November 7th, 2012

Acer Iconia W700 Windows 8 Tablet

Acer Iconia W700 Windows 8 Tablet

Introduction

The Acer Iconia W700 is a powerful tablet running Windows 8 Pro. Unlike the Microsoft Surface for Windows RT, the W700 includes a laptop-grade Core i5 processor and therefore runs the full desktop version of Windows, allowing compatibility with both legacy Windows x32 and x64 programs and new Modern UI style apps available in the Microsoft app store.

The W700 provided for this review is an engineering sample, so its configuration differs slightly from what will be available at retail and it is running a test version of Windows 8. For this reason, we won’t be examining hardware performance in any great depth. However, we will take a look at the W700 and test how well it uses the touch focus of Windows 8 to deliver a compelling experience. Let’s get started.

Review Unit Specifications

Processor: 1.7 GHz dual-core Intel Core i5
RAM: 2 GB DDR3
Hard Drive: 64 GB Sandisk SSD (55 GB usable space + 4 GB recovery partition)
Display: 11.6″ IPS LCD at 1920 x 1080p with 10 point touch
Graphics: Integrated Intel HD 4000 w/ 128 MB DDR3
Connectivity: Bluetooth, WiFi N
Ports: USB 3.0, Micro HDMI, 3.5 mm headphones
Cameras: 5 megapixel rear camera, 1.3 megapixel front camera
Speakers: Stereo with Dolby Home Theatre branding
Battery: 4850 mAh
Dimensions: 295 x 191 x 11.9 mm
Weight: 925 grams

Retail Specifications (where different)

Processor: 1.8 Ghz Core i3 or 1.7 GHz Core i5
RAM: 4 GB DDR3
Hard Drive: 64 GB or 128 GB Sandisk SSD
Included accessories: Stand, case, micro HDMI to VGA adapter, Bluetooth keyboard (in some SKUs)

Unboxing

Like other Acer products I’ve had the good fortune of receiving recently, the Acer Iconia W700 comes well packaged. The initial white cardboard box is stiff and glossy.

01 packaging

When opened, the box reveals a number of black compartments. The tablet itself sits on the top, protected by a sheath of plastic, while additional components appear in the compartment to the right.

02 packaging open

My pre-production engineering sample did not include the stand, case, Bluetooth keyboard or micro HDMI to VGA adapter that should appear in most retail boxes. These should make for an excellent starting package.

The Tablet

As you’d expect from a tablet, the front of the screen is dominated by the display. In the case of the Acer W700, this is a gorgeous 11.6″ IPS screen running at 1920 x 1080, full HD resolution. The display is flanked by a black bezel approximately an inch in width on all sides.

Above the display, there is a front-facing webcam at 1.3 megapixels, capable of recording 720p video.

Below the display and bezel, there’s a physical Windows key mounted on a silver frame. This button launches the formerly-known-as-Metro start screen, although this can also be launched with the Windows key on a connected keyboard or by touch using the charms menu. The Acer logo is inscribed on the lower right hand corner.

Acer Iconia W700 Windows 8 Tablet

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Turning the tablet over, we can see the back of the display. This is the same silver colour as beneath the bezel. There’s a 5 megapixel camera capable of recording 1080p video on the right hand side, while at the top there is a plastic section that will no doubt house the tablet’s radios. On the left side, there is another slightly more noticeable Acer logo.

Acer Iconia W700 Windows 8 Tablet

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Turning our attention now to the left hand side of the tablet, we have a number of ports. There is a Thunderbolt port at the very top. Below this, there is a micro HDMI port for video out, a USB 3.0 port and the AC adapter port. The left hand side of the tablet also includes the words ‘Dolby Home Theater’ and ‘Professionally Tuned.’

Acer Iconia W700 Windows 8 Tablet

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The right hand side of the tablet is more sparsely populated, with a 3.5 mm headphone jack, a generously sized volume rocker and a lock / power button. In my review sample pressing this button caused the system to crash, so I disabled it. The right hand side also has the words ‘Iconia Tab.’

Acer Iconia W700 Windows 8 Tablet

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On the top of the tablet we have an orientation lock switch (which did not work in my test unit) as well as a couple of exhaust ports. Thanks to this tablet’s high specifications, it does require a fan to operate and these require some space to vent.

Acer Iconia W700 Windows 8 Tablet

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Finally, on the bottom of the tablet we have the stereo speakers, which are a nice red colour inset into the base. There is also a message stating ‘Engineering sample’, not for sale. Finally, there’s a microphone here.

Acer Iconia W700 Windows 8 Tablet

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All in all, it’s a nice looking tablet that is noticeably thicker than ARM-powered devices like the iPad or Asus Transformer, but is still much thinner than an Ultrabook. It honestly feels like the guts of a mid to high-end laptop were just seamlessly deposited inside that laptop’s display – and it’s pretty cool that’s possible.

Testing

Methodology

In order to judge the performance of the Acer Iconia W700, I used the tablet as much as possible over a two week period. The W700, as stated earlier, was an engineering sample so I did not choose to benchmark it (PCMark 7 crashed each time I ran it, anyway!) at this time.

Instead, I’ll be taking a more qualitative view that focuses on the potential uses of this tablet and how it performs with regard to work, play and everything in between.

Results

As a tablet

As the W700 is sold as a tablet, it’s on this basis that I’ll judge it first. Windows 8 is definitely a massive step forward for touch-based Windows, and the modern UI style works well here. Once you’ve figured out how everything works, you’ll be whipping between apps, opening settings and activating the charms menu with aplomb. It isn’t quite as simple as something like Android, iOS or Windows Phone, but it is definitely close.

Acer Iconia W700 Windows 8 Tablet

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In terms of hardware, the W700 doesn’t disappoint. Its SSD and relatively quick i5 processor ensure a prompt boot time – about five or six seconds – and there’s enough RAM for you to run all but the most demanding creative and productivity applications. I never really noticed any hint of slow-down in the OS, which is tremendously impressive for a tablet running a full version of Windows.

The W700 also impressed in battery life, with the 4850 mAh battery providing a surprising amount of runtime – easily eight hours – particularly given the HD display, SSD and quick processor. This is a tablet running full Windows with a much faster processor than any iPad or Android tablet, and yet it still attains similar battery life to ARM processors with a similar size battery.

I want to make special mention of the W700′s display – it is gorgeous. If a $700 tablet can include a 1080p panel at 11.6″, you should not be okay with a 15″ 1366 x 768 laptop display. It makes movies and games look excellent, particularly movies like Tron that have a high dynamic range and plenty of pretty things to look at.

As the good as the tablet’s hardware is in terms of brute strength, the whole tablet experience is not without its flaws on the W700.

One important thing to note is that this is not an Android or Apple tablet – it is too big and too heavy to be truly as mobile as a 10″ or 7″ ARM-powered tablet, and the 11.6″ 16:9 aspect ratio display makes it somewhat silly to use in portrait mode. The on-screen keyboard is workable, but harder to use than keyboards on smaller tablets or phones. You can pull this out on a train or a plane, but it’s going to take up the whole tray table.

There are still quite a few apps missing from the Microsoft store – big names like Dropbox, Steam, Chrome, Twitter, Facebook etc. etc. There are plenty of apps that you’ll need to just get from the web as normal (here I suggest Ninite for automating the initial installation process) and these are often not optimised for touch controls. While Chrome will recognise that is being installed on a touch-capable PC and allow you to scroll around with a drag, the buttons – particularly the ‘close tab’ X and the ‘new tab’ + are maddeningly difficult to press.

Even when you do manage to find a true Windows 8 app, actually using it and getting around the OS takes some time to get used to. I now feel that after a few weeks of use it’ll be fairly natural for most people willing to give it a try, but there definitely is that initial barrier to entry that could turn many away.

Once you get past this, however, Windows 8 is genuinely a step forward and on a touch device you can take full advantage of that. Once the app store fills out – and it will – the whole OS will be a much more compelling argument.

As a full work PC

The few failings of the W700 as a tablet are covered by the tablet’s ability to act as a full Windows PC, capable of running the full gamut of Windows x32 and x64 applications. With the proper peripherals, the W700 is a surprisingly competitive laptop-grade PC.

Acer Iconia W700 Windows 8 Tablet

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I used an Apple Wireless Keyboard and a Microsoft IntelliMouse Explorer for Bluetooth (how’s that for a partnership) for input, with a hand-made cardboard stand to take the place of the stand that should be included in the retail box. You also have the option of plugging in an external monitor using the micro HDMI port, but again this wasn’t included with my review unit so I couldn’t try it out with the VGA monitors I had lying around. With these peripherals in place, the W700 absolutely trounced my work laptop in terms of boot speed, application performance and general snappiness, despite both being equipped with SSDs and Windows 8.

There is a very good argument for picking up a tablet like the W700 instead of an Ultrabook like the Acer Aspire S7, particularly if you are commuting between two locations regularly. You can simply have a monitor, mouse and keyboard stored at each location, then take only the tablet when you travel. This means you’ve got very little to carry, you’ve got the touch-optimised modern UI style apps to tide you over on your travels, but you’ve still got that full PC experience at work and at home – there was nothing that I couldn’t do with the W700 that I could do with my traditional form factor laptop. The addition of x32 and x64 compatibility means that this works better than with the Surface for WIndows RT and other Windows RT devices, which are constrained to only use the few apps available in the Microsoft store.

With both devices being similar in price, there’s definitely an argument for it and I think it’ll only become stronger in time, as more touch-optimised apps are released.

As a gaming PC

Surprisingly, the Intel HD 4000 integrated graphics proved up to the task of playing a few games on the W700. I was able to play CounterStrike: GO on reasonable framerates (although I died a lot until I switched to keyboard and mouse), League of Legends was perfectly playable and StarCraft II ripped through my replays at 4x speed – not bad at all, although I’ll wager in large scale 4v4 battles there might be a touch of slow-down.

Of course, it goes without saying that the graphics were almost always turned down to their lowest settings and the games weren’t truly playable without a keyboard and mouse attached. Only Civilisation V was really playable solely using touch controls, with even the obviously tablet friendly FTL: Faster Than Light requiring a press of the space bar to pause the action at relevant moments.

Don’t expect anything like Battlefield 3 on here, and don’t expect anything to be playable on full resolution or on more than the lowest graphics. If you want a gaming PC, get a laptop with a proper integrated graphics card or a tablet with AMD’s latest graphics chipset.

However, if you’ve got a keyboard and mouse plugged in and the patience to tweak with the settings, you’ll find that there are a few titles that’ll help you pass the time.

Conclusion

The Acer W700 is a surprisingly capable Windows 8 PC, with a touch-screen that is well suited for apps developed for the platform and a powerful Core i5 processor that can run pretty much anything else too. While it doesn’t make a better straight tablet than an Android tablet or an iPad, its additional PC functionality with the right peripherals makes it worth the extra cost. Windows 8 is the future and the Acer Aspire W700 is a wonderful introduction; a tablet that redefines what a tablet is capable of.

The W700 is currently available for pre-order from Scan.co.uk, which are selling the low-end model with Core i3 and 64 GB SSD for £600 and the high-end model with Core i5 and 128 GB SSD for £750. Both SKUs come with the stand and a Bluetooth keyboard.

Pros

  • Extremely good performance
  • Runs a surprising amount of modern videogames
  • Excellent representation of ‘the full PC experience’ with full app compatibility
  • With cradle and PC peripherals it can become your main PC

Cons

  • Much more expensive than ARM-based tablets
  • Windows 8 still not as good for tablets as Android or iOS

Acer Iconia W700 Windows 8 Tablet

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