Review: Acer Iconia W3

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.

First Impressions

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

Comparable Tablets

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:

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.

The Frustrating World of Dell Driver Downloads

I like Dell hardware.  Between home and business, we own 7.  My brother's laptop is here for some work, and Dell once again proved why its the company people hate to love.  Harware good, support not so much. It's been over an hour and I'm not sure if I have all the drivers I need, or even how to install them.

I don't know if they never had a drivers CD, or they forgot to send it, but it's not here.  This is an older laptop, and Inspiron 600m, and apparently not everything is plugh-and-play, or XP failed to recognize the hardware.  Whatever, I need to go find some drivers.  Should be easy–just go to Dell's site, download the divers I need, install, and good to go.

Simply finding the drivers proved to be the first challenge.  I can look them up by service tag, but that takes me to a page with drivers for every possible configuration, not the specific drivers.  If I log in to my account and look it up by service tag, I can see exactly what was installed.  I now have to cross reference one list to another.  A better idea is that I'd enter the service tag and be shown only the drivers I actually need.

Selecting the drivers was an even bigger challenge.  You can download them one at a time, or you can add them to a download list and download them all at once.  Good idea in theory, but the javascript was so poorly written that I somehow ended up with 4 partial lists.  Once yo've built your list (or partial list), you go to another page to confirm the downloads and uncheck any you don't need, then choose ZIP or TA, then download the file.  Not so bad, but why can't I have the checkboxes and format on the previous page?

Dell recommends installing in a particular order, and they have a handy page you can print.  Great, until you open the ZIP you just downloaded.  All the contained drivers have names like R113575.EXE and R56673.EXE.  OK, which one goes first?  This will be fun.

In an ideal world, this would have been about a 5 minute operation.  Log in, select system by service tag, then download all relevant drivers.  The filenames would clearly indicate what they are, or even the install order.  Here's hoping for some improvement on supporting the older machines. Experiencing this makes me wonder how support will be for our other PCs when they need it.

Laplink PCMover is a Lifesaver

Wifey needed a new PC, and like all people who have had the same one for 6 years, she wanted everything to transfer perfectly.  The new one had to operate just like the old one, only better. 

Aloha Bob used to be the gold standard of PC migration tools, but Microsoft bought it and incorporated it into Vista, taking it off the market.  Fortunately, our pals at Laplink have enhanced Laplink PCMover to move applications from one computer to another.  I owned Laplink sync software many moons ago, when they gave you bright yellow parallel to parallel and bright blue serial to serial cables.  I still have the cables, and might have the 3.5″ floppy the software came on.  This was back in the days when laptops were bigger than what we call mini-towers are today.

Configuration of PCMover was easy, it takes about 5 minutes after you install the software on each PC, and then you just start the transfer and walk away.  It took about 4 hours to move 17GB worth of data and programs, but the old PC has USB 1.1 (low speed) ports.  I imagine it’s much faster with USB 2 ports on both ends.  The included USB cable is a high-speed USB interface (you can also transfer via network, but even low speed USB is faster than 100MB).  I mowed the lawn and moved some mulch during the transfer.

After the transfer, a reboot was recommended, and then it was time to see what worked and what didn’t.  The desktop looked exactly like the old PC, and all programs seemed to make the journey, even some weirdos specific to Wifey’s business.  I was a little dubious it all went well, but after opening every program and checking it out, it really did work as well as I had hoped.

What did transfer:

  • All data files and folder structure.  The old PC has  D drive, which the new one doesn’t have, so any folder on d:\ was placed in a new folder at c:\drive_d\ on the new PC.
  • Quickbooks 2003 program, settings and data file
  • Microsoft Office Small Business 2000, including “Recent Files” lists and registration keys
  • FTP Surfer and configured login settings
  • Internet Explorer favorites, cookies and home page
  • Olympus Cameida Master Pro
  • TightVNC and settings (it was even registered as a service and automatically started when I rebooted)
  • Shutterfly Smart Upload and settings
  • Desktop settings, including background photo and icons

What didn’t transfer:

  • AVG 7.5 (registered version, and the docs say A/V software won’t be migrated)
  • Passwords for Outlook and Outlook Express e-mail accounts
  • .NET Framework 2.0 (an error occurred at startup)
  • Startup folder entries
  • Printers
  • Some Outlook rules needed to be tweaked for some reason (all folders were present, but I had to respecify the “specified folder”)
  • a few folder settings (such as showing the full address in title and address bar, and opening folders in new windows)

The old OS was Windows XP Home SP1, and the new OS is Windows XP Professional SP2, and this may account for a few of the settings which needed to be retweaked.  By design, the Windows itself does not transfer–only settings, programs and data.

Long story short here, I’d say PCMover was practically perfect.  The few small settings I had to change were no big deal, especially when compared to having to reinstall all that software and reconfigure all the settings.  PCMover will be an enthusiastic high recommendation to anyone I know migrating to a new PC.

I bought PCMover off the shelf at Staples, but you can download it from Laplink’s website if you don’t need the cable but do need immediate gratification.  You can also order Laplink PCMover from Amazon or Laplink’s website.

Dell Vostro: Not Totally Free of Crapware

One of Dell’s selling points for its new Vostro line is a lack of trial-ware.  In fact, Dell’s website makes the following claim on the Vostro homepage:

No trialware.
Customers said they hated trialware, so we took it away. Vostro systems come without annoying trialware pre-installed. You only get the software you want.

If only it were true that you only got the software you want.  Remember these machines are designed and priced for small offices, 1-25 employees.  You know the kinds of offices these are–they’re the ones without IT, and are subject to the whims of their vendors.  We recently purchased three Vostros (two Vostro 200 slim towers to expand the POS in my wife’s flower shop, and one Vostro 1500 laptop for myself), and I was dismayed to find software I didn’t really want on all three:

1) Google Toolbar is preinstalled with IE.  Google recently seems to have changed its motto from “don’t be evil” to “total world domination”, and I understand they pay a bounty to Dell for preinstallation of their toolbar.  In case you’ve missed out, Google’s been involved in a couple of privacy flaps lately.  The toolbar remembers where you go and what you do, which has probably been a reason for some of these unsecured data exposures on the Internet–the file location was sent to Google after being accessed by an unsuspecting user, and Google indexed it.  Yes, the business was stupid to not secure the data, but Google is the one who indexed the data and made it public, so I hold both complicit.

2) Google Desktop.  This one is worse than the toolbar, IMHO.  Again, it’s my understanding a bounty is paid for each installation.  And again, there are privacy issues, especially since it opens (automatically, BTW) with default settings.  If the user doesn’t know the software is installed and is indexing their documents, they might be surprised to see them show up in their searches.  While usually pretty secure, Google’s various properties have been subject to exploits recently, and there is the chance sensitive data can be compromised because of the Google desktop.  Additionally, Google Desktop introduces unexpected keyboard behaviors (e.g., double control brings up a search box), and for unknowledgeable users, this software makes their computer a thing of surprise.

3) The Dell Search Redirector.  Oh how this one works my main nerve!  If you goof a website’s address in IE, you’re transported to a Dell/Google cobranded page of “suggested results” and (drum roll please) AdWords ads.  The standard “Internet Explorer couldn’t find the website you’re looking for” page has been totally replaced.

4) Dell Network Assistant.  Yet another replacement for Window’s built in network connection utilities.  Granted, the user-friendliness of Windows XP’s network management is really low, but the Dell NA takes forever to find the preferred network and connect.  How slow is it?  I can boot, open Thunderbird and have it searching for my e-mail servers, and it’s still another minute or so before DNA connects.

5) Dell Support Assistant.  I feel bad for people who agree to use this one.  You get the annoying toasts saying there’s some update for your PC somewhere, but the UI is confusing and uninformative.  If there’s an alert, I should be taken right to it when I open the tool.  Plus, we don’t need the staff freaking out that something is wrong with the new PCs just because an unexpected notice pops up.  That’s disruptive to the day’s work, and takes them out of their flow if they’re taking an order and one of these messages appears.

Now, you can turn off and uninstall all of these options, but that’s not very friendly.  It should be that I can turn on anything I want, not have to turn off what I don’t.  Except for the Dell Network Assistant, all of the others have been removed from our PCs.

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