Just as the iPad jumpstarted the tablet industry, is the iPad mini doing the very same for the smaller tablet market? Maybe, maybe not. Some credit must also go to the Nexus 7 for bringing quality tablets at a very low price.
Nevertheless, Steve Ballmer himself highlighted at his Build keynote a new generation of small tablet form factors that are running Windows 8(.1). Clearly, Microsoft sees the small tablet market as one of importance. At the company's Build 2013 developer conference in San Francisco, one of the attendee giveaway items was an Acer Iconia W3 tablet.
The Acer Iconia W3 features an 8.1-inch (a fitting measurement considering the Microsoft event) screen with a 1280 x 800 resolution. It's very portable with its 1.1 pound weight and measures 0.4-inches thick. However, it's not every powerful with its 1.8 GHz Atom Z2760 CPU and 2GB of RAM. The modest specs does help to give it an 8-hour battery life, so Acer claims, from the 2-cell lithium polymer battery.
The most impressive part of the W3 is that it runs a full 32-bit version of Windows 8, which Microsoft urges people to upgrade to the 8.1 preview. The ability to run full Windows rather than Windows RT instantly makes this mini-tablet more useful than many others of similar size.
At $379 for a 32GB model and $429 for the 64GB, it's playing in the iPad mini space, but targeting a completely different user. In fact, on paper it's a way better value proposition than the 64GB iPad mini at $529, 32GB at $429, while the 16GB model is the most comparable $329.
Mind you, Windows itself takes up a considerable chunk of space. On our 64GB test unit 49.3GB is available after partitioning and recovery, of which only 30.9 GB are free after the Windows 8 install.
To reach the lower price point, Acer obviously had to cut some corners. There's a liberal use of plastic, which isn't bad in our books, though many seem to favor metal. The real component in this machine that gives it a real budget feel is the LCD. The viewing angles are acceptable when used in portrait mode, but pretty awful when used in landscape mode. When viewing head-on, the right side of the screen is darker, giving away the low quality display. The display also has a rainbow (or prism) effect on top of it, not unlike the anti-reflective coating of some LCDs. The odd part is that this effect is underneath the glass, which combines the undesirable traits of both: the reflectivity of glass and the diffusion of the rainbow coating.
The built-in speakers were surprisingly loud, which would make this a great machine for watching video clips for those who can get over the display's shortcomings.
For inputs and outputs, it has HDMI out, micro USB, 2MP cameras front and back, microSD support, and stereo out.
It being a full Windows machine, one can't get very far for long without a keyboard. Acer has also designed a keyboard to go along with the W3. We hesitate to call it a dock as it doesn't officially connect to it through any other means than Bluetooth. It's just a plastic keyboard that has a slot in it that can support the tablet in both portrait and landscape mode. They keyboard accessory also has a neat cutout in the back that can clip in the W3, making for a neat, if a bit odd-looking, package.
Interestingly, Acer chose to bundle in Microsoft Office Home & Student 2013, which is pretty impressive given the entry-level nature of the device. One look at the retail box, though, and it's plain to see that this machine is targeted to students. Looking at it in the light as a student companion for class, it's hard to argue with the appeal of the W3. It's adequately fast enough to run all the Windows productivity apps, is exceptionally portable, and comes in a small tablet form factor.
The Acer Iconia W3 isn't meant for power users, but it makes sense for students as well as the casual user who is looking for a something that isn't as limited as an Apple or Android tablet.