Ever since the OG Kindle Fire, smaller 7/8-inch tablets have been growing at a very fast pace. Today, Google's Nexus 7 and Apple's iPad mini even threaten to outsell their larger counterparts. Seeing how lucrative this form factor has become, the eventual launch of a Windows-based 7/8-incher seemed inevitable. Windows RT/8 running tablets so far only employed the largest form factors in the tablet industry due to its productivity-oriented nature, ranging from 10.1" and 11.6" to an unbearable 13". Well, today we are finally being introduced to the world's first 8-inch (8.1-inch actually) Windows tablet. And it's not even Windows RT, it's full blown Windows 8 (at this point RT seems practically dead to me). Acer's Iconia W3 8.1-inch tablet puts the complete Windows experience in a very small form factor.
C'mon, it's a Windows 8 tablet, it should have a keyboard dock! Well, an 8-inch keyboard dock would be almost impossible to comfortably type on, so Acer did something very unusual, yet effective. They designed a keyboard dock for the W3, but it didn't turn the tablet into a hybrid laptop, instead it was just.... a dock you fitted the tablet into. The dock is actually larger than the tablet itself, so it looks very weird, but it's at least user-friendly.
Strange as it looks, it is the only way of designing a keyboard dock for a smaller tablet. Which, by the way, makes the Iconia W3 the only small tablet to offer a keyboard dock.
|Acer Iconia W3||Google Nexus 7||Apple iPad mini|
|Body||218.2 x 134.6 x 10.2 mm, 499g||198.5 x 120 x 10.5 mm, 340g||200 x 134.7 x 7.2 mm, 308g|
|Display||8.1" 1280 x 800 (187ppi) LED-Backlit TFT||7" 1280 x 800 (216ppi) LED-Backlit IPS||7.9" 1024 x 768 (163ppi) LED-Backlit IPS|
|Storage||32/64 GB, 2 GB (LRDDR2) RAM||16/32 GB, 1 GB (DDR3L) RAM||16/32/64 GB, 512 MB (LPDDR2) RAM|
|Camera||Front and rear HD webcams||1.2 MP front camera w/ 720p video, no rear camera||1.2 MP front camera w/ 720p video, 5 MP iSight rear camera w/ 1080p video|
|OS||Windows 8||Android 4.2 Jelly Bean||iOS 6|
|Chipset||Intel Atom Z2760 (32nm HKMG): Dual-core Saltwell (4 threads) @ 1.5GHz + PowerVR SGX 545||NVIDIA Tegra 3 (40nm): Quad-core Cortex-A9 @ 1.3GHz + 12-core GeForce GPU||Apple A5 (32nm HKMG): Dual-core Cortex-A9 @ 1.0GHz + PowerVR SGX 543MP2 GPU|
|Battery||Li-Polymer 6800 mAh, up to 8 hours usage||Li-Ion 4325 mAh, up to 10 hours usage||Li-Polymer 16.3Wh, up to 10 hours usage|
|Price||$379 for 32 GB, dock: $79||$199 for 16 GB||$329 for 16 GB|
It's hard to tell what orientation the Iconia W3 is meant to be used in. The Acer logos are placed in landscape mode, but the Home button and the front facing camera are in portrait orientation. But since this is an 8-inch tablet, it's more comfortably used in portrait mode. The plastic back cover is made of a silver plastic, which gives a false metallic look to it. The rear camera is placed in the top right corner, and below it is a slightly large Acer logo. The front of the device consists of the awkwardly positioned Acer logo to the right of the 8.1-inch display, above which is the front-facing camera. Under the display's bottom bezel there's a white, tablet-wide strip housing the centered Windows Start button.
Except for the bottom one, the bezels around the display are very thin, which is the only good thing in an otherwise strange-looking design. The tablet is reasonably thin at 10.2mm, on par with the Nexus 7 (10.4mm), but its a bit too heavy for its size, weighing 499g versus the Nexus 7's 340g and the iPad mini's 308g. Even the 10-inch Sony Xperia Tablet Z weighs the same, at 495g. It shouldn't make one-handed use something impossible, but it will feel less comfortable in hand.
Acer got a variety of details either right or wrong with the Iconia W3's display. They weren't stupid enough to use a 16:9 display, for starters. As small tablets are used primarily in portrait mode, and 16:9 is far too narrow and long in portrait, Acer made the good decision to use a 16:10 display, unlike all other Windows 8 tablets. 8.1" is a perfect size for holding the device in one hand, the size being on par with the Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0 and the iPad mini.
The resolution of 1280 x 800 is not bad for its size. A pixel density of about 187ppi, on par with the Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0, and definitely better than the iPad mini's 163ppi, should provide pretty sharp text and images. The only problem is the display technology Acer picked. A TFT display doesn't usually provide very good colors, and don't expect viewing angles to be good either. The iPad mini's and Nexus 7's IPS enhanced display will definitely provide much more saturated colors and better viewing angles.
Also, Windows 8 was never seen on a 8" package before, but I expect that, while the tile-based interface and its apps will scale very well, any desktop apps, and the desktop itself, will be practically unusable, as text will be probably too small to even read.
As desktop apps a) don't have their interface optimized for use in small devices and b) will probably display text that is far too small, I think Acer should've gone with Windows RT for this one.
Being able to run legacy apps is only useful if you can actually use them, which generally isn't the case with the Iconia W3, so they would be better off with Windows RT. The ARM-based OS would even give Acer a wide variety of SoCs to choose from, as opposed to the Atom, which is the only option for (portable) Windows 8 tablets.
Performance and Battery Life
I've gone over the Intel Atom's performance many times, since it's the only x86 SoC with a TDP low enough for ultra-portable devices. Basically, it's an SoC built on 32nm HKMG process, consisting of two x86 Saltwell cores @ 1.5GHz (make it four threads thanks to HT), plus the old, weak PowerVR SGX 545 GPU core @ 533MHz. The average CPU should allow for all basic tasks to be executed fairly quickly, although I wouldn't expect any smoothness with legacy apps.
The weak SGX 545 GPU, while being enough to render the Windows 8 UI smoothly, won't perform very well in any of the few games in the Windows Store. The GPU core is miles behind the best current mobile GPUs.
Acer claims up to 8 hours of video playback with this tablet, and while this doesn't sound very good compared to the Nexus 7's and the iPad mini's 10 hours of video playback, it's pretty good compared to other Windows 8 tablets.
Pricing and Conclusion
For $379 you can get the 32 GB Iconia W3, and an extra $79 will get you that weird keyboard dock. In comparison, the 32 GB Nexus 7 costs $249, while the 32 GB iPad mini costs slightly more, at $429 (the same price for the 64 GB Iconia W3). For an 8-inch tablet, it's not overpriced, really.
The Acer Iconia W3 is unique, in the sense that it has all the features of a productivity-oriented tablet, as in, it runs Windows 8, and offers a keyboard dock, in a small, 8-inch package. It distinguishes itself amongst the other 7/8-inchers, which are all about entertainment and media consumption. Commendable as Acer's attempts are, I still think that 8-inches just isn't right for productive uses.
As a standalone tablet, the Iconia W3 isn't very good. It basically brings Windows 8, and its sea of legacy apps, into a very portable form factor. Unfortunately, however, most legacy apps won't be properly operable, because they're tailored for larger displays, and the applications that would scale well to that size, that is, those on the Windows Store, are still scarce. Conclusion: Windows 8 is too much about productivity and too little about entertainment, and since 8-inchers are perfect for entertainment but too small for productivity, Acer's Iconia W3 is a very interesting attempt, but not even the larger keyboard will make it good for productivity, and it's not a good option until when Windows Store gets more entertainment content.