Hands-on with Acer's 8-inch Iconia W3 Windows 8 tablet

Microsoft's BUILD developer conference got off to an exciting start with a keynote by CEO Steve Ballmer, joined by various other key figures from across the company. During the keynote, he announced that all attendees at BUILD will receive an Acer Iconia W3 tablet (along with a Surface Pro). The Iconia W3 is the first of a new wave of smaller Windows 8 tablets, with an 8.1-inch display, and Windows 8.1 brings new improvements and enhancements to accommodate these smaller form factors. 

My fellow Neowin editor, Christopher White, had a brief opportunity to get his hands on the Iconia W3 at TechEd North America earlier this month, but while he was able to take plenty of photos, Microsoft sadly didn't afford him much time to really get to grips with the device. We've had a bit more time with the tablet now, thanks to the unit that Microsoft kindly supplied to us at BUILD. 

We'll be properly putting the W3 through its paces soon in the kind of detailed, thorough review you've come to expect of Neowin - but after spending a few hours with the device, we've already formed some impressions of the device. 

In the box, you'll find the tablet itself, along with a power cable and documentation. A Bluetooth keyboard is supplied in a separate box.

When it starts up for the first time, the tablet boots in landscape mode. The tablet weighs just under 500g, and while that's not unbearably heavy, it's worth noting that this is considerably (almost 200g) heavier than the similarly sized iPad mini. That difference is significant in practice; for such a small device, it feels incredibly weighty, especially when held with one hand in landscape mode. That said, it's a good deal more comfortable to hold in portrait mode. 

Curiously, given the density of weight relative to its dimensions, you might expect this thing to be rock-solid. It's not. Despite the ultra-low price tag of the device - it's on sale for $379 - I was surprised by how cheap the device felt. The plastics aren't particularly pleasant (although they're far from the worst I've encountered), but what really shocked me was the creakiness and flex in the device's construction. Grip it even a bit too tightly, and you'll see distortion on the LCD from where your fingers are pressing on the rear side of the device. 

The screen isn't hugely impressive, but this isn't entirely surprising given Acer's need to keep the price down. It has WXGA (1280x800px) resolution but pretty poor viewing angles, with colour distortion issues at anything other than a head-on, dead-centre view. 

A full-size keyboard is also available, and as you can see, it's a good deal wider than the tablet itself. The keyboard actually pairs to the tablet through Bluetooth, which is a bit of an odd choice, given that the only configuration to use the tablet with the keyboard is by slotting into the cradle. It's curious that Acer didn't simply make this a physical dock for the tablet, instead of relying on Bluetooth pairing, especially since this keyboard is labelled on its packaging as specifically for the Iconia W3. 

There's also no scope for adjustment in the tablet/keyboard configuration; you can't change the angle of the display to accommodate your needs when using the physical keyboard.

There is one brilliant element to the tablet and keyboard combo though. Flip the keyboard over, and you'll find a handy slot into which you can conveniently clip the tablet in...

...making it much easier to carry the two items together. A nice and thoughtful solution, although it does leave the keys on the keyboard exposed to dust and lint in a bag. 


Frankly, the W3 hasn't made a particularly positive impression here. The need to pursue affordability is certainly understandable, but given how much Apple has been able to achieve in the lighter, similarly-priced iPad mini, we're not sure whether Acer has enough to make a strong case for the W3 here. 

We're really looking forward to giving the device a proper, thorough test in our upcoming review, and we'll certainly be keeping an open mind about it, and hoping that it will impress us more over time. 

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11 Comments

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The tablet weighs just under 500g, and while that's not unbearably heavy, it's worth noting that this is considerably (almost 200g) heavier than the similarly sized iPad mini.

Is this not a full x86 PC that is capable of running the full version of Photoshop and even some PC level games?

Maybe it is just my perception that this is rather silly.

The weight difference may be significant, but considering the device is easily offering 10 to 20 times the performance of an ARM based iPad Mini, would not the extra weight be less of a concern for users?

A full featured PC with security, multiple accounts, and all the other software and device compatibility is significantly more than a simplified tablet with limited OS. If the iPad Mini was running the full version of OS X and offered even the Mac level of software and device compatibility, then a comparison of the products would be warranted; however, it is not.

Beyond looking similar, they are very two different products with two very different levels of features and functionality, not only in hardware, but in OS capabilities as well.

My Casio watch from 1984 weighs less than the iPad mini as well, but I don't see the need to mention this when talking about the iPad mini. However, if I did, I would take time to disclose the vast performance and functionality differences of the two products as to not confuse people into believing that a touch screen based watch and an iPad mini are comparable products.

It's valid to compare this to the iPad Mini, because that's what consumers are going to do. We can argue tech specs until the cows come home, that doesn't matter to average consumers who want to check email, browse the internet, play games, and watch Netflix -- all things the iPad Mini does well btw.

Just because other people compare them, doesn't make it valid to do so. Average consumers can do all those same things on a smartphone, you wouldn't compare that, would you?

Just as Mobius says, the performance and functionality of the iPad Mini pales in comparison to the Iconia 8.

SkolVikings said,
It's valid to compare this to the iPad Mini, because that's what consumers are going to do. We can argue tech specs until the cows come home, that doesn't matter to average consumers who want to check email, browse the internet, play games, and watch Netflix -- all things the iPad Mini does well btw.

A valid argument; however, then it should be important to specifically talk about the differences so consumers do not continue to be confused or see the products superficially when it will matter to them, even if they are just buying it as a browser/media device.

Example:
99% of all USB devices work with the Iconia W3
<1% of all USB devices work with the iPad mini

This information would be more important to consumers in the long run than if the unit feels a bit heavier. Knowing that any mouse, printer, camera, device they own works with the Windows 8 device is just one example of the vast difference that is far more important.

The MicroUSB, HDMI, or even the SD slot are not even mentioned in the article yet noting that it is a bit heavier than the iPad mini is referenced.

How can a consumer decide if the extra weight might be worth the advantages?

(This example is extra important when the consumer may not realize the Micro-USB port is a real USB port and with a simple adapter can connect to any USB device made in the last 15 years.)

If the tablet could be placed into the back of the keyboard so you could still use it, meaning screen side out, that would have actually been a seriously cool aspect. But as it it, it's useless in most respects to me (wouldn't be carrying around a keyboard at all I suppose. If it came with it, sure, if it's the additional expense, no way.

"Frankly, the W3 hasn't made a particularly positive impression here. The need to pursue affordability is certainly understandable, but given how much Apple has been able to achieve in the lighter, similarly-priced iPad mini, we're not sure whether Acer has enough to make a strong case for the W3 here. "
Are you ****ing kidding me ??? are you nuts ???
Clover Trail kill the sorry iPad mini...just imagine this thing with BayTrail !!!

Ricardo Dawkins said,
"Frankly, the W3 hasn't made a particularly positive impression here. The need to pursue affordability is certainly understandable, but given how much Apple has been able to achieve in the lighter, similarly-priced iPad mini, we're not sure whether Acer has enough to make a strong case for the W3 here. "
Are you ****ing kidding me ??? are you nuts ???
Clover Trail kill the sorry iPad mini...just imagine this thing with BayTrail !!!

The iPad mini is lighter, but also is about 1/10th to 1/20th the performance. The iPad mini is also running iOS, a mobile OS with limited functionality, and the Acer is running the complete x86 version of Windows 8 with all the features of Windows 8 and the robust software and device compatibility of Windows 8. (Which still is the largest application ecosystem in the world.)

Take a simple iOS app like Winzip. When we talk of limited functionality, the Winzip "app" can only browse zip files. It CANNOT create zip archives. There is no accessible filesystem on iOS, which might be the reason. But then that in itself is the whole point. Even with Windows 8's Modern apps, you have a filesystem, which makes it a hell of a lot more advanced in functionality than iOS.

Heavier = larger battery (most likely)

I'm sure you'd complain much more if the battery life were shorter than whatever it currently is.

Such a nice Operating System on ugly a s s hardware. I really wish Microsoft did an Apple and just made their tablets exclusively.

If Nokia made an 8" tablet with a 41MP Pureview camera, the HTC X's wide angle FFC, a Baytrail Processor, 64GB ROM, 2GB RAM, and a 1080P screen, I'd buy it in a heartbeat.