This may well be a turning point for Windows 8: affordable 8 inch full Windows tablets. Not RT but regular Windows 8, so you can use your Windows 7 programs in addition to Metro apps. The Acer Iconia W3 is the first 8 inch tablet to hit the market, and the price starts at $379, undercutting the $399 Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0 but coming in higher than the iPad mini. That $379 gets you an 8.1" tablet with a 1280 x 800 touch screen, 1.5GHz dual core Intel Atom Z2760 CPU, 2 gigs of LPDDR2 RAM and 32 gigs of flash storage. That's really not enough storage for Windows if you intend to install many programs, so I'd suggest the $429 model with 64 gigs of storage. Retailers often discount Acer products, so you may find the Iconia W3 for less than list price.
Like an Android tablet, the Iconia W3 has micro everything: microSD card slot, a micro HDMI port and micro USB host port (micro to standard USB dongle adapter only included with some models). There's a 3.5mm combo audio jack, charging port that works with the included wall wart charger, dual 2MP cameras and an ample 3500 mAh battery. The upside is that as with any Windows machine, you can use USB keyboards, mice, 3G dongles and printers (you'll probably want to get a USB hub if you use several USB peripherals at once). Since the tablet has Bluetooth, you can use Bluetooth keyboards and mice as well.
A few years ago, the Iconia W3 would've been an instant cult classic and strong seller. In 2010 we had the $900 to $1,500 8" Sony Vaio P for those who needed the full power of Windows on the go. The Acer W3 seems like a bargain in comparison. But in the meantime mobile OS tablets (iOS and Android) have captured wallets and minds in droves, and a Windows counterpart could be a hard sell. Yes, Windows is certainly more powerful, but it also requires more care and feeding via Windows updates and anti-virus software.
The Acer W3 has the same footprint as competing Apple and Android 8" tablets, but it's a bit thicker at 0.40" and heavier at 1.1 lbs. (the Note 8.0 weighs .75 lbs.). Since it's Atom, there's no need for a cooling fan and it offers runtimes that are competitive with Android tablets. Nice. The downside is the Atom isn't a brilliant CPU. It can handle MS Office just fine, and in fact MS Office Home and Student Edition 2013 is bundled at no charge. You could do light photo editing using Photoshop and web, email and social networking are fine. But with 2 gigs of RAM, you'll want to keep programs down to 3 at a time, lest the tablet lag. Software installation and Windows Update installations are hugely slower than on Intel Core laptops and Ultrabooks.
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Acer Iconia W3 Video Review
Optional Keyboard: Nifty and Usable
Acer sells an optional $70 Bluetooth keyboard that acts as a stand and carrying case for the tablet. No, it's not a folio case like that included with the Acer Aspire P3, it's a roomy plastic keyboard with a slot for the tablet on each side. Up top, there's a slot to hold the tablet upright when typing and the underside has a latch so you can carry the tablet with its display safely nestled against the keyboard's underside. It's an unusual design and it works well. The keyboard is the same size as an 11.6" notebook or netbook keyboard and key travel and tactile feel are quite good. We applaud Acer's decision to design a large keyboard rather than an 8" version that would be nearly impossible to type on efficiently.
You were waiting for a shoe to drop, right? Here it is: the 1280 x 800, 8.1" display is annoyingly grainy as if someone applied a heavy anti-glare coating. The odd thing is this is a glossy display so we don't know what's going on with the literally scintillating surface. It's distracting and makes text on this otherwise sharp and bright display hard to read. If you can live with the grain, the display is otherwise decent enough with nice, but not stellar colors and viewing angles that are hampered only by the grain.
Build quality is good, but this is a plastic tablet with a budget price so you don't get the metal chassis of the 11.6" Acer Iconia W700 with a full Core i5 CPU or even the classy looks of the iPad mini. It's utilitarian and silver with white trim. There are three ports total: 3.5mm stereo combo audio (headphones + mic), micro HDMI and a micro USB port (a micro to full size USB adapter is included with some models). This is a USB 2.0 port, because the Atom chipset in current generation Atom tablets only supports USB 2.0. Likewise it doesn't support mSATA SSD drives so we have the slower eMMC interface with flash storage (something like an internal SD/MMC card). The stereo speakers that fire from the bottom (when held in portrait) mode are surprisingly loud for a small tablet, but as you'd expect they don't rock the house with bass.
It's all good news here. Windows 8 Atom tablets have long battery life relative to their Intel Core counterparts, and the Acer Iconia W3 lasted 7 hours of actual use time on a charge in a mix of productivity and 45 minutes of streaming video playback. The Iconia W3 has a 2 cell, 3500 mAh Lithium Polymer battery that's sealed inside. The tablet ships with a compact wall wart charger rather than a bulky laptop style brick.
If you're a sys admin or sales type that needs networking programs or Windows-based x86 programs to get your job done, the Acer Iconia W3 is temptingly hyper-portable and affordable. Once you've installed your Windows programs and finished with the bevy of initial Windows updates, speed is tolerable for MS Office, web-based database access and even some light photo editing. Battery life is good enough to hang with Android tablets and the tablet is silent and cool. The accessory keyboard is well thought out and unique. Our only complaint is the grainy display that's likely to be a deal breaker for many of you.
Price: $379 - $429 for W3, $79 for Bluetooth Keyboard