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.

Black Friday 2011: Rise of Android, Where is Nikon

Tomorrow marks the start of the joyous Christmas shopping season. Here’s my review of the electronics I care about, and places I’ll be avoiding.

The Year of Android Tablets

I seen Android tablets literally everywhere. Even CVS and Toys-R-Us have one from Sylvania. Dick’s Sporting Goods is giving away Android tablets with the purchase of some cardio machines. Most of these devices aren’t too terrible, either. Toshiba Thrive and Samsung Galaxy still lead the field IMHO, but they’re also a little pricier. There are plenty of very affordable entry level systems available. Next year I think we’ll see Android overall making a dent in the iPad dominance.

eReaders are Low Level Tablets

Can we end the charade and just say devices like the Kindle Fire, Nextbook eRader and Nook Touch are just less capable Android tablets? Because that’s what they are technologically. Calling them something else is just marketing spin.

TouchPad is Back (kind of)

Office Depot and HH Gregg offering TouchPads for $149 with HP computer purchases.

Where Are the Nikon DSLRs?

I noticed this in Costco the other night–there are no Nikon DSLRs anywhere. There used to be a nice area where you could hold the cameras, and piles of happy yellow boxes, but no more. Canon is well represented everywhere, Sony also has a fine showing in the Ritz ads, but I do not see Nikons anywhere. I see plenty of pocket Nikons, but no DSLRs. Intriguing, to say the least. My best guess is that they decided not to get into the price wars with Canon and Sony at that level, and instead engage with their new Nikon 1 at the consumer level. That looks like an interesting system, but I’m not sold on the obtrusive lens. I prefer my pocket cameras to be more compact than that.

No Flip Cameras

Curse you, Cisco, a pox on your house, except for your routers because the world depends on them. The Flip was awesome.

Strong 2012 For XBox Hard Drive Upgrades

I see 4GB Xboxes everywhere, so I’m predicting a strong market for XBox upgrades next year. If you want some free Christmas money next year, make a good blog post and YouTube video of how to upgrade an XBox, join someone’s affiliate program, and start self promoting.

Office 2010 Pricing

I approve, Microsoft, good move! Office Home is $79 for single user, $99 for the three user version. Easy to add on, and well placed in ads for laptops and PCs. I know your coop marketing budget helped out there, but great move on the pricing this year. Just to reaffirm thoughts you should already be having–you do have a lot to worry about from OpenOffice or Libre Office at the family and student level. Take them seriously.

Cell Phones All Around

Amazon has penny pricing, TRU has one for kids, and everyone from Costco to Target to Radio Shack to carrier stores are loading up on devices and deals. Beware the data plan, but deals are practically yours for the asking.

OMG – Gas Minibike at KMart

I have no idea how KMart is still in business, but they have a gas Minibike this year. And it’s cheaper than an XBox or Nintendo DS. Let’s hear it for bruises growing up! Those were good times.

iPad, Kindle, Android or Windows Tablet?

I’m a bit of a gadget freak, owning a number of current models, and my day job allows me access to all kinds of additional gadgets.  The three gadgets I currently use are an iPad 2, Kindle DX and a Toshiba Thrive (an Android Honeycomb tablet).  Work has recently give me access to a Windows 8 Slate handed out at the Build conference.  Here are my feelings on the different options, your opinions may vary.


Kindles are meant for reading, period.  There are some games, but the screen is graphically challenged and greyscale only on all but one of the models.  Kindles come in several sizes, the main difference being a touchscreen or keyboard, or the much larger DX.

I have a Kindle DX, which I bought when the iPad was still a rumor.  Even though I have an iPad 2, I still use the kindle for reading long technical books.  The larger screen size was important to me for displaying tables, code and diagrams better.  It is inifinitely easier to read for a long time on a Kindle than the other devices. The eInk display uses reflected light, more like paper, and is the only tablet you can read in bright light. Plus, the button controls work fine through a Ziploc bag, so you can read at the beach without worry of messing up the device.

Battery life is excellent on a Kindle, measuring in the weeks, and they can be charged with the same cable your cell phone probably uses, which cuts down on things you have to carry on vacation.  There are Kindle apps for Android, Windows Phone 7, desktop and iOS devices, all of which sync with one another, so once you buy a book, you can literally read it everywhere.  The Kindle app is excellent, and you’d be surprised how easy it is to read a book on a smartphone with it.

Because of the limitations of the Kindle, they are not good PDF readers.  I have a couple trade magazines delivered as PDF, and they are miserable on the Kindle, but glorious on an iPad 2.  Also, if you buy an ebook from a third party, they must be loaded manually everywhere and don’t sync across devices.

The Kindle Fire is a small tablet, about the size of the regular Kindle, running a custom version of Android. The screen is color, and you’ll be able to install apps from the Amazon App Store.  There are no cameras and no keyboard, and since it’s not yet released, the full capabilities are not completely known.  The color screen, in my opinion, takes away the significant advantage of the eInk display.  However, you will be able to stream movies and TV shows from Amazon’s video store.

Toshiba Thrive

The Thrive is one of the more recent Android tablets, and runs Android Honeycomb (3.0).  The Thrive is slightly longer and narrower than the iPad 2, and much thicker.  Despite being slightly larger, the Thrive is slightly lighter than the iPad 2.  The dimensions of the Thrive are meant for HD viewing,  and Flash is supported on Honeycomb.

The display on the Thrive is beautiful, but the touch response feels a little more sluggish than the iPad 2, but positions the cursor more accurately than my iPad 2.  Input is mainly via a soft keyboard, just like the iPad 2.  There are a few apps designed specifically for the Android tablets, and many of the Android phone apps will run on the tablets.  However, there is a great number of phone apps which cannot be loaded onto a tablet; this is likely to change over time, but currently there is a gap.  Besides the official Android Market, you can also purchase apps from the Amazon Appstore and AppBrain.

Some of the thickness of the Thrive is because it has connections not found on an iPad.  The Thrive has a built in SD card, HDMI and two USB connections (one in,one out).  There are also front and rear cameras, WiFi and Bluetooth.  You can hook a Thrive directly up to a TV via HDMI and play media on the TV.  The beloved Facetime app found on the iPad 2 and iPhones is not available on Android devices, but applications such as Tango and Skype can probably fill in.

Something missing from the Android platform is a very good email application.  I have several email accounts, and I end up needing three email programs—one for my job’s Exchange, one for GMail, and a third for my personal email account.

The Android market is lacking in TV shows and movies, and neither Netflix nor Blockbuster is available for the tablet (both are available on Android phones).  Music can be purchased from the Amazon MP3 store, and the Google Music Store is on its way.  Books are available in both the Kindle application or the Android Market Bookstore.

If you rely heavily on Google Docs and GMail, this is your best choice for a device.  There are native apps for Google services, including Docs, Reader, Google+ and Maps.  A Google ID is required to activate the tablet.

Battery life nowhere as near as good as the iPad, let alone the Kindle, but can be extended by adjusting the screen brightness.  The Thrive has its own charger, adding one more thing to carry on vacation.

[update 2011-10-23]

Honeycomb 3.1 includes a video player an access to the Android video store, so rentals are available, if you’re on the right version.  Movies can be streamed or downloaded.


iPad 2

The iPad is the tablet that all others are compared to.  iPads feature a beautiful screen, great battery life and an easy to carry form factor.  The touch interface is very responsive, and the entire system is very easy to use.  An iTunes account is required to activate the device.

One of my favorite features of the iPad is the email program.  One program can access my Exchange, GMail and personal IMAP email.  Each account is separated from the others, and there is a consolidated inbox if you want to use it.

The hardware and OS are not the only trendsetters.  iTunes has an excellent selection of applications, music, movies, TV and books.  Many of the books for children are very interactive, featuring puzzles and games in addition to the book.  There are hundreds of learning apps for children of all levels, and the device is so simple to use kids can occupy themselves for hours if you let them.

One of the downsides to an iPad is the one connector.  There is not an SD card reader nor a camera connection, although you can buy dongles for that.  You can’t directly connect to a TV, you need a wireless Apple TV receiver.  iPads also have a unique charger, which adds something additional to carry on vacation.

Windows Tablets

Windows tablets come in a number of shapes and sizes, with differing hardware features.  The most significant difference between Windows tablets and other tablets is that the full version of Windows 7 is the OS.  This means all the software you’re used to, especially Office, can be installed and run on these tables.  Currently there is no application store, although one is forthcoming.

Unlike other tablets, Windows tablets allow for multiple user accounts, and you don’t need a specific account to activate one (the forthcoming Windows 8 tablets will need either a Windows Live ID, or a corporate domain account).  Windows 7 is very touch responsive, but the UI is still built for a mouse/keyboard or a stylus.  Windows 8 has a greatly improved UI for touch, but we’re about a year away from that being released.

Windows tablets typically have more hardware features, such as SD card slots and USB connections.  Battery life is not as good as an iPad, and they have their own chargers.

Because the full Windows runs on these tablets, a Kindle app is available, as is iTunes, so you have access to all the best those have to offer.  Netflix, Blockbuster, Hulu and many other media players are available as well.  Flash, Silverlight and enterprise LOB applications are also supported.

If you need a full computer experience in a small footprint, a Windows tablet may be the best choice for you.  External keyboards and mice can usually be connected.


If you need a reading only device, get a Kindle.  The iPad is the gold standard of tablets, and you can’t go wrong getting one of those.  However, Android tablets are as capable, if not more, but lacking in applications at this time.  If you need a very portable PC, a Windows tablet is probably what you need, but you’ll find the UI to be a little less polished than the other tablets.

Kindle 2.5 Upgrade – Amazon Still Doesn’t Understand Folders

The Kindle 2.5 upgrade dropped today, and I love that Amazon lets you update manally.  My killer feature this time was going to be Collections, with the promise that you could finally arrange your content into folders.  I'm not sure why this was never present on a device that could hold like 1500 books and is based on Linux, but it wasn't.

Here's what I was expecting: when you connect your Kindle via USB, it shows up as a drive.  Open the Kindle drive and there are three folders–audible, documents and music.  I'm expecting to be able to open documents, create a folder, and drag my content into the folder.  Standard stuff on pretty much anything these days.  Much like any other OS, when I arrange the display by title, the collections/folders would be on top in aplhabetical order, and anything not in a subfolder would follow, also in alphabetical order.

Here's the reality: Collections can only be created through the Kindle menu. Documents can be added to Collections by using the 5-way controller to highlight the document, nudging the 5-way to the right to expose a "right-click" menu, then choosing "Add to a Collection".  You're then presented with a list of available collections, and you can choose the collection.  Repeat for every document you want to organize.  I imagine in someone's mind this was a cool idea so you could put a document in multiple Collections, but why when you could already tag documents with multiple tags, and then selectively display content by tag.

The real annoyance is sorting the home screen.  If you sort by collections, the Collections show up alphabetically, and anything in a Collection does not appear.  Anything not in a Collection is organized in some other non-alphabetical fashion.  If you sort by title, Collections show in line with the rest of the content, and all titles–even the ones in a Collection–are listed as well.

Collections are not folders–they are simply metadata the UI uses to arrange items.  After you create a Collection, there is no subfolder.  No one has ever accused of having a great UI experience, and it seems they're going to carry that experience through to the Kindle.

Google Apps Email and Droid Phones

My dad bought a Motorola Droid, and has a custom domain email account hosted by Google Apps.  In order to activate the Droid, you must have a GMail account (much the same as you need an iTunes account to activate an iPhone).  Even though Google Apps email is hosted by GMail, a Google Apps email account can not be used to activate an Android phone—you will still need a GMail account.  The Verizon rep had to create a dummy account for my dad just to get the phone turned on.

I did send an email to Verizon’s tech support, and here was the reply:

An email hosted by Google apps for domain would not be able to take the place of a gmail account.

So there you have it, straight from Verizon (kudos to VZW tech support for the less than 18 hour answer via both email and a voice mail).  After your Android phone is activated, you can use the Mail program (or preferably K9 Mail) to use your Google Apps email.  IMAP seems to be the recommended method, since Android is mentioned specifically in the IMAP setup, but POP3 would apparently work, too.

Here are setup instructions for the two protocols.



Misfits Pumpkin Lightshow

This is my buddy Matt’s Haloween creation:

My music synced pumpkin created on 10-23-09 at HackPittsburgh ( The animation was created using an Arduino microcontroller (, a candle led from a craft store led tea light. and a blinkm ( The music synchronization was done with custom software written in VB.Net.

Direct Link:

.NET Comes to the iPhone

Thanks to our friends at Novell and the Mono project:

Available immediately, monoTouch enables applications developed in any .net language to run on the iPhone. Significantly, monoTouch provides .net bindings to native API, allowing application developers will have access to iPhone specific functionality from within their .net applications. monoTouch integrates with both the free MonoDevelop IDE as well as Apple's XCode toolkit.

Applications developed using monoTouch compile completely to native code – they are not JIT compiled or interpreted.

This is a commercial offering, not an open-source appliction, and will set you back $399.  But with over a million iPhones, and a few more million iPod Touches, a good app can recoup that pretty easily.  This is for Mac OSX only, not Windows.

Find it at

Configuring Diarist2 for BlogEngine.Net

Kevin Daly’s Diarist2 is a Smartphone/Pocket PC blogging client written in .NET.  I used it on my Treo 700w, and now use it on my Omnia.  This blog is based on BlogEngine.NET, which at this time can’t be auto-configured with Diarist2.

1. Download and install Diarist2

2. Open Diarist2, and navigate Menu >> Weblog >> Add >> Generic MetaWeblog.

3.The API for BlogEngine.NET is located at  Enter in the settings as seen below:


4. Click Confirm.  Your blog should be auto-configured with the blog title, and you’ll be returned to the screen where you create a new blog post.

That’s it!  If you’re wondering how I made the screenshots, I used My MobileR.

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Newly Installed SideQuik Document Holder

I installed the coolest thing on my laptop today, and it’s not a software tool.  My laptop is now sporting a SideQuik document holder.  There’s not a tremendous amount that needs to be said to describe a document holder.  It attaches to your laptop monitor and holds papers–pretty simple concept.  But what’s really cool about the SideQuik is its design.  The SideQuik slides both left and right, to hold documents on whichever side is most convenient (handy in tight places), and if you have space, you can set it on the table, too.  It’s very thin, so it doesn’t add a lot of bulk, and still allows my laptop to slide into and out of my case easily.  Click the photo for more images and details (Note: that’s not me in the photo).


If clear isn’t your gig, you can also add skins and a little whiteboard insert, too.

If you’ve been around me, you know I’m pretty adamant about not adorning my laptop, so I have to explain just how momentous this is for me to attach anything to it.  I have a Dell Vostro 1500 laptop, and I like its sleek look.  It has a stealthy appearance, in an F117-A kind of way.  I’ve had plenty of opportunity to decorate–Dani tried at Installfest to get a Visual Studio 2008 sticker on it, but even the free VS 2008 license wasn’t enough incentive.  ASP Alliance sent stickers to us authors, and they’ve paid me well through the years.  Paul Nielsen from SQL Server Bible handed out the cool Euro-style SQL stickers at DevTeach (see them on his front page).  As you can see from the photo below, undecorated after over a year.

DSC_8315 (Small)

But that’s changed.  Although the appearance is different, the profile hasn’t been significantly altered.

DSC_8316 (Small)

Now that you’ve seen it, quit being a dork and fumbling papers everywhere.  Go get a SideQuik.

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iPhone in the Enterprise—beware of the remote wipe!

The new iPhone has hit the streets, and with its ActiveSync support, that means it’s hit our enterprise, too.  We support Windows Mobile via Activesync and Blackberries via BES, and we enforce password and locking policies on all devices.  The deal breaker is whether or not a device can be remotely wiped, which Windows Mobile and Blackberries can.  One of our coworkers scored a new iPhone on “Release Day”, so we had a chance to test it out.

After configuring ActiveSync, the iPhone picked up the policies fine, after a reboot, the PIN policy was in place, as was the user’s e-mail.  When we tested the remote wipe, trouble ensued.

It appears that remotely wiping an iPhone bricks the device.  Unlike a Blackberry or Smart Phone, which are basically reset to factory after a remote wipe, the iPhone starts to an Apple logo and just sits there.  Attempts to resurrect it by sync’ing it with iTunes had no effect.  The error messages indicate that the OS is not found on the device.

We’re still working on it, and are about ready to visit a Genius Bar or AT&T store to resolve the issue.


The iPhone has been rejuvenated.  The user was attempting to reactivate the iPhone through his iTunes, which originally activated the phone (and was installed Friday, Release Day.  For some reason, it wasn’t working.  When the iPhone was hooked up to a new install of iTunes today (Tuesday), the iPhone came back to life.  We’re not sure if there was a hotfix for a known problem or just a different iTunes or what, but the issue seems to be resolved.