- Decent performance
- Microsoft Office (Home & Student) included
- Good battery life
- Good-quality IPS screen
- Supports USB storage
- Ergonomics for business productivity could be better
- Short on internal storage
- Not suitable for demanding workloads
Acer has produced a small-format, affordable Windows 8 tablet in the £250 (inc. VAT, £208.33 ex. VAT) Iconia W4. It comes with Microsoft Office Home & Student, and the implication is that with an external keyboard it can deliver real productivity. There aren't very many 8-inch Windows 8 tablets around, so it could be very appealing.
If you're looking for a svelte tablet, this probably isn't a good starting place. The Iconia W4 is a relatively heavy, thickset, plastic-clad tablet that's short on anything resembling stylishness.
The silver-grey backplate looks like metal if you give it a sideways glance, and it has a brushed-metal-style finish that helps with the illusion. But you don't need to look too closely to realise that the material used is plastic. There's quite a bit of airspace behind the backplate, which depresses readily under even slight pressure. This is a thick tablet at 10.8mm, and also a relatively heavy one at 415g. The 7.9-inch iPad mini with Retina Display, by comparison, weighs 341g and is just 7.5mm thick.
The screen sits oddly in a raised surround, almost as if it were stuck on as an afterthought. Beneath the screen, a ledge about 9mm deep houses the Windows button.
The screen may be small, but it's very nice. The 8-inch IPS panel has a native resolution of 1,280 by 800 pixels, giving a pixel density of 189ppi — respectable, but no match for the iPad mini with Retina Display's 324ppi. Viewing angles are good, something that Acer proudly proclaims with a sticker on the front of the device.
The Zero Air Gap technology that Acer highlights at its website as minimising reflection is perhaps a little overstated, as we found reflection to be a noticeable problem. One of the uses of a small tablet like this is sitting next to a desktop PC or desktop-replacement notebook for some quick web work, diary checking or other content-consumption task. In our experience that was hampered by reflected light from a nearby window.
The touchscreen is very responsive to taps and prods, and Windows 8.1's tile-based interface is easy and efficient to work with. However, there's an inevitable problem with the 8-inch screen size when you move to the traditional Windows desktop, where everything is unfeasibly small. Hitting radio buttons and drop-down menu selections accurately is a chore, for example. You can adjust scaling and text size in the Control Panel's Display applet, but it's hardly an optimal solution.
None of this will help much if you're using the on-screen keyboard to create text. At the native text size you can only see about twelve lines when working in landscape format, which we don't think is enough. The keyboard is slightly cramped to use, too: we had to work relatively slowly to type text, and felt hunched over the tablet. If you want to be truly comfortable with writing, you'll need to use an external keyboard.
There are two versions of the Acer Iconia W4, our review unit having 64GB of internal storage. The second model has 32GB of storage, but is otherwise identical.
Even 64GB is on the sparse side for serious working. Out of the box, before we installed any additional applications or data, we had 37.1GB free. If you need to install significant amounts of data or apps, this may be a deal breaker.
You can augment the storage in three ways. Cloud services, including OneDrive and AcerCloud are on hand. There is a Micro-SD card slot on one long edge of the chassis, and we were able to access data stored on a card with ease. You can also access USB-based storage via the Micro-USB connector — we used the (64GB maximum) Kingston DataTraveler Micro. If you want to use more capacious external storage devices, you'll need a dongle to convert the Micro-USB port to a standard-size connector.
There is a Micro-HDMI port on the same edge as the Micro-USB connector, along with the volume rocker and microphone. The power button is on the top edge.
Twin speakers sit on the bottom edge of the chassis, below the Windows button. These deliver reasonable volume, but the audio quality is not particularly good. There is a headphone jack on the bottom edge, but unfortunately sound quality is not improved through earphones.
Wi-fi support is for dual-band (2.4GHz/5GHz) 802.11a/b/g/n, but not the latest 802.11ac, which may disappoint those seeking the fastest wireless connectivity. There is no mobile broadband option, so if you need a wide-area wireless connection, you'll have to do it via a Bluetooth link to your smartphone.
The Iconia W4 has a 2-megapixel front camera and a 5-megapixel rear camera. Neither has a flash, but both take perfectly reasonable photos if you're sensible about avoiding low light conditions.
The quad-core 1.33GHz Intel Atom Z3740 (Bay Trail) processor with 2GB of RAM delivers decent performance, with caveats. The tablet ran mainstream workloads one at a time with no problem, while web browsing was fast and efficient with no lag in page rendering. However, the system will struggle under heavy multitasking or particularly demanding applications. Like many tablets, the Iconia W4 is not really a suitable replacement for a mobile professional's notebook computer.
According to Acer, you should get a maximum of 8 hours' 'video battery time' from the Iconia W4's 2-cell 4,960mAh lithium polymer battery. What you get in everyday use will of course depend very much on your usage mode; anecdotally, we found that it powered a working day comprising web browsing, email and a little writing, plus a fair bit of YouTube and other casual usage during the evening, with juice to spare.
Good battery life should keep the Iconia W4 going through the working day, so long as you're not taxing it with over-strenuous workloads. With an external Bluetooth keyboard and mouse it could probably cope with more serious work than web browsing, email and light document editing/creation. However, as you ramp up the usage, you may find yourself squinting at the small screen and becoming hampered by limited storage capacity and processing power. The £208.33 (ex. VAT) Iconia W4 could be a useful adjunct to your workhorse notebook, but it's never going to replace it.