 2GB of RAM kept the Acer Iconia W4 going nicely. It was responsive to screen taps, ran apps quickly, and was generally quite acceptable. But of course, you can't expect it to run complex, demanding desktop apps, or be up to hefty multitasking.
Nor can you expect to load lots of apps or carry oodles of files around on the internal storage. There was 64GB of internal memory in my review sample, reduced to 37GB of actual free storage. There is also the opportunity to use cloud storage, of course, and Acer Cloud is one option, OneDrive another. You may well also use the likes of Dropbox, Google Drive, and so on. There is a microSD card slot, and the microUSB port can read USB storage. Those handy little dual connector USB drives are useful here, and with a converter dongle you can get to content on larger drives too.
There's a 5 megapixel flashless camera on the back, and a 2 megapixel camera on the front. HDMI is supported by a micro-sized connector, and there are twin speakers and a headset jack on the bottom edge. Sound output from the speakers is pretty weak – tinny and lacking in bass. A headset doesn't improve things. Rather annoyingly, the headphones slot is very close to the microUSB connector. Power supply and headphones sit comfortably together, but if you are using a USB storage device, you may not be able to fit the headphones in as well. Good luck with streaming music or video using that method.
No tablet can take over all the duties of a notebook computer, but the relatively small-screened Acer Iconia W4 is certainly not ideal as a laptop replacement. You'd be better off thinking of this slate as a supplement, in which case its good battery life and relatively slick performance stand it in good stead.
Manufacturer and Model
Acer Iconia W4
1.33GHz Intel Atom Z3740 quad-core
8in, 1,280 x 800 pixels
MicroUSB, MicroSD, HDMI, headphones
135 x 10.8 x 219mm (WxDxH)