Acer Iconia W700 review a Core i5 Windows 8 slate that doesn't skimp on battery life

Until PC makers figure out what consumers want in their Windows 8 PCs, they'll be throwing different designs at the proverbial wall to see what sticks. One thing's for sure, though: laptop / tablet hybrids have already made it. So far, we've seen a mix of models, some with low-power Atom processors, and others with laptop-grade Core i5 CPUs inside. Basically, a choice between amazing horsepower and long battery life.

In Acer's lineup, specifically, we've already had a chance to play with the Iconia W510, an Atom-powered device with a keyboard dock. Now we're taking a look at the Iconia W700 ($800 and up), an 11-inch tablet that's essentially an Ultrabook with no keyboard attached. Based on that brief summary you'd think it had the same form factor as the smaller W510, but you'd be wrong. Whereas the W510 has a keyboard dock with a built-in battery, the W700 has a cradle with a modular kickstand you can use you to prop up the tablet in landscape or portrait mode. There's no battery inside the dock, and the keyboard is a standalone product; you'll have to pack it separately if you decide you need it on a trip. So is there any advantage to having a design with so many different pieces? And how does that Core i5 processor fare, anyway? Let's see.

Acer Iconia W700 review

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Acer

Acer Iconia W700

Pros

  • Well-built
  • Surprisingly long battery life
  • Fast performance, runs cool
  • Attractively priced

Cons

  • Clumsy form factor
  • Thick and heavy, even for a Core i5 tablet
  • No mouse included, no trackpad on the keyboard
Summary

The W700 is hefty, even for a Core i5 tablet, and its bulky dock isn't good for traveling. Still, the tablet offers a rare combination of fast performance and long battery life.

Look and feel


Acer Iconia W700 review

Think of all the pieces you'll need to carry with you if you decide to take the W700 on the road.

We almost don't know where to begin. Insofar as the W700 is a laptop / tablet hybrid, we really should explain what it's like to use this thing as an 11-inch slate. Suffice to say, it feels well-built, which makes sense, as the casing is fashioned entirely out of aluminum. The problem is that as nicely constructed as it is, it's rather bulky, at 2.09 pounds and 0.47 inch thick. To some extent, the port selection is the culprit: the W700 is home to a full-sized USB 3.0 socket, so clearly this was not destined to be a razor-thin tablet. (The remaining ports include: a micro-HDMI port, a headphone jack, volume rocker, power button, screen orientation lock and dual speakers. There's an HDMI-to-VGA adapter, in case you plan on hooking up a projector.)

Also, given that this has a laptop-grade Core i5 processor inside, it requires some serious vents, which you'll find along the top edge. Obviously, any fanless, Atom-powered Windows 8 tablet will be thinner and lighter. But even some i5 tablets are more lighter than this. Take Samsung's ATIV Smart PC Pro, which clocks in at 1.96 pounds. (To be fair, it's about as thick as the W700.)

But what difference do a few ounces make when the entire form factor borders on absurd? To be fair, it doesn't look so bizarre at first glance. Not until you play with it, anyway. The W700 comes with a docking cradle that you can use to prop up the tablet in either landscape or portrait mode. There's no battery built in, but you do get three extra USB 3.0 ports, which you'll appreciate if you want to use a wireless mouse or any other accessory that might require a dongle; you'll need to keep that plugged in, so it's nice to have a spare USB connection free. Inside the cradle there's a male USB connector, which plugs into the USB port on the tablet itself. Thankfully, it stays put; you'll need to wrest the tablet out with both hands when you're ready to undock it.

DNP Acer Iconia W700 review a Core i5 Windows 8 slate that doesn't skimp on battery life

Here's where it gets weird: the kickstand on the back of the dock is removable, and can be inserted in one of two ways (again, to support the tablet in landscape or portrait mode). Though the kickstand ships with an illustrated instruction sticker on it, it's still way too easy to insert it incorrectly. It's at this point, in fact, that I wish I could narrate this review in GIFs, or at least show you a candid-camera-style video of all the people who tried and failed to put the dock together while swinging by my desk. It's not a terribly intuitive design. It's also thick and heavy with a puffed-out back, and the empty cradle's sharp edges make us nervous about putting it in a bag next to more delicate items. The whole thing is ugly too, but that's almost beside the point.

Worse, though: think of all the pieces you'll need to carry with you if you decide to take the W700 on the road. We've already mentioned three: the tablet, cradle and kickstand. But if you're going to be using this with the cradle, you'll probably also want the Bluetooth keyboard, which comes in the box. That's four. If you're using this in desktop mode, you'll also want some sort of wireless mouse or trackpad (not included in the box, sadly). That's five pieces. The AC adapter is six. Then there's the bundled faux-leather case, which fits the tablet only. Take that and you're up to seven. It's a lot to remember, and some of the pieces (the cradle, kickstand) don't lie flat, so they'll take up more space in your bag than a device with a regular ol' keyboard dock. And really, there wouldn't have been much of a downside if Acer went with that form factor instead: you'd get the cradle and keyboard in one piece, along with a built-in battery and a smattering of ports. The only thing you wouldn't be able to do is dock the tablet in portrait mode, which is fine by us.

Fortunately, at least, the case can be folded in such a way that you can prop the tablet up (in landscape mode). That'll save you some baggage, though you won't get any additional ports, as you would on the cradle or any competitors' keyboard docks.

Keyboard


DNP Acer Iconia W700 review a Core i5 Windows 8 slate that doesn't skimp on battery life

The Bluetooth keyboard is similar to the one that comes built into the W510's keyboard dock, in that it has white plastic keys against a gray frame. Here, though, the keys aren't squished into a keyboard dock meant to fit a 10-inch tablet; it's more expansive, with no shrunken or undersized keys. It shouldn't take you long before you're typing at your usual brisk pace. What's more, we appreciate that the keyboard has an on / off switch, which takes any potential confusion out of the pairing process (i.e., there's no need to hold down a button or anything like that).

If anything, as we said, we just wish Acer went with a keyboard dock instead of a separate cradle that you have to assemble every time you set up shop somewhere. Maybe a slightly larger (read: less cramped) version of the one that comes with the W510. We know you can do it, Acer. Maybe next time.

We feel compelled to add, too, that it would've been nice if Acer threw in a mouse, particularly since there's no trackpad area on the keyboard (hybrids with traditional keyboard docks often have a small touchpad built in). Heck, we would've been happy to have a mouse instead of a carrying case, though that leathery folio is admittedly nice to have. Seriously, though, what is one supposed to do with the tablet in desktop mode with 1080p resolution and no pointing device? Particularly on such a dense screen, it is very difficult to get around the traditional Windows desktop using your fingers. As it happens, we had Logitech's Rechargeable Trackpad lying around, though most of you will need to go out and buy something, especially if you want to pull off certain Windows 8-specific gestures, like swiping in from the left to toggle through open apps. Fortunately, at least, there's a growing body of options, so assuming you're willing to shell out an extra $50 or $60, you should be fine.

Display


Acer Iconia W700 review

Acer's Aspire S7 already holds claim to one of our favorite laptop displays, so we weren't terribly surprised to find that the W700 also has a high-quality panel. This, too, is a 1080p IPS screen (this time coated in Gorilla Glass), though that resolution looks especially crisp on the smaller 11-inch screen (versus a 13-inch laptop, that is). It's the sort of thing you'll notice in desktop mode, when framing photos or even flicking through the Start Menu. With the brightness cranked all the way up to 350 nits we had no problem previewing photos we took using the stock camera app. That bodes well for indoor viewing angles as well, though it's a bummer that you can't adjust the screen angle, thanks to the fixed cradle and all. The ability to fiddle with the precise angle might come in handy if you're sitting a few feet away watching a movie, or trying to thwart glare from the overheard lights in your office. With the brightness at its max setting, we could indeed still see some reflections, but only when we bothered to look: the screen isn't so glossy that it ever distracted us from getting work done.

Camera


Acer Iconia W700 review

As you've probably gathered by now, we're not normally fans of tablet cameras, but we actually managed to get some usable shots from the W700. The autofocusing, 5-megapixel camera seems to home in on subjects a bit faster than other tablets we've used recently, such as the Samsung ATIV Smart PC. Colors were usually pleasing, and we even had a little bit of luck in harshly lit situations. We deliberately chose to lead with the above photo because it's a telling one: we were able to preserve the blueness of the sky (albeit, in an oversaturated way) even though the stock camera app doesn't have any sort of HDR mode. Poke around in the gallery, though, and you'll still find some pictures with washed-out backgrounds, so whatever magic at work here won't necessarily save every shot you take.

Acer Iconia W700 sample shots

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Performance and battery life


PCMark7 3DMark06 3DMark11 ATTO (top disk speeds)
Acer Iconia W700 (1.7GHz Core i5-3317U, Intel HD 4000) 4,580 3,548 E518 / P506 542 MB/s (reads); 524 MB/s (writes)
Lenovo ThinkPad Twist (1.7GHz Core i5-3317U, Intel HD 4000) 3,113 4,066 E1033 / P549 136 MB/s (reads); 130 MB/s (writes)
Acer Aspire S7 (2.4GHz Core i7-3517U, Intel HD 4000) 5,011 4,918 E1035 / P620 / X208 934 MB/s (reads); 686 MB/s (writes)
Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 13 (1.7GHz Core i5-3317U, Intel HD 4000) 4,422 4,415

E917 / P572

278 MB/s (reads); 263 MB/s (writes)
Toshiba Satellite U925t (1.7GHz Core i5-3317U, Intel HD 4000) 4,381 4,210

E989 / P563

521 MB/s (reads); 265 MB/s (writes)
Dell XPS 12 (1.7GHz Core i5-3317U, Intel HD 4000) 4,673 4,520 N/A 516 MB/s (reads); 263 MB/s (writes)

By most metrics, the W700 is a fast device. Our particular test configuration has 4GB of RAM, a 128GB Toshiba-made SSD and a Core i5-3317U processor with integrated Intel HD 4000 graphics, the same chip you'll find on most Win 8 Ultrabooks. Despite packing similar components as competing devices, it mostly bests them in PCMark 7, and nearly matches the rest. In the disk benchmark, its read / write speeds (542 MB/s and 534 MB/s) were trumped only by the Acer Aspire S7, which has dual SSDs arranged in a speedy RAID 0 configuration (and is therefore going to be faster than anything else we test). Boot-up takes just 12 seconds, which is on par with some other Windows 8 systems we've reviewed. Also encouraging: those big honking fans on the tablet's top edge do a good job of dissipating heat, so that the device always feels cool or, at worst, lukewarm to the touch.

If anything, its Achilles' heel seems to be graphics performance, which to be fair was never a strong point for Ultrabooks and laptop / tablet hybrids. Its score of 3,548 in 3DMark06 falls far short of other Windows 8 systems, even those with the same integrated graphics solution. Even if you remove the high resolution as a variable and only compare it to other 1080p machines, it still ranks at the bottom of the list: the Aspire S7 and Dell XPS 12 both scored better on the same test despite having 1,920 x 1,080 panels of their own.

Windows 8 systems
Battery life
Acer Iconia W700 7:13
Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 13 5:32
Dell XPS 12 5:30
Toshiba Satellite U925t 5:10
Sony VAIO Duo 11 4:47
Acer Aspire S7 4:18
Lenovo ThinkPad Twist 4:09
The W700's battery life is more typical of a low-powered ARM device.

What's funny about the W700 is that it has the same chipset as other Windows 8 machines we've tested, along with a 1080p touchscreen -- precisely the sort of thing that would normally suck the life out of a battery. And yet, the three-cell, 4,850mAh battery lasts hours longer than bigger touchscreen Windows 8 systems with similar internals. Specifically, we got seven hours and 13 minutes of runtime after looping a video off the local disk with WiFi on and the brightness fixed at 65 percent. The next runner-up in our list is the Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 13, and if you look at the numbers, it wasn't even a close contest: it managed just five and a half hours in the same test, even though it probably has room for a larger-capacity battery than the W700. It only gets worse from there: we've seen touchscreen Windows 8 systems that barely cracked four hours.

The W700 looks even more impressive when you compare it to lighter-weight, ARM-powered tablets. You wouldn't expect that to be the case -- this really isn't a fair fight -- but in fact the difference in battery life isn't as drastic as you'd imagine, especially if you take into account tablets that offer merely average endurance. The ASUS Transformer Pad TF300, for instance, lasts only about an hour longer than the W700; the Nexus 10 edges out the W700 by a mere 13 minutes.

We'll admit, the Nexus 10 offers skimpy battery life (we complained about it in our initial review). But here's the thing: we don't know of another Core i5 tablet that can even come close. Take the Surface Pro, for instance: it's expected to last half as long as the Surface for Windows RT -- i.e., about four and a half hours in our rundown test. If that's true, then the W700's battery life would seem that much more exceptional: after all, the W700 and the Surface Pro are close cousins, at least as far as key specs go. It's incredible, then, that the W700's battery life is more typical of a low-powered ARM device.

Software


Acer Iconia W700 review

It's never a good sign when a company needs two large clusters of Live Tiles just to showcase all the bloatware it installed. Indeed, there's a lot of pre-installed software here -- some of it useful, along with plenty more we could do without. On board, we have Amazon.com; the Kindle reader; Netflix; iCookBook; Hulu Plus; the music streaming service 7digital; Evernote; eBay; Skitch; ChaCha; StumbleUpon; the TuneIn internet radio service; Skype; Acer's CrystalEye webcam software; Spotify; newsXpresso; and a trial of McAfee Internet Suite. But wait, there's more: you'll also find a handful of games, including Zeptolab, The Treasures of Montezuma 3 and Shark Dash. AcerCloud, meanwhile, is less crapware; it's Acer's unlimited cloud storage service, which allows you to use iOS and Android apps to access your content remotely.

There's even Acer Explorer, an app for getting to know all the pre-installed apps. So basically, inception.

Configuration options and warranty

The W700 starts at $800 with a 1.8GHz Core i3 processor and a 64GB SSD, though other specs, including the graphics solution and 1080p display, remain the same. The $900 configuration steps up to a Core i5 CPU, but still has 64GB of storage. The $999 model, the one we tested, combines an i5 chip with a larger 128GB solid-state drive. There's also a $1,149 one with the same specs, except it has Windows 8 Pro installed and has a warranty that lasts for two years instead of one.

Whichever you choose, the cradle and Bluetooth keyboard are both included. Pretty impressive when you remember that other companies, like Samsung and Microsoft, are still selling the keyboard separately for some or all of their configurations. So kudos to Acer for just tossing it in, and at a lower starting price, to boot.

The competition


Acer Iconia W700 review

We get what Acer was going for here and really, it's an intriguing proposition: a hybrid that can be used as a standalone tablet, but is powerful enough to be your next laptop. As we said, it's fast and offers awesomely long battery life, but we suspect you'd feel more comfortable researching a few similar options before shelling out a thousand bucks.

We mentioned the Surface Pro, though it doesn't even go on sale until next month. At that point, it will start at $900 for the 64GB model, with the fantastic Touch Cover keyboard sold separately. As with the Surface RT, we expect we'll enjoy the Surface Pro's sturdy kickstand and comfy typing experience. Not to mention, it's comprised of fewer pieces than the W700, and supports pen input, which the W700 doesn't. Still, it's rated for shorter battery life (but we already told you about that). The ASUS TAICHI, a convertible Ultrabook with dual 1080p screens, is also tempting but we haven't seen it creep into retail just yet. Certainly, we haven't had the chance to review one, so we can't vouch for its performance or overall quality right now.

The W700 succeeds in being powerful while still lasting seven-plus hours on a charge. Most other Core i5 tablets don't have that going for them.

One option that is available now is the Samsung ATIV Smart PC Pro, aka the Series 7 Slate, which retails for $1,200 and up. This, too, has a Core i5 processor, 128GB SSD and an 11-inch 1080p display. The difference, though, is that the tablet supports both pen and finger input, and comes loaded with the same S Pen apps you'll find on the Galaxy Note 10.1. Also, the keyboard dock has a built-in touchpad, so you don't have to use a standalone mouse in desktop mode.

Suppose you only occasionally need to use your PC in tablet mode. Why not get a more traditional-looking touchscreen Ultrabook that can morph into a slate when you need it to? If you go that route, we suggest the Dell XPS 12 ($1,200 and up), which is only slightly bigger than the Acer Iconia W700, but still adds a 1080p screen and a fantastic keyboard.

If it were us shopping, we'd avoid sliders altogether. In general, the propped-up display eats into the usable keyboard space, which means you're stuck with a cramped keyboard. Also, who wants their PC's display to be exposed all the time? In particular, we found the 11-inch Toshiba Satellite U925t has poor build quality (on top of all those other issues), along with short battery life and loud fan noise. And though we're still wrapping up our review of the Sony VAIO Duo 11, we'll tell you now that many of these complaints apply there, too.

Wrap-up


DNP Acer Iconia W700 review a Core i5 Windows 8 slate that doesn't skimp on battery life

After unboxing the W700 and putting the cradle dock together, we didn't think we were going to like it very much. As it turns out, we like it quite a bit, and we think you might too, but you'll have to get past some surface flaws in order to truly appreciate it. The W700 is thick and heavy, even for a tablet with a Core i5 processor, and though it's solidly built, it has a boxy look that can be off-putting. The good news is that it's fast, even among Windows 8 PCs, and offers surprisingly long runtime. If we're honest, we never expected Core i5 tablets to be very longevous, and meanwhile touchscreen Ultrabooks have been consistently disappointing on the battery life front, so it's impressive that the W700 succeeds in being powerful while still lasting seven-plus hours on a charge. Most other Core i5 tablets don't have that going for them.

Finally, let's not forget the cost: even the $800 model comes with a cradle and dock, which is pretty aggressive pricing for a product in this class. For $900, in particular, you can get one with a Core i5 CPU and 64 gigs of storage. Compare that to the Surface Pro, which will start at $900 with the same CPU and no keyboard included. Granted, we prefer the Surface's lightweight, connectable keyboard, but that's beside the point: Microsoft could take a cue from Acer on pricing here.

The problem, though, is that the W700's cradle design doesn't make much sense. A dock with a built-in keyboard (and perhaps a touchpad and spare battery) would have been a simpler, more compact solution, and you wouldn't have had to give up much in the way of extra ports. It would have been more versatile too -- the sort of thing you could use in the office or on the road, in a hotel room. Ultimately, you could pack up the tablet and keyboard separately, but it's not ideal: it's a bit of a pain, and the components will take up more space in your bag. We suggest you use the case as a stand instead, but with the understanding that you'll have just one USB port: the one on the tablet itself. So, the quirky design doesn't rise to the level of a dealbreaker, but we do hope that Acer reconsiders the keyboard dock as it designs the inevitable follow-up product. After all, for a portable device like this, less would almost certainly be more.

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Acer Iconia W700 review: a Core i5 Windows 8 slate that doesn't skimp on battery life