The Acer Iconia W3 flips Windows computing on its head, rotating the screen into an 8.1-inch, easy-to-hold, portrait form factor. This may seem like a trivial improvement, but it's more significant than you might think.
Microsoft offered the Acer Iconia W3-810 to all attendees at its Build 2013 conference this week, following an early June unveiling of the small tablet at the Computex trade show. I played with the Iconia W3 for several hours, looking to determine whether the smaller size and screen improves the basic Windows tablet experience. It definitely does, especially if you frequently surf the Web with Internet Explorer. And with its included version of Office, plus a dedicated Bluetooth keyboard, content creation is possible on the Iconia W3, too.
Microsoft's Surface tablets (and similar Windows 8 devices with displays in the neighborhood of 10 inches) are all much larger than the Iconia W3—leaving the W3 to play the role of Google's Nexus 7 within the Windows ecosystem. If anything, Acer's Iconia W3 is a viable competitor to the Surface, which would normally deliver the "pure" Windows experience.
Hardware-wise, it's nothing special
The Iconia W3 ($429 direct from Acer) runs the full version of Windows 8. It's the OS that came on the hardware Microsoft provided, and we didn't update it to Windows 8.1 for expediency's sake. Inside the tablet is an Intel dual-core Atom Z2760 running at 1.5GHz—the same "Clover Trail" chip that powered many underpowered, first-generation Windows tablets. While the weak CPU may rule out a purchase for some, don't necessarily dismiss the Iconia W3 outright. It ran Pinball FX2 and other apps just fine.
Along with the CPU, there's just 2GB of memory and 64GB of flash storage that can, of course, be augmented by Microsoft's SkyDrive. There's a single USB port, but it's a microUSB connection. (The Iconia W3 is powered by a separate power cord.) Some may turn up their noses at the visible pixels on the 1280-by-800, 8.1-inch display, but that's not a dealbreaker in my book.
On the plus side, there's a mini HDMI connector and an SD card slot, both expansion options that the Surface tablets lacks. And Microsoft and Acer have included a click-to-run version of Office Home and Student 2013, which can be loaded onto the machine when the proper license key is entered.
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