Saying the Iconia W3 is small doesn’t accurately describe it. Measuring 0.45 by 8.6 by 5.3 inches (HWD), it’s roughly the same size as the Android-only Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0 (Wi-Fi), and significantly smaller than the 11-inch HP Envy X2 or the 10-inch Dell XPS 10. It’s also light, weighing only 1.1 pound, thanks in no small part to the smaller size, but also due to lightweight plastic construction. Designed for one-handed use, the tablet features a physical Windows button at bottom—when held in portrait mode. In landscape orientation, the button is found on the right-hand side of the display.
The Iconia W3 is small enough that when I held it in one hand, I was able to scroll and thumb through menus with the same hand. When typing with the onscreen keyboard, I was able to comfortably type with my thumbs, while holding the tablet. By comparison, thumb-typing on a 10 or 11-inch tablet is much more awkward. The small size also means that you’ll be limited to running one app at a time, both because it doesn’t support snapping apps and because the screen is too small for side-by-side windows. It also requires a bit of optimization for comfortable use; you’ll definitely want to tweak the default text and icon sizes on the desktop, because the out of the box experience isn’t great.
While the tablet is small enough to hold one-handed, the display is large enough for good (but not great) visibility. The 8.1-inch display offers 1,280-by-800 resolution and five-digit multi-touch, and you’ll be able to do all of your Facebook, Google, and Netflix viewing with relative ease, but you might not want to look at it for long. While tablets have traditionally been web and media-consumption devices, this display isn’t the best for those applications, looking decidedly low-res when compared to most any current smartphone or tablet. It was especially noticeable when watching video or reading for any amount of time. Colors look dull and flat, and fine details look grainy. Add to this the thick bezel around the screen, and the display does a lot to leave the Iconia W3 looking and feeling less like a new innovation, and more like a budget device.
The speakers are middling at best, with no bass (The Knife’s Silent Shout lost its bass-heavy intro entirely) and quiet but buzzy speakers. As it stands, the built in stereo speakers aren’t likely to get much use; for listening to anything where audio quality matters, you’ll be opting for headphones.
The small tablet doesn’t have a lot to offer in terms of ports, but that’s fairly standard when working within the narrow confines of a tablet. What ports are there are all small—a micro USB port, micro HDMI output, and a microSD card slot, along with a regular stereo headset jack. With the appropriate adapter dongles, however, you should be able to use USB storage and peripherals with little trouble, and even connect an HDTV or monitor for use as an independent second screen, with full HD (1080p) output.
You’ll probably want to take advantage of the micro SD slot as well, because the Iconia W3 is equipped with only 64GB of internal memory, and only about 30GB of that available out of the box. Preinstalled on the tablet is Windows 8 (32-bit), along with a slew of apps and programs, like a 30-day trial of Microsoft Office, Norton Online Backup, Kindle ebook reader, Netflix, HuluPlus, Skype, Spotify, and Encyclopedia Britannica. Acer covers the Iconia W3 with a one year warranty.
The Iconia W3 also has an accessory case ($34.99 direct), which doubles as an easel stand. The case we were provided with had a sleek looking silvery nylon exterior and a soft interior lining. The tablet clips into a clear plastic cradle, and set at one of two angles or carried like a book with the flap either open or folded back.
For typing, aside from the onscreen keyboard, the Iconia W3 is also available with an accessory keyboard ($79.99 direct). Unlike the docking keyboards seen on the likes of the HP Envy or the Samsung ATIV, this keyboard doesn’t connect to or share power with the tablet in any way. It has a small stand built in, but otherwise is a separate Bluetooth keyboard.
The keyboard itself is full size, measuring 11.25 inches long, whereas the tablet itself is only 8.6 inches long. That discrepancy makes for a comfortable typing experience, but it really drives home how small the tablet display really is, and the combination of tablet and keyboard looks clunky and mismatched.
And while the Iconia W3 tablet may not be the most luxurious product, the keyboard feels downright shoddy. The plastic construction is so thin that the entire keyboard bows under the lightest pressure, and the whole thing squeaks and rattles with every slight bend. To make matters worse, after only two or three days of only occasional use, the keyboard began having problems, registering incorrect or multiple keystrokes and sometimes a full second lag occurring between the time I pressed a key and when it would appear onscreen.
The keyboard has one unique feature to it, however. On the underside of the keyboard is built-in recessed storage for the tablet. Click your tablet into the slot and you can carry the two together. But while you can attach the tablet for carrying purposes, you can’t do the same for normal use with the keyboard, instead only resting the tablet edge-first in a cradle that runs along the top of the keyboard. The result is a tablet and keyboard that can be taken anywhere, but only used in specific circumstances—with nothing securing the tablet in the cradle, you’ll need to set up on a flat surface, like a table, or risk the tablet falling to the floor. The stability is so poor that even in these circumstances, you also need to use the built-in stabilizers, little extended tabs that stick out the back of the keyboard to prevent the tablet from tipping the keyboard backward. On-the-go use on a lap or airplane tray table isn’t really an option.
For the sake of a low price and long battery life, the Iconia W3 is equipped with a 1.8GHz Intel Atom Z2760 processor—the same model CPU found in the Dell XPS 10 and HP Envy X2—with 2GB of DDR2 memory. It’s worth noting that while this tablet does run the x86 version of Windows 8 (rather than the crippled Windows RT), is does so in 32-bit mode, so it won’t run any software optimized for 64-bit systems. And while this tablet is a Windows 8 PC, if you were expecting something to compete with, say, Acer’s other Windows tablet, the Core i5-equipped Acer Iconia W700-6465, you’ll be sorely disappointed.