I tweeted out a photo of the Acer Iconia W3 when it arrived at my house.
I knew what I was getting into as I have read the reviews. Some of these reviews are even in the Surface Geeks Forums.
I know the screen is suspect but I had to test the form factor for myself. I was keeping my eye on the Amazon links to the 32GB and the 64 GB tablet for a few weeks. Then, the popular Microsoft Developer conference took place in San Francisco. Attendees were treated to a Surface Pro and the W3.
When Build 2013 wrapped up, eBay was inundated with the W3. Prior to Build there were just two up for sale. It was easy to tell the new listings were Build W3’s because they were all 64GB units and came with a bluetooth keyboard. Most were classified as “New In Box” and a few were described as “opened to make sure it turns on.” Or, I wanted to check it out before I cashed in.
The 32Gb version goes for $379 new, and the 64GB for $429. The keyboard has been estimated to sell for $50 to $70. eBay auctions are listing anywhere from $350 to $499 and the ones I have seen are selling mostly around $350. Why am I going over eBay pricing so much? Read on and you will see.
How do you compare the first 8” Windows 8 tablet when it’s the first of its kind? Well, I own the Surface RT and the iPad mini. I owned the Surface Pro for a few weeks too. I have a couple of 10” iPads but my kids don’t let me touch them unless they are goofed up in some way.
Let’s bring up the basic stats on the W3 first. (detailed stats here)
It’s b/g/n WIFI, has an HDMI out, one micro USB, and a microSD card slot. It also comes with Microsoft Office Home and Student 2013 Edition.
Let’s just get it out of the way quick. That’s why your reading right? Does it look as crappy as everyone says it does?
One issue with this 8” tablet is the 1280x800 resolution that will not allow you to snap an app to the side of the screen in the Modern UI interface. You need a 1366x768 resolution or higher to do that. Not everyone will be turned off by that as snapping is a preference not all will use especially if your coming from iOS.
But, this is an 8 inch tablet. In the modern UI its really great at serving one app at a time. it’s a good consumption device. Don’t get to hung up,on the snapping issue.
I compared the W3 to its “size related” best seller. The iPad mini. The mini is an a/b/g/n WIFI tablet with a 1024x768 screen sporting 163 pixels per inch. The Acer W3 is a whopping 186 ppi. Huh? More pixels?
It comes down to IPS vs LCD. And a mediocre LCD at that. The W3’s LCD screen is grainy and very unimpressive.
I handed it to Mrs. Surface Geek and she had two statements.
1. Where did you get this? (I didn’t run this purchase through the accounting department)
2. This thing looks horrible.
I handed it to her with SkyDrive photos on the screen for her to show family members. She knows what they should look like. My rebuttal was the perfect apologist and defensive answer.
“Well, it’s full Windows 8 and it’s cheap!”
Mrs. Surface Geeks, “Ok, but it' still looks like sh*!.”
How can this be explained? Think of an iPhone 3GS or older smartphone with a plastic screen protector on it. You remember the grainy look it had? That’s it! There is a grainy look to it like there is a layer of “something cheap” under the glass.
Don’t stop reading yet!
I know, I confirmed it, the screen is bad. Is it that bad though? Is it bad enough to not consider a sub $400, full blown Windows 8 tablet with bluetooth keyboard? Keep reading because you want to know about desktop apps on this tablet. Don’t ya? (updated at bottom)[gallery ids=895,896,897,900,901,903,898,899,904,906]
Productivity vs. Consumption
I started writing this article with the bluetooth keyboard on a hard surface. The awesome thing about the W3 is that I started with Windows Live Writer which is an app you can only install on an x86 PC. Yes, I could have used a different app to start writing the review but the point is I used a full blown PC app and that’s what sets the W3 apart from an ARM based tablet. Is it necessary though?
As I said, I started with the keyboard and really was just as productive as I would be on a PC. I used a Modern UI app to help with the photos and the keyboard performed very well. When I moved to the couch in the evening it was much harder with the virtual keyboard on this little screen. Yet, checking email, weather, news, is very easy. I can do that with my Surface RT though! I’m very conflicted about the whole thing and hanging on to the idea of running legacy apps on a tablet. I don’t know if it’s just laziness or just habit. I like the old way.
The screen is a bit to small for the desktop. It’s hard to get around and the touch points are tiny. Having said that I made it happen and everyone who gets an x86 tablet whether it’s 8 or 11 inches will try it. I’m not going to tell you to not try it. It’s entirely possible to pull off too. It’s just a pain sometimes. If you wanted to add a mouse or a pen device you could make it simpler but who are we fooling here? If you do that you should have purchased a touch notebook or some convertible.
I keep coming back to the phrase, “you can do it if you need to.” Desktop, Pen, Mouse, Keyboard, x86 apps. It’s versatile if not anything else.
If anything, I proved to myself that I like this form factor better than the Surface RT. It's a more friendly "couch companion" than the RT. Change the screen in this little guy and you have a winner!
Conclusion and Random Thoughts on the W3
It’s not a speed demon. You will need a little patience during some operations. Installing, adding a new tab to IE, etc. It’s an Atom processor so think back to that Netbook you carried around and wouldn’t show your friends. Yep, that’s it.
The charging port is a standard DC plug that’s on the bottom of the unit. The headphone jack is on the same side so it can be confusing in low light. See photos.
A 10 inch or better tablet size would be more suited for desktop use in Windows 8.
This size is awesome to hold. I think more so than rt. I want to love this device but Acer is making it hard to!
Holding it, my left hand is always warm.
I've seen reviewers say it feels cheap. It's plastic, hello! It's at a certain price point for a reason. Folks, it does not feel cheap. It feels like plastic and glass. It feels fine. The seams from plastic to glass are good. The buttons are good. It's not an iPad so stop comparing it to one. You can compare the screen quality to the iPad like I did but show me an iPad that can run the apps that this thing can. Be wary of anyone comparing it the iPad much like the crowd compared the Surface RT to the iPad.
It's bigger, it's heavier. It has an Atom processor in it that runs x86 apps.
The recovery process will not use the microSD card as a target, only USB. The micro USB port is not real handy to plug normal USB keys into obviously, so you will need to head to Amazon and get a cheap converter. It's only $3.09 when I looked.
Stickers on the W3 are on the back. Surely you know how to properly remove stickers right? It's easy to complain about this but one shouldn't make a major deal about it.
It's so easy to dismiss this screen, call it lousy, and move on.
I think most reviewers see the screen and will then tear all the other factors about this tablet to pieces regardless of quality. Ignore them.
The screen is bad folks but I mentioned eBay earlier for a reason. The screen is so bad that I wouldn't purchase it new from Amazon, Acer, or the Microsoft Store. However, it's liveable if you can get a good price for it. Viewing angle? What are you doing? Sitting to the side of the thing? Come on, it's not great but put it front of you!
If you can get the W3 off of eBay for a good price then I say go for it. Have fun, you just got a full blown Windows PC for the couch for less than $400. (see update)
This just in! Acer admits selling a crappy display and is re-tooling to improve it! Whoa, this changes everything. I think my review is different than the others I have read, so instead of dismantling it to include this information I wanted to leave it intact and review this new info and see if it would change my mind any about the W3.
It does too. I liked the W3 and if it had a quality display I would like it even more. This news changes everything though! This should push eBay prices down a little bit since most of the W3's listed out there are from Build. If you can pick this up for sub $300 pricing it is still a viable piece of gear. I'm thinking $250 tablet only, $280 with keyboard. We still need some official confirmation from Acer on the screens though.
Get crafty with it. Put 2 in the car for road trips. Build it into a wall for Windows 8 software for the house. Use the Ceton App to control your Windows Media Center and throw it on the coffee table. You just found a new remote for your TV!
Manufacturer Link: Acer Iconia W3