Acer W3 8-inch Windows 8 tablet: First impressions

Summary:Acer hit the market with a budget-friendly 8-inch tablet running Windows 8. The W3 has some good qualities along with some things that could be better.

Tablet docked
Iconia W3 with optional keyboard -- Image credit: James Kendrick/ ZDNet

Windows 8 is designed to run on devices with many form factors, and we're seeing quite a few of them. The 8-inch tablet is a highly mobile form that is now available on all of the major platforms, including Windows 8. The Acer Iconia W3 is a budget-friendly version with an Intel Atom processor that runs full Windows 8.

Bottom view
Bottom (L-R): Speaker (2); audio in/out; power

I've been using the W3 for a day and have some surprising first impressions. I also have Acer's keyboard/stand and portfolio case and will share thoughts on those accessories.

Hardware specs as reviewed:

  • Processor: Intel Atom 1.5GHz dual-core
  • Display: 8.1 in, 1280x800, multi-touch
  • Memory: 2GB
  • Storage: 64GB (32GB available)
  • Cameras: 2MP (both front and rear)
  • Ports/slots: microSD (handles up to 32GB), microUSB 2.0, microHDMI, 3.5mm audio in/out
  • Connectivity: Wi-fi, Bluetooth 4.0+EDR
  • Battery: 3500 mAh, up to 8 hours
  • Dimensions: 8.62x5.31x0.45 in, Weight: 1.1 lb (with keyboard 1.96 lbs)
  • Price: $429.99 (32GB model $379.99)

The tablet

Right side
Right side (L-R): microSD; volume up/down

The Acer Iconia W3 is a highly mobile tablet that has quite a lot of features for a relatively low price. The Intel Atom processor used by Acer in the W3 provides a balance between battery life and performance. The W3 runs fine most of the time with occassional lags due to the Atom. It runs about the same as every Atom-based tablet I've tried.

The review unit has 64GB of storage and there's a 32GB version available for $50 less. According to Acer, the two models are otherwise identical so the choice is straightforward.

The display on the W3 is 8.1-inches and running at a resolution typical for tablets this size (1280x800). Unfortunately, until Windows 8.1 comes along, this low resolution means snap view, the ability to pin two apps side-by-side on the screen, is not allowed. I use this feature a lot on other tablets and miss it on the Acer W3.

Acer claims a battery life of 8 hours on the W3 and from what I've seen that's fairly accurate. I haven't used it long enough to make an accurate assessment of how long the battery will last.

Top side
Top (L-R): Power button; dock slot; microUSB; microHDMI

The W3 is designed to be used primarily in portrait orientation and it works well this way. I'm surprised that Windows 8 works so well in portrait on such a small display. It auto-rotates into any orientation to fit the situation.

I've read some reviewers complaining about the inclusion of a hard Windows button instead of a touch button, but I like this choice by Acer. When using tablets with a touch button I keep accidentally touching it which interrupts my work. This never happens with a physical button like the one on the W3.

There is a microSD slot for expanding the memory on the W3. This slot only handles memory cards up to 32GB unlike most of the competition which handle cards up to 64GB. This was obviously a design choice to keep the cost down. There is a microUSB jack for attaching peripherals, but it only supports USB 2.0. Next to this jack is a microHDMI for connecting the tablet to a monitor or TV, a nice touch.

The power adapter plugs into the device via a proprietary jack, located on the bottom side when held in the primary portrait orientation. That's also where the audio in/out jack is located, along with stereo speakers. Audio playback is decent but not as loud as other tablets I have tested.

The volume up/down buttons are located on the right side of the tablet, along with the microSD slot. The rest of the connectors are on the top of the W3, and include the microHDMI, microUSB and the power button. There is a strange slot on the top of the unit that looks like a SIM slot. It's actually a dock latch for securing it on the bottom of the optional keyboard unit.

Optional keyboard

Tablet docked side view
Tablet in keyboard stand

Acer sells a keyboard accessory for $79.99 that is nearly full size. It is a Bluetooth model that includes a stand for the tablet. The keyboard is powered by 2 AAA batteries instead of a rechargable scheme as is common for similar products.

The bottom of the keyboard has a recessed spot for inserting the Acer Iconia W3 for transport. The tablet fits in the slot face down as shown below and snaps in via a special slot on the tablet. It's nice to have this option for transporting the two units but it feels a bit unwieldy given the size and weight.

Tablet stored in dock bottom
Tablet stored in optional keyboard for transport

The keyboard is fairly good for fast touch typing, although it's not as good as other keyboards I've used. It is fairly heavy (tablet and keyboard weigh almost two pounds together), which is to provide stability when in use. The two rubber feet on the bottom of the keyboard away from the user slide out a little to provide even greater stability. The tablet rests freely in the slot that makes up the stand so it must be used on a stable, flat surface.

Keyboard dock
Keyboard accessory

There is no trackpad on the keyboard for the W3 and I find that an unfortunate ommision. Windows 8 is easier to use with both a touch screen as on the tablet and a trackpad. The W3 display is so small that some controls in legacy apps can be very hard to operate on the touch screen. A trackpad or trackstick solution would be a welcome addition. It would be hard to fit it on the keyboard unit which is already almost too big for comfort, but I'd like to have it. An optical trackstick as found on the Lenovo Tablet 2 keyboard would be perfect.

Optional portfolio case

Portfolio case
Optional portfolio case used as tablet stand

The portfolio case is a simple model that protects the tablet and also serves as a stand. There are two slots for propping the tablet up at two different viewing angles. The case is light, a good thing since the tablet is a bit heavy for an 8.1-inch model.

Acer sells the case for $34.99.

Conclusion

Acer has designed a solid tablet for a relatively low price. The use of the Atom processor gives a balance between good performance and battery life. The W3 performs about the same as every other tablet with an Atom processor so it's a reasonable value for the price.

The 8.1-inch display supports Windows 8 well, although desktop apps can have tiny text and controls. The lack of snap view in Windows 8 due to the low resolution screen is a disappointment, but will be rectified when Windows 8.1 is released.

The Acer Iconia W3 is a good fit for those wanting a smaller tablet with Windows 8. It is a bit thick and heavy compared to other 8-inch tablets on the market. This seems to be standard for smaller tablets with Intel inside.

Three 8 inchers top view
Three 8-inch tablets-- Acer W3; iPad mini; Samsung Galaxy Tab 8.0

Topics: Mobility, Tablets, Windows 8

About

James Kendrick has been using mobile devices since they weighed 30 pounds, and has been sharing his insights on mobile technology for almost that long. Prior to joining ZDNet, James was the Founding Editor of jkOnTheRun, a CNET Top 100 Tech Blog that was acquired by GigaOM in 2008 and is now part of that prestigious tech network. James' w... Full Bio

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