Windows 8 has seen a host of fresh designs for tablets and laptops, with many manufacturers trying their hardest to build a device that’s capable of doing both jobs. That has led to some innovative thinking, such as the screen-spinning Dell XPS 12 and the Microsoft Surface and its detachable keyboard. However, the Acer Iconia W700 has a slightly simpler take on the hybrid design.
The Iconia W700 differs from other hybrid tablets by not having a keyboard that attaches to the body of the tablet to create a laptop-style device. Instead it looks like any normal tablet, albeit bulkier and 11.6 inches across. It docks into a stand that props it up at a usable angle and acts as a charging stand and USB hub.
The idea is that you keep the dock and keyboard at work or in your home, and use it like a full PC. The added HDMI means you can connect it to an external monitor so you’d have no idea you were using a tablet at all. When you leave, just pull the tablet out from the dock, for games, apps and browsing on the move.
We actually prefer this set up to the jack-of-all-trades and master of none form factors of some other Windows 8 hybrids, such as the Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 13 and Toshiba Satellite U920T, which are too large to be used as tablets yet suffer from reduced usability in ‘laptop-mode.’
However, don’t think you’ll get the same svelte stylings as those of the Apple iPad. When you pack a laptop-grade processor into a tablet, you have the same thermal headaches as laptop makers have, but the added issue of how to dissipate it.
The Acer Iconia W700 measures 11.9 x 295 x 191mm (0.5 x 11.6 x 7.5 inches) and weighs 925g (33oz), making it one slab of slate.
The only problem with the Acer’s way of working is that when you do need to take the dock on the move with you, it’s one of the most awkward pieces of equipment to transport.
The square dock is made from flimsy white plastic and is propped up by a white plastic stand, which is a single piece of angled plastic that slots in the back.
It seems as if it’s designed to take up the maximum room in your bag, and due to the plastic, feels that it could emerge in two pieces after you’ve shoved something on top of it. Add the power supply and any extra peripherals and your bag will be filled to the brim.
The plastic flimsiness of the dock is completely at odds with the tablet itself, which is adorned in aluminium, which along with Microsoft Surface, is easily one of the best-built tablets on the market.
Acer has seriously upped its game in terms of build quality, and along with the Acer Aspire S7 Ultrabook, is producing some seriously covetable kit.
Priced at around £590/US$799.99 (64GB, Core i3 version, not available in Australia) or £740/US$999.99/AU$1,299 (128GB, Core i5 version) the Acer Iconia W700 does represent decent value, when you consider that you’re getting dual functionality, top specs and Ultrabook power. However, how does it fare in use? Read our review to find out.
The Acer Iconia W700 features the full version of Windows 8, with all the same components you’d expect from an Ultrabook laptop. Inside there’s an Intel Core i3-2365M processor, clocked at a pedestrian 1.4GHz, meaning there’s enough power for standard programs and apps, but not much more.
Aside from the processor, you’ll also find 4GB of RAM and all the 3D graphics are handled by the Intel HD 3000 core built into the Intel Core i3 chip. It won’t handle advanced games, but you could play any casual title easily, although we are concerned about the impact of heat under long periods of stress.
There’s also a 64GB SSD included on the version we tested, which is in danger of being filled, so investing in some external storage too would be wise – or buying the 128GB version.
Of course, a tablet or laptop is nothing without its screen, and we’ve seen some fantastic 1080p panels on the likes of the Sony Vaio Duo 11 and the Dell XPS 12, which produce stunningly vibrant and sharp pictures.
We were delighted to see a gorgeous 1920 x 1080 LED panel included on the Acer Iconia W700. It makes a huge difference when working, with its pin-sharp text. It’s great for browsing the web, with more of the web page displayed on screen, and for using apps and playing games, with jaw-dropping visuals. The Windows 8 interface looks brilliant, and certainly catches people’s attention.
The downside of the pin-sharp screen is that Windows 8 is almost unusable in classic mode. The menus are so small thanks to the monstrous resolution that’s packed into the 11.6-inch panel, we were squinting to make out navigation options. However, the Acer Iconia W700 rarely registered a wrong press, showing that the panel’s sensitivity – coupled with improvements to Windows 8 – is top notch.
As we mentioned, the Acer Iconia W700 is at its best when connected to peripherals, such as HD monitors, but the connectivity options are a mixed bag. Without the comfort of its dock, there’s just one USB port, a HDMI port and Bluetooth, which we’d recommend for peripherals.
When attached to the dock this is upped to 3 x USB 3.0 ports, and there’s also a dongle in the box that converts micro HDMI to VGA. With its dock, the Acer Iconia W700 is one of the best connected tablets out there, but we worry that when on the road, the single USB port might be limiting.
While the dock is too cumbersome to be carried around comfortably, Acer supplies a fetching leather-look case to protect the Iconia W700 on the move. We were mightily impressed, not only by the stylish look of the brown leather case, but the way it grasped hold of the W700, protecting it from all bumps and scrapes.
What’s more, it (precariously) stands up the W700 like an Apple SmartCase, for movie watching and working away from the dock.
Battery eater: 284
3D Mark: 1785
In terms of performance, the Acer Iconia W700 struggled, and we were disappointed to see less power from it than from Ultrabooks in the same category.
High-end Ultrabooks packing an Ivy Bridge-based Intel Core i7 processor would produce a score of around 9,000 in Cinebench, which is ideal for heavy image editing, dealing with video and multi-tasking full Windows apps such as Photoshop and Microsoft Word.
With its Intel Core i3 chip, the Iconia W700 stuttered to a disappointing score of 3,716.
This makes it hard to recommend for people who plan to use this hybrid device for heavy grunt work, which is a shame, since the point of the W700 seems to be to replace your existing Windows machine and solve the need for a separate tablet.
With an Intel Core i3 processor handling all the processing and the graphics – remember there’s no discreet solution here, folks – our 3D Mark produced a pretty derisory score as well.
The W700 managed just 1,785, and the cycle of tests resembled a PowerPoint presentation on 90s gaming rather than an exploration of 3D rendering.
It means we have serious doubts about the ability of the W700 to handle any types of gaming, beyond anything from the Windows Store.
Of course, there is an Intel Core i5 version of the W700 available, which would improve on these worrying results, but you can expect to pay a premium of £150/US$100 or more.
The pay off of such basic performance is excellent battery life, which matches some of the best performing laptops such as the Dell XPS 13. This will suit anyone who intends to work away from the mains electricity.
Our harsh tests, which involve looping HD video and simulating office tasks, produced a cycle of 284 minutes, and under less extreme conditions one could easily expect five to six hours of use.
The Acer Iconia W700 is certainly a step forward for full-fat Windows tablets, and one of the few we’ve seen that can genuinely offer the experience of a full laptop and a tablet as well.
Devices like the Sony Vaio Duo 11 or Toshiba Satellite U920T have erred too much towards the laptop form factor, while the current crop of Windows RT tablets suffer from usability issues, a limited ecosystem and are far too expensive.
The Acer W700 has found a useful niche, and we can genuinely imagine having it docked into a desktop type set up at work, before watching a movie and using the increasing amount of Windows 8 apps on the way home.
The dock setup works, as long as you don’t want to take it with you, and the range of connectivity means it’s easy to hook the tablet up to an HD screen. The pin-sharp screen is a joy to use when in the new Windows 8 UI mode, and it’s just as good for media consumption as work.
The price is also exceptional, when you consider that the Samsung Ativ Tab, which runs Windows RT, comes in at £549/US$649.99 (around AU$836). For roughly the same price here you get full fat Windows, Intel Core power, the dock, a high quality leather case and a mobile keyboard.
The docking system doesn’t have the same quality feel as the rest of the Acer Iconia W700, and while it does make it lightweight for when you do need to travel, it ruins the premium experience. We also feel that very little thought as been put into the dock’s design, and the bizarre design is a nightmare to carry.
Of course, for £590/US$799.99 you won’t get high-end Ultrabook power, especially when Acer has been so generous with extras, build quality and that gorgeous 1080p screen. However, we have serious reservations about whether there’s enough grunt here to future-proof the Acer W700 for all kinds of PC use, from graphics-heavy applications to multitasking large numbers of programs.
Finally, while we loved the usability of the Acer Iconia W700, we feel there’s little flexibility in its use. It works if you’re regularly in one place, such as your home or office, where the dock can be set up and left. Taking the whole package of dock, stand, case and charger will be a drag, so think about how you’d use it before buying it.
The Acer Iconia W700 comes the closest of all the tablets we’ve seen to being able to replicate the experience of a laptop, in a true tablet form.
While you certainly get a lot for your money here, we worry that the poor performance limits the life of this hybrid PC, and would push those looking for a rich Windows 8 experience to look at the Intel Core i5 version.
By James Stables, TechRadar