Slimline, sleek, sexy and silver – but you can’t have everything. The Acer Iconia W7 is a Windows 8 tablet priced between $799 and $999 (depending on the chosen model) that looks as though it should be running Windows 8 RT, but is equipped with a Core i3 CPU, 4 GB RAM and a 64 GB SSD, thereby trouncing the majority of similarly-sized devices in the spec stakes.
But more crucially, the packaged additions that come with this device take it away from the various hybrids and touch-screen laptops that have been slowing down PC sales since Windows 8 was released and offer something fresh.
Realistically, this isn’t a perfect computer. It has some faults, some in the design, others in the execution. But it remains a fascinating piece of equipment, as I’m about to explain. We’re also giving a brand new one, so if you’re looking for sub-$1000 Windows 8 tablet PC, be sure to join the giveaway!
What’s In the Box?
Few experiences match opening a boxed device for the first time, and the Acer Iconia W7 doesn’t disappoint. Much like a brand new mobile phone, the various components are individually boxed and wrapped, tiered with easy-access tabs.
Along with the Iconia W7 tablet, the box contains a docking station, mains power supply, HDMI adaptor, docking station stand, Bluetooth keyboard, faux leather tablet case and recovery discs (external DVD-ROM drive required), as well as a quick start guide and even a cleaning cloth for the display!
The quick start guide gets you up and running quickly and provides a useful overview to using the Windows 8 Start screen and charms.
Several versions of the W7 are available. Reviewed here is the Core i3 model that comes with Windows 8 pre-installed. A slightly more expensive model with the same spec has Windows 8 Professional, while there is also a Core i5 model with a larger SSD and a choice between the two Windows versions.
Most important is the fact that this is a full Windows 8 tablet, as opposed to a Windows 8 RT slate such as the Microsoft Surface RT or ASUS Vivo Tab (which we will be reviewing shortly). Put simply, this is a difference that cannot be overstated enough – the Iconia W7 offers Windows 8 in its most complete and if you’ll pardon the expression, most intimate form. I’ll come back to this later.
With a 64 GB SSD and 4 GB RAM, the graphics are output from an Intel HD 3000 to an 11.6 inch display with a maximum 1920 x 1080 pixels resolution. The display is equipped with a wide viewing angle, making the tablet great for group collaboration and viewing videos.
On the subject of the display, my device has a row of pixels running right across the centre of the screen which appears to be displaying at a different brightness in certain lights. I’ve attempted to photograph this several times (without success) and have come to the conclusion that the problem is related to the light detection system which alters screen brightness. Since disabling this (using the advanced option in the Windows power settings screen), the issue seems to become less noticeable.
The 1.4 GHz Intel Core i3-2365m Sandy Bridge CPU holds everything together, from the operating system to the built-in hardware such as the 5 MP front facing camera and HD camcorder combination, the capacitive, multi-touch display and the USB 3.0 ports. Audio-wise, Dolby Home Theater v4 sound enhancement is built in, with Dolby 5.1 or 7.1 cinematic surround sound available via the audio out port on the right-hand side. On board speakers are typically tinny, but good enough.
Design and Peripherals
Choosing the right tablet took some time, and despite some reservations over the build quality (see below) I’m pretty certain that the Acer Iconia W7 is perhaps the best-designed tablet on the market at this point, all things considered.
The ease with which the tablet can be docked is a key aspect in this conclusion, as is the ability to dock in several configurations (again, we’ll come to that later). Despite the old-school matte finish, the Iconia W7 looks impressive, and is genuinely something that you want to touch again and again.
Slipping the Iconia W7 into its brown faux-leather case can be tricky (as can removal) although the problem here is mainly due to the case. A versatile design enables two standing views and a desktop “keyboard” style position, but the heat generated by the tablet’s battery can cause some unpleasant odours from the case. Not ideal.
Silver probably isn’t the colour of the moment, and the matte finish is a long way from the brushed metal look of smartphones and tablets. As a result, holding the Iconia W7, while not too heavy, feels not unlike holding a cheap monitor.
There are also questions over the build quality of the docking station (mainly concerning its weight), although this probably won’t be something that you need to handle or move around too much. The keyboard, meanwhile, is solid enough when placed on a desk, but feels a little flimsy when held. I’ve previously used the HP TouchPad Bluetooth keyboard which has a similar design, and the latter is a far more impressive experience, combining weight and solidity.
Of course, these three items are all bundled together in the same box. That’s impressive in itself, especially for the price.
The only real concern I have regarding the quality of the build is the stand. This slots into the docking station in three ways in order for the tablet to be oriented in portrait and landscape positions. While it appears sturdy and has a rubber strip to prevent slippage, the label on the stand advises the user not to push down on it. In itself the warning is a worry, and makes for some very delicate actions when it comes to docking and undocking.
Using Windows 8
As you may well have seen elsewhere on MakeUseOf, we’ve been playing with Windows 8 for some time now. We’ve told you what we thought following rigorous daily use, but most of these accounts were from experiences of using Windows 8 on a desktop or laptop computer.
What becomes clear from using the operating system and its new Start screen GUI is that Microsoft made a huge mistake in forcing the UIFKAM (user interface formerly known as “Metro”) onto non-touchscreen devices. While it can be a surprisingly efficient addition to desktop computers, the UIFKAM is clearly designed for tablets. With just a few minutes of use the interaction between man and machine is instantaneously transformed into something far more intimate than a mouse allows.
The difference between the desktop and tablet experience of Windows 8 is akin to a passionate holiday fling, only having to go back to your old girlfriend when the vacation ends.
On the Acer Iconia W7, Windows 8 is extremely well-served, thanks to the size, power and philosophy (docking station, keyboard, etc.) of the design. I doubt whether there is any device more suited to running the new OS – I’ll be very interested to see what Microsoft does with the Surface Pro.
Acer Software and Other Bloatware
The last time I enjoyed a brand new computer was in 2007 and I had somehow forgotten how much bloatware is included by manufacturers. While a PDF Acer User’s Manual is provided (and easily accessed from the search tool) the device comes with a vast selection of Acer applications:
- AcerCloud Docs
- Acer Power Button
- Acer Crystal Eye
- Acer Explorer
- Acer Instant Update Utility
- Acer Power Management
For the purposes of this review I have persisted with these, and found that the Crystal Eye camera app is certainly worth further investigation. AcerRing, meanwhile, offers a useful alternative to the standard Windows Control Panel, providing finger-friendly interaction where Microsoft didn’t bother.
However, along with trials of Microsoft Office and McAfee Internet Security Suite, 3 GB of space is wasted – and on a 64 GB SSD, this is storage that can be repurposed.
Connectivity: Networking, Bluetooth, HDMI
Unless you have a USB-Ethernet connector connected to the docking station, the Acer Iconia W7 will only be receiving wireless internet. Thanks to Windows 8, connecting and disconnecting is relatively easy.
If you’re planning a purchase, you should be aware that there is a problem with wireless networking on this device. The Acer Iconia W7 seems able to connect quickly but for some reason tends to drop the connection without warning. This was difficult to spot at first thanks to my own wireless connection being slightly temperamental in my office, but upon moving the tablet closer to the router, I discovered that I, like many other Iconia W7 owners, was suffering the ill effects of some bad drivers. Fortunately, removing these and installing the Windows alternatives resolves the issue.
Conversely, Bluetooth connectivity seems to be perfect, with the keyboard pairing up automatically whenever a key is pressed.
The high definition display is perfect for most purposes, but you might want to view software and games on a larger screen. Fortunately this is possible via a micro-HDMI (D) out port.
As a special bonus (it seemed like that to me!) the Iconia W7 also comes with a micro-HDMI to VGA connector, enabling me to connect my now-rather-old monitor. Output from the tablet is a maximum of 1024×768 pixels which isn’t ideal, but leaves me with no doubt that this is a great way to use the device.
Using the Acer Iconia W7
Beyond the newness of Windows 8 and its various advantages and disadvantages, the Acer Iconia W7 is really easy to use. The interface – with 10-point touch display – is fast and responsive, and while the 64 GB storage is limited, it remains as fast as you would expect, combining with Windows 8 to boot in 6.5 seconds from cold and resuming from standby in just over 1 second.
Whether you’re using the tablet in a café or docked on your desk, you get a feeling that it can handle most things that you throw at it. The hardware specification is workmanlike, enabling what is on first glance a modest tablet to handle modern applications and games with little effort (albeit with the high end settings disabled). A quick visit to YouTube proves what recent games this tablet can handle.
I was surprised to find that my Core i3 Iconia W7 apparently benchmarks better than the Core i5 due to various build and configuration factors. This is an advantage for those on a budget, and is something that Acer will need to deal with before they end up swamped by angry owners wanting to know why they paid an extra $200 for a less accomplished setup!
As someone who has been tied to the desktop computer paradigm over the past 30 years, the Acer Iconia W7 gives me the first inkling that I might be able to break away from my tower. If anyone read my seven day struggle using just an Android tablet to work, you’ll appreciate how important this is.
How Do I Feel About the Acer Iconia W7?
I am thrilled with this tablet, but there are a few things that I’m unhappy about. One is the stand, as explained above. I expect that over time, replacements might be found on eBay or manufactured by 3D printers, but in the meantime the design of the docking station relies on gentle use.
Meanwhile, the angle of the portrait orientation is particularly useless, sadly. While in landscape mode the viewing angle is around 75-80 degrees, this falls back to somewhere between 45 and 60 degrees in portrait view. As a writer I want to see as much of the current document as possible, which is why I like to have a portrait view. Sadly the Iconia W7 cannot provide this using the stand.
The limits of three USB 3.0 ports on the docking station makes up for the single port in tablet mode, but the lack of a card reader is extremely noticeable, as is any SIM slot, although both issues can be easily resolved with a suitable USB device. Clearly a new powered USB hub is now on my shopping list.
The row of light pixels and the wireless issues are not deal breakers for me – both seem to be resolvable, leaving me wielding a relatively powerful and compact, extremely portable tablet computer that I’m pretty pleased with.
We’re giving away a brand new Acer Iconia W7 similar to the one in this review! Here’s what you need to do in order to win it.
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