Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Review: Acer Iconia W3 - Windows 8 on a tiny tablet

 Acer Iconia W3 -  a tiny tablet
Brandished on stage at Microsoft's Build conference last week by Steve Ballmer himself as the next great thing in Windows 8 tablet hardware, Acer's Iconia W3 is the first 8-in tablet with the ability to run the full version of the company's latest OS, rather than falling back on the ARM-based Windows RT.
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This theoretically crams all the advantages of a desktop PC into a compact tablet, and in fairness to the W3, a fair amount of those benefits do shine through.

On the other hand, while £279 seems a bargain for a small, yet fully functional Windows 8 tablet, users will more or less get what they pay for in terms of the realistic usability of such a scaled-down Windows 8 experience.

To get the specs out of the way, the W3 sports an 8-in WXGA multi-touch LCD screen, powered by Intel's Atom Z2769 processor, and runs the 32-bit edition of Windows 8.

It has 2GB of RAM onboard, with 64GB of storage space, and fore and aft cameras for video conferencing and photography.            

As specs go, these are fairly respectable for the money, even if the overall build quality of the tablet's shell suffers from Acer's customary cheap and cheerful approach.

But compared to, say, Google's heavily-subsidised Nexus 7, this is a significantly more powerful offering, especially when you factor in the Windows 8 licence cost.

However, with the stock Windows 8 installation (bear in mind we also installed the Windows 8.1 preview build as well) taking up 49GB of the drive, this leaves only 32.1GB left for your own data. The W3's Micro SD slot supports a further 32GB external storage too, though.

Drive space will probably be of little concern in the long run, anyway, because this tablet feels unlikely to become anybody's workhorse ‘road warrior' device.

 Acer Iconia W3 -  a tiny tablet

Bluntly, the W3 is just too small for any serious Windows 8 use. With a choice of only two screen resolutions - native 1280 x 800 and the OS's minimum supported 1024 x 768 - trying to use the Windows 8 desktop mode quickly becomes a bind on a visual and interactive level.

Such a high resolution on such a small device makes touchscreen use a hit and miss affair, not to mention successfully reading any icon or taskbar labels in desktop mode. While increasing font sizes helps, picking out options on the taskbar or even successfully tapping icons can be taxing, and you'll often find yourself giving up and quitting back to the Modern UI, queuing up your most-used apps as Charms on there. That's probably the way Microsoft wants it anyway, of course.

There's no native stylus support either, so while Surface Pro's big, clear screen also enjoys pinpoint Wacom accuracy, the W3 is all-too reliant on fingertips that are just too big and clumsy.

While using most Modern apps and general web browsing is straightforward, enterprise users will find the pokiness of the desktop mode a real disadvantage.

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