I was an attendee at Build 2013, and received an Acer Iconia W3 and accessories as an attendee gift. Now that I’ve had a couple months to use the device, it’s time to share my thoughts. If you’ve ever said, “I’d love an iPad or a Kindle, but I wish I could use Office on them”, the W3 is definitely something to consider.
The Iconia W3 is designed to be held and work in portrait mode; others (such as the Surface) are designed to sit on a table in a widescreen format like a tiny laptop. When you pick it up, you can tell the W3 is meant to be held in your hand and used for reading and consuming media. Pre-installed Kindle, Hulu Plus and Netflix apps confirm this idea. At a tad over one pound, the Iconia W3 feels solid but not too heavy. The screen is bright and easy to read, and the new Windows 8 start screen makes navigating applications easy. The screen is 8.1”, and fits nicely in one hand for me. The advantage to a full Windows tablet is that actual Windows applications run on it—most notably Office, including Outlook. Complex spreadsheets would be difficult on the small screen, but basic word processing and email are fine. The Windows Store is packed full of apps, more than likely everything you want is now available. You can browse the Windows app store at http://windows.microsoft.com/en-us/windows-8/apps.
To put the Iconia W3 into the proper context, it’s similar to the iPad Mini, Galaxy Note 7 and the Kindle Fire HD. Each of these tablets has a screen around 7”-8” and other similar features. I do not have any of these devices, so I can’t do a side-by-side comparison. If you’re looking for a smaller tablet device, this is your comparison group. The Iconia is cheaper than an iPad Mini, search your favorite purchasing sites for prices on the other devices.
The Iconia W3 is comparable in specs to some of the more recent netbook computers:
- 32 bit Windows 8 (current Win 8 versions can be upgraded to 8.1 for free)
- 2 GB SDRAM (RAM cannot be upgraded since the device is sealed)
- 32 or 64 GB Flash Storage (the 64 GB version has 49 GB of actual usable space due to the OS and pre-installed apps, but storage can be increased with a Micro SD card)
- 8.1” screen with 5-point touch control (high end devices have 10-point touch, so the W3 supports the basic gestures but not some of the more advanced ones)
- dual core 1.5 GHz Atom Z2760 processor, which is hyperthreaded. Don’t let the seemingly slow speed of the processor fool you, this is pretty good. If you’re used to seeing desktops at around 3 GHz, this may seem weird, but GHz is really an old benchmark that no longer accurately describes a processor’s performance. It’s just the thing everyone knows.
- Small size
- Windows 8
- Micro USB 2.0 (you need a USB 2.0 dongle for a full size USB port)
- Micro HDMI port (to connect to a TV or a monitor, you need to get a micro HDMI to HDMI cable, or a micro HDMI dongle to use a regular HDMI cable)
- Mini SD card slot, so you can add up to 32GB more storage
- Long battery life
- 1280 x 800 px 8.1” screen, capable of displaying 720 px HD
- Bluetooth, so you can connect a mouse or keyboard
Unlike iOS, Windows 8 allows you to set up a number of users, and can designate child accounts. With Windows 8 Family Safety, you can set limits of web browsing, game play and application usage, and receive reports via email or online of your child’s activity. The picture password makes it easy for even small kids to log in, and I took a few minutes to arrange my daughter’s start screen with her stuff.
Acer touts an 8 hour battery life for the W3, and I routinely get that long from a full charge. This is great for long trips. Because of the small size, it’s very easy to carry around with you and use in a car, on an airplane.
The USB port allows you to connect printers, external DVD drives, thumb drives and other accessories directly to it (which is not something you can do with any other tablet). You can also run iTunes on the W3 and manage an iPad/iPod/iPhone (take that Apple!). Chances are all your cords are regular sized USB, so you’ll need a dongle for a regular USB connection. You can connect a multi-USB thingy to your dongle, and then attach a bunch of devices. For something really cool, look at the Plugable USB 2.0 Docking Station, which is great if you want to connect a monitor and several peripherals in a desktop scenario (great for students!) while still having a really portable tablet.
Having a daughter, we’ve purchased many DVDs, which I’ve ripped to video files (yes, I buy and keep the DVDs so it’s all legal as I understand it to be). When we travel, I load up the videos onto the W3, and I pack an HDMI cable. The video app is very easy for a child to use, so she can consume her media on the go, and in the hotel we can hook up to the TV via the HDMI cable.
Besides iTunes, you can also add music and videos from Amazon Prime or Microsoft’s store, plus Hulu and Netflix. The Zune Music Pass is now the XBox Music Pass, so you can have unlimited streaming with a subscription ($99 if you buy the full year). There are many media options for the W3.
You can control your Xbox from the W3 using XBox SmartGlass, including the DVD controls, so if you have an XBox as an entertainment device this is great. Also, you can connect to your XBox Live account and play a lot of connected games.
- Weak WiFi radio
- bad camera – 2MP front, 2MP rear
- low screen quality – not 1020 HD quality screen, not as sharp as a retina display
- Several reports of fellow attendees of DOA devices, or failures later.
- Not the most precise touch—with larger fingers, should look into a touch stylus.
Some of my fellow attendees reported devices which were DOA, and Acer replaced them at the conference. The WiFi radio is weaker than my iPad, but when I’m at home or a coffee shop that isn’t an issue. That has been an issue in a hotel where the signal was wimpy also, but all my devices suffered there.
The W3 sports two cameras—one front, one back—but both are a low 2MP resolution. By contrast, most smartphones are 5-8MP, so this is rather sad. Good enough for Skype, but I wouldn’t try and preserve any precious memories with it. The screen is not as sharp as a Retina display, and won’t display 1020 HD video without downscaling, so you lose quality there (720 HD is fine).
They’ve jammed a lot of pixels into a small screen, so it can be tricky to touch exactly what you want. Many apps support pinch-zoom, which helps, but I also have a touch stylus (the ones with the rubber tip, same as an iPad) which I use when the zoom isn’t supported.
Although you can use any Bluetooth keyboard with the Iconia, the Acer Bluetooth Keyboard is designed specifically for the Iconia W3. It’s an almost full size keyboard which acts as a tablet stand. When not in use, the tablet snaps into an indention in the bottom of the keyboard for easier transport. It’s actually a really nice keyboard, and makes email and word processing much easier. In fact, the bulk of this blog post was written on my W3.
Any Bluetooth mouse will work, and you can use the USB port for a wireless or wired mouse (again, dongle). Bluetooth printers, speakers, etc should all work.
We did receive a micro USB to USB dongle with the attendee kit, and you’ll definitely want to add one. Like I mentioned above, I also pack an HDMI cable for use in a hotel room.
Can is really play Halo?
Yes, you can play certain expansions. Here’s Halo: Spartan Assault in the Windows Store: http://apps.microsoft.com/windows/en-us/app/halo-spartan-assault/8fe2d694-baa2-4011-99c0-3a22216223bb.
Are there good apps for kids?
Plenty. Fresh Paint is an amazing drawing/painting app (it was in the commercial with the really big tablet and little girl), and it’s free. My daughter really enjoys the Disney Fairies Hidden Treasures, but be careful if you connect the W3 to your XBox live account—all my friends playing Call of Duty see me level up in Disney Fairies. Angry Birds Star Wars and Angry Birds Space are also available. It’s worth following the link above and seeing if something you like is available, or find something you didn’t know about.
Even though the Iconia W3 is a full PC, given the form factor it’s probably best to think of this as a powerful media device which can run Office rather than as a full PC. To me, the W3 is a very decent secondary device. For the cost of a keyboard and monitor, you’re in the range of a capable laptop. For someone who wants both extreme portability and a larger screen, but only one device, a W3 and an external monitor could be a good compromise. Having said that, I’m a software engineer and my tech requirements are a little higher than average—someone who only does email, Facebook, some light Word or Excel and loves to read, this is a great device to consider.