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Are miniature Windows 8 tablets useful? Surprisingly so

Mark Hachman | July 1, 2013
The Acer Iconia W3 is the first eight-inch Windows tablet we've used. Is it the Windows version of beloved tablets like the Google/Asus Nexus 7? In a way, yes.

The slow processor and dearth of memory seemed to cause the setup process to drag a bit longer than usual. Once completed, the tablet asks for your Microsoft ID, and populates the system with any shared settings, photos, and contacts.

Going vertical
For the last few years, computers have bowed to the tyranny of video, with displays slowly growing wider and wider to accommodate high-definition movies and games. But if you agree that portrait mode is superior for viewing ebooks and lengthy Web articles, then tablets like the Iconia W3 are a step forward. Windows tablets can reorient themselves into portrait mode, sure, but most are generally awkward to hold.

The Iconia W3 fits comfortably in my hand. At 5.3 inches wide, it's wider than the 4.7-inch Google Nexus 7, but not dramatically so. On the flipside, the W3 weighs 1.1 pounds. That may not seem like much, but it's noticeably heavier than the 12-ounce Nexus 7. As such, the W3 is a rest-it-on-an-armrest type device.

Reading apps like Kindle and Nook work best in portrait mode. As a train commuter, I notice many people using e-readers and tablets while seated, but fewer hold them while standing. I would think that the weight would grow fatiguing over time. The screen on the W3 is also too big for one-handed operation, although that seems to be the trade-off with tablets. You may be able to awkwardly cradle it with one hand while swiping from page to page, but I wouldn't recommend it.

Productivity built in
Whether it's possible to be "productive" with a tablet this small is a somewhat subjective proposition.

Acer supplies a Clavier Bluetooth keyboard designed specifically for the Iconia W3 that's actually pretty good. The keys are a bit narrower than those of the Surface keyboards, but they're spaced farther apart and offer good travel. The keyboard doesn't charge the tablet; it just grips it along its edge, allowing the W3 to lean backward. Both a Surface married to one of its keyboard covers and the W3 seated inside the Clavier have a tendency to flop around if jostled. But the Acer combo is far, far more stable when placed on your lap, and, thanks to its small size, it should be a viable option for airplane travel.

In fact, because the Iconia W3 can be snapped directly into a form-hugging opening on the reverse side of the keyboard, Acer's hardware can be easily stowed in carry-on luggage. As long as you don't need a full-sized screen for your work, the W3 isn't a bad content-creation option. Just make sure that your documents are saved to SkyDrive to be accessed by your office PC.

 

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