Performance and battery life
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.