A week with an Acer Iconia W700.
by Bill Rockhold
When Microsoft introduced the Surface Pro they also introduced a battery life argument with their ‘half the battery life’ statement. I wasn't convinced I wanted to wait until some time in January to buy a new tablet, so I picked up an Acer Iconia W700.
I was walking around my local Microcenter, to buy a friend a Christmas present, and I noticed
the W700 on display with the Android tablets. Microcenter had only
received a few of these tablets and I got the last one they had in
Acer has three versions of the W700. Two have Core i5 processors with
ether a 64 or a 128 Gb SSD and a model with a Core i3 processor with a
64 Gb SSD. I picked up the i3 version hoping for better battery life.
The 64 Gb SSD after the OS and a few installed apps left 38 Gb free
and I figured that if I kept data on a USB stick that would be enough,
at least for now. The i3's price is $749 and seems to be a good deal
when you take in account the included extras, like the dock, a HDMI to
VGA adapter, a leather case, and Bluetooth keyboard.
I won’t rattle on about the hardware since that has been covered by
numerous other reviewers. But I will say the chassis is a solidly machined
aluminum construct and seems very sturdy though I haven't tried
dropping it or running it over with my car.
I've used a 10” Android tablet for a year and a half and a 7” Nook Color for two years and relative
to those this tablet is a little heavy at a little over 2 lbs. I
can live with the weight when I consider that the W700 is close to
matching my 8.2 lbs laptop in both horsepower and battery life. The
1920x1080 11.6” display is clear and bright. The W700’s boot up is 7
seconds from cold, every other tablet that I have used cold boot in 30
to 60 seconds. Booting in 7 seconds, there isn't much reason to leave
the tablet in a sleep state which uses more power when your not using
it. But if you do put it in sleep mode, it will wake from sleep in 3
Coming from Windows 7 and XP, the usability is a little strange, with
Windows 8 being a little schizophrenic. When Win8 starts up it shows a
login screen, but when I first got it the keyboard wouldn't always
come up when I tapped on the password field and there isn't a keyboard
button to manually open it. When this happened, I have found that if
tap the arrow/go button which cause the log in to fail with the empty
password, but the next time I'd tap on the password field the keyboard
will come up. The problem did go away after a couple of days.
I've downloaded a few “metro” apps that I'm used to using on Android,
but they generally don’t look and function like the versions that I
used to. It’s not good or bad, it's just different. The “metro” screen
doesn't react to taps to launch apps as fast as my old Acer Iconia
A500 Android tablet did but the apps work well and I can adjust to
the new app styles, I just have to learn to tap slower. Navigating the
start screen is fluid, but it took a while to figure out how to remove
tiles. There should be better help in learning how to do things. It is
not entirely intuitive and I would have really been lost if other people
hadn't shown me some of the basic gestures beforehand.
I’m more interested in how the OS works on the desktop, since that is
where I will be working the most, doing development and office work.
This is where things get to be a little problematic. 1080p is a lot of
resolution for a 23 inch monitor, for an 11.6” screen it makes things
small and sometimes hard to tap on, specially in apps like windows
explorer and advanced configuration setting screes. I am using a trick
I've used on my HTPCs by going into the display settings and changing
the “size of all items” setting. I've gone with a setting of 125%, but
the size can be increased up to 200%. I've installed Classic Shell to
put the start button back on the desktop. It works great in showing
the classic menu and the new “metro” apps. It allows the OS to boot to
the desk top instead of the Start screen. I did have to tweak a
setting in Classic Shell to have the windows button bring up the Start
screen like it did before in installed Classic Shell. Otherwise the
windows button expands the Classic Shell Start menu.
The included keyboard works well, though the layout does throw me off
a little and I do miss some of the dedicated keys that are not there,
but there are key combos for most things. The keyboard looks like it
is made by Logitech and matches the Logitech keyboard that I bought
earlier this year. It is easy to type on and the keys react well. I
also bought a Bluetooth mouse because I have found that touch is just
not going to cut it when using apps like Visual Studio.
For desktop apps, the on screen keyboard doesn't come up idiomatically
when you tap on a text field, so you need to use the keyboard button
on the toolbar and it doesn't always react the first time you tap on
it. The on screen keyboard will often cover over whatever app you’re
typing in since the OS doesn't move or scale the app for the space the
keyboard takes up.
Now for the 800 lbs gorilla in the room, lets talk about battery life.
I didn't do a scientific test, but I ran 1080p video on a loop for 4
and half hours and demoed the tablet several times for co-workers and
at the end of the day I still had 25% charge. I would guess that it
can run 6 and a half to 7 hours on a charge at factory settings. On a
weekend trip to Chicago I tweaked the power settings to limit the CPU to
50% on battery and used it on and off all weekend (around 4 hours
total) and still had 50% charge come Monday morning. I didn't notice
any performance problems with it configured this way.
The tablet also came with a dock that feels fairly cheap and plasticy, but
it is functional. It has 3 USB ports and a power port. When you dock
the tablet, it connects to the tablets power and USB ports. The
docking is smooth and easy, but disconnecting is a little difficult.
The dock doesn't have much for rubber feet or much weight to it, so
it may slide around some during touch use. I doubt I'll use it much
since I'm using the case and the dock won't work with the case
The included case for the tablet is leather or good fake leather and
securely holds the tablet. It flips over to allow the table to be held
in hand and can also allow you to position the tablet on a desk in a
“laptop” mode. I like this cover, it’s not quite as good as some
leather flip covers that you can find for other tablets, but it is way
better than the crap rubber case that was an optional extra when I
bought the A500 last year.
For per-installed software there isn't a lot. There's a link to download
a trial of office and ebay desktop app and McAfee Internet Security.
There are some per-installed “metro” apps like Kindle, Skype, Hulu and
Netflix. I'm a little disappointed with Microsoft, since Security
Essentials doesn't currently support Windows 8. Acer has also added a
little of their own software. Acer Ring is a configuration that
comes up if you place 5 fingers on the screen. I quickly disabled
that. They also have a cloud storage app and a backup app that I
haven't tried yet.
I’m not going to try to recommend this device or not. Though I will
say that the hardware seems solid and most of the things that bothered
me are software and maybe fixed or compensated for. These Windows 8
tablets are still very new and by their nature require compromise. But
they have pushed the ability of what a tablet can do from a
consumption toy to a possible laptop replacement or at least a device
the spans both realms. If that is what you need, then this tablet
maybe a good fit. I'm keeping mine.