Acer Iconia W700 Windows 8 tablet
Acer's W700 is a solid tablet with a great, Full HD screen, but it's a little underdone
- Great screen
- Well built
- Very good performance
- Cradle feels cheap
- Could use some more connectivity
Acer's Iconia W700 is fast, well built and comes with a beautiful, Full HD screen. It's the type of tablet Windows users should love. However, its supplied cradle and docking options could be much better -- you only get a couple more USB ports when you dock it. Nevertheless, it's worth considering if you're after a Windows 8 tablet, especially because of its screen and performance.
Acer's Iconia W700 is the type of tablet you should buy if you're concerned about performance. It's an 11.6-inch tablet with a Core i5 CPU on the inside, and it performs very well as a device for viewing video and browsing media-rich Web pages. Add a keyboard to it and you could also use it as a regular laptop to undertake content creation and media encoding tasks.
What sets the Iconia W700 apart from other non-hybrid Windows 8 tablets that we've seen so far are its good performance, and also its available bundles. A cradle is supplied that allows the tablet to be placed upright on a desk, either in landscape or portrait mode. This helps if you just want to just use the tablet as a screen on which to watch videos, and it also comes in very handy if you want to turn the tablet into a 'desktop' computer. You'll have to supply your own keyboard and pointing device for that though (via Bluetooth or USB) — there is also a bundle that includes the cradle along with a keyboard.
Physically, the Iconia W700 feels very well made. It's a shell of aluminium that houses a 10-point, capacitive touchscreen and, at 11.6 inches, it's hefty. It needs to be, too, because it houses an Intel Core i5-3317U CPU, which requires an active cooler. This means that the Iconia W700 has a fan in it and it can get a little loud when the CPU has to do lots of work (such as when it's crunching Flash elements in a Web site). The metal casing helps to disperse some of the heat that's generated by the CPU, in turn making the unit a little warm to hold, but it never got uncomfortably hot.
The tablet weighs 950g, it's 12mm thick, and it houses one full-sized USB 3.0 port. It also has a Micro HDMI port and a headset port, but that's the extent of it. You don't get any slots for SD cards, nor do you get a full-sized video out port built in (although a VGA dongle is supplied). With so much space along the sides, and with such a solid chassis, we think Acer has missed an opportunity to create a tablet with a more useful set of built-in connections that most Windows users would put to good use.
Instead of ports, Acer has printed lots of marketing stuff on the edges, which makes the unit look a little tacky: the left side brags about "professionally tuned" audio, while the right side has the Iconia branding. A couple of speakers are built in to the base of the unit and they sound decent; decent for a tablet, that is. They supply clear mid-to-high frequencies, but don't expect any low-end frequencies from them. If you rest the tablet on your lap while they are being used, then the sound will get muffled. The cradle has openings to channel the sound from the speakers towards the front when the tablet is docked.
Also along the side edges, you get a physical volume control, a power button and a screen lock. The top edge has vents, in addition to a screen rotation lock. There is no dock connector on the tablet; instead, the power and USB ports are used to plug in to the supplied cradle, which then gives the tablet three USB 3.0 ports, but that's it. You still have to use the HDMI port on the tablet itself for video out. This is an inconvenient design; we would have liked the cradle to be a little more useful and provide not only USB, but video output and perhaps a memory card slot — it's mostly just a hunk of plastic for the tablet to sit in
The cradle and the screen
The cradle's build quality isn't as solid as it should be. The tablet slides into it a little awkwardly, and the stand on the back never clicks in to place once it's in. It ends up making the product feel quite flimsy — especially when you try moving it around. It's a stand that can be removed so that it can be repositioned when you want to use the tablet in portrait mode.
The best part of the tablet has to be its screen. At 11.6 inches, it's large, and with a resolution of 1920x1080, it's perfect for viewing photos and Full HD movies; there is also plenty of space to arrange windows side by side on the Desktop. It's a high quality screen, too, with rich colours, lots of brightness, and wide viewing angles. These wide angles allow you to easily view details and colours properly, even while holding the tablet upside-down or in portrait mode — you have to get to a really wide angle in order to notice any paleness. The Gorilla Glass does give off some reflections, but we didn't find this to be too bad, especially when the screen brightness was turned all the way up.
Importantly, the screen's accelerometer worked perfectly to switch the screen appropriately for the way we held it, and the responsiveness of its capacitive touch was excellent. We had no problems at all using Windows 8's swipe-in gestures, the Start screen, or even just poking around the Windows Desktop. We thought we'd have a hard time considering how small everything is because of the high resolution, but we rarely made any major mistakes with our taps and we enjoyed using it a lot.
Performance and battery life
The tablet's performance was also responsible for a lot of that joy. With an Intel Core i5-3317U at the helm, along with 4GB of DDR3 SDRAM, Intel HD 4000 graphics and a 128GB solid state drive, the Iconia W700 can give laptops a run for their money when it comes to speed. It had no problems streaming video from the Web (from paid services such as NBA.TV, as well as YouTube and Vimeo), and it was responsive when it came to browsing Web pages, loading apps and flicking through photos. It really is perfect for media consumption.
The configuration is strong enough to allow typical office programs to be used with ease, and if you ever need to use it in a pinch to encode music or videos, it can do that, too. In our Blender 3D rendering test, it recorded a time of 48sec, while in our iTunes MP3 encoding test, it recorded 60sec. These times are exactly what we expected of its configuration. Using Handbrake, the W700 converted a DVD file to an MP4 file in 24min 16sec, which is a couple of minutes slower than we anticipated, but still an acceptable time.
The Intel graphics recorded 3234 in 3DMark06, which means that you could use this tablet for some limited gaming if you set a low resolution and low detail level within a game, but the games most suited to this tablet are the ones that can be obtained through the Windows Store.
Storage performance is very quick thanks to the solid state drive, and this was shown in CrystalDiskMark, where a read rate of 451.5 megabytes per second (MBps) was achieved, along with a write rate of 244.5MBps. Applications loaded quickly and the tablet booted in only five seconds from an off state — this was the time it took to get to the Windows 8 login screen.
The battery life of the Iconia W700 will vary depending on the screen brightness and how hard you make the CPU work (Web sites with Flash elements can make the CPU work a lot, for example), but we found it to be very good. In our rundown test, in which we disable power management, enable Wi-Fi, maximise screen brightness and loop an Xvid-encoded video, the tablet lasted 5hr 17min. This result compares favourably against laptops that use the same CPU (such as the ASUS S400C and Toshiba Satellite Z930, for example).
When we enabled the Adaptive Brightness setting in Windows 8, which manages the screen brightness according to the lighting conditions of the surrounding environment, the W700 lasted 5hr 58min. With some tinkering of the power management settings, and with a manually-set low brightness level, this tablet might be able to last an entire work day on its battery (although if you're using it in the office, you'll be near an outlet anyway).
Good performance, long battery life, and an excellent screen all make the Acer Iconia W700 a very good Windows 8 tablet. It's a tablet that feels solid in the hand, it's easy to use and it also comes with a cradle so that you can rest it while watching videos. However, it could use a built-in SD card slot and perhaps a full-sized HDMI port to go along with the USB 3.0 port it already has. We do appreciate the built-in dual-band Wi-Fi though, and there are also two cameras installed (without a flash).
We say go for it if you're after a Windows 8 tablet that's fast and responsive, and also one with a beautiful screen. The model we reviewed with the standard cradle costs $1099, and there is a version available with a cradle and keyboard that costs $1199. A stylus is also an option, too.
Other Windows tablet products
• Microsoft Surface Pro tablet
• ASUS Vivo Tab RT Windows Tablet
• Microsoft Surface RT tablet
• Samsung Ativ Smart PC 500T hybrid tablet
• Samsung Ativ Smart PC Pro 700T (XE700T1C-A02AU) hybrid tablet
• Sony VAIO Duo 11 Windows 8 tablet
• ASUS VivoTab 810 Windows 8 tablet
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