Review: Acer Iconia W700

Since the introduction of Windows 8, manufacturers’ focuses have been primarily on convertible laptops and hybrids. Slate tablets have been a bit of an afterthought, and for one big reason: price. Compared to $500 iPads and $200 Nexus 7’s, who in their right mind is going to shell out $1,000 for a Windows tablet?

Acer hopes that lunatic is you. And to be fair, its Iconia W700 is one of the best slates on the market. But I’m still not convinced that makes it a great buy.

On paper, the W700 is enticing. It’s an 11.6-inch tablet that weighs just two pounds, running full Windows 8 (not RT) on a 1.7GHz Core i5. 4GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD put it on par with most of the convertibles on the market, although a single USB 3.0 port and a mini HDMI connector are your only options for connectivity.

The 1920×1080 screen is highly detailed and very bright, and it’s responsive to swipes and taps (10-point touch is supported). Battery life, at over six and a half hours, is nothing to sneeze at, either.

Performance is also very good. General application benchmarks were about 15 percent below what I’ve been seeing on top-tier Windows 8 hybrids, but it’s speedy enough so you won’t spend long waiting for apps to load or processes to complete. It’s a different story, as usual, with anything involving graphics beyond the level of Cut the Rope. On the few graphics-oriented benchmarks the W700 will run at all (most crashed or wouldn’t even load), scores were at rock bottom versus the competition.

One of the big problems with HD-class resolution like this on a small screen is how difficult it is to use regular Windows, where tiny menu text, checkboxes, and radio buttons can turn what should be simple choices into an agonizing, hunt-and-peck chore. This is especially true on the W700, and getting around inside the Windows Desktop beyond the Start screen is a real challenge. To that end, Acer provides a workaround in the form of a cradle and external, Bluetooth-connected keyboard, which are included with the device. Just slide the W700 into the cradle to elevate it to a 70 degree viewing angle, or flip the plastic stand that slides into the back of the cradle around to take the angle down to 20 degrees.

This is a usability improvement, but only modestly so. The chintzy plastic cradle itself is actually pretty useless, merely replicating the USB port on the W700 and providing channels (er, holes) so audio can escape. There is no added battery in the cradle, but you wouldn’t want to take it with you anyway, as it more than doubles the 13mm thickness of the W700.

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