Acer Iconia W4 review

The Acer Iconia W4 is the company's latest stab at a Windows 8 tablet. It's a step up from the earlier W3 model thanks to Intel Bay Trail Atom processor innards and a higher resolution 8.1-inch display. That's Windows 8.1 in an 8.1-inch tablet - it sounds like it was meant to be. But is it a match made in heaven?

If you're looking for a Windows 8 tablet then you've probably already spotted that it's slim pickings at this size point. The W4 should sits alongside the Dell Venue Pro 8, Toshiba Encore and Lenovo Miix 2 tablets in the battle to be the best.  Can Acer take the crown in the portable, powerful and affordable Windows category?

The Atom age

Processing power in the Acer Iconia W4 is interesting. On powering up the tablet there's no sign of lag as it takes you right into the business end of Windows 8.1 within seconds. Equally, when flitting between apps using the intuitive swipe multitasking, speed was not an issue.

Only when it came to installing apps did the W4 start to struggle. To install four Acer apps, which inexplicably don't come already downloaded, took about three minutes - despite totalling only around 50MB all in.

While the Atom processor is running at 1.8GHz, which sounds like enough, the sacrifice made to eek out more power limits the performance. The result is a smooth user experience that falls down when anything processor intensive is needed. Not fun and not ideal on a tablet running full Windows 8.1 that, via an accessory keyboard, intends to be a laptop replacement product.

Web pages, on the other hand, load up faster than we've seen on any device - including computers and phones. When searching Pocket-lint using the tablet's native Bing search engine the page loaded so fast our digits felt chipolata-like in trying to keep up. The same can be said for taking photos - including processor-intensive panoramas - and scrolling the gallery instantly.

So if you want a tablet that responds quickly on day-to-day tasks, but that will demand more of your time for updates or intensive processing, the W4 has got the balance just so. It makes for a great web browser.

Perhaps most outstanding, though, is the battery life. Acer has managed to balance battery size and power consumption perfectly so the Iconia W4 easily manages a good 8 hours of use, with 10 possible depending on what you're doing.

We were concerned that the Windows 8.1 InstantGo feature - which helps your PC wake from sleep with your applications and data already up to date - would chew through battery life by keeping apps updated, staying online even when the device is on standby. But it didn't appear to be an issue which is great.

Full Windows 8.1, on that screen

An 8.1-inch screen might sound a little pokey for a full Windows experience, but we've already seen plenty of Android tablets delivered at 7-inches and find the slightly larger size from Acer works well. Sure, pop-up windows with a small cross in the corner are a bit fiddly to close, but a stab in the rough area seems to work every time. Even if it can be a strain on the eyes.

This may have something to do with Acer's Zero Air Gap technology. This tech is built into the W4 to remove air between the touch panel and the LCD module to help reduce reflection and boost readability in sunlight. While we agree the image is clear and well balanced no matter the light, it certainly isn't free from reflections. Photographing this device made it clear just how reflective it was - we've been tilting and turning it through various angles to avoid our reflections appearing on the screen.

In general the W4's 1280 x 800 resolution IPS display is a huge improvement over the W3, especially the 170-degree viewing angle. It does mean everyone around you can see what you're doing, so no peeking at less savoury images on the train. However, with 1920 x 1080 screens starting to appear in all devices, even far smaller phones and 7-inch tablets such as the Nexus 7 (2013), it could still improve further. But at this price we're not complaining.

Built for the job

At first glance the Iconia W4 is a sleek tablet, with a strong metal screen edge, well defined buttons and a grey metallic shell. Once picked up it's clear the weight to quality-material ratio has leaned towards lightness. The shell is plastic yet it still feels solid enough, but we're not big fans of the finish and how it sits against the metal and glass. The protruding grey plastic edge features a raised Windows Start button that adds a physical edge - it offers a way back to the tile screen no matter how deep into Windows 8.1 and its apps you may find yourself.

The W4's bezel might be a little thick for some but in actual use it proves helpful for holding the tablet. The W4 is extremely well weighted. As you pick it up there's certainly a heft there at 415g but once it's upright, or landscape, the balance across the slate sits it comfortably in your hand even over long periods. And that slightly thicker 10.75mm body is well rounded so it spreads the pressure on your hands.

Connectivity is as you would expect with micro HDMI out, microSD card expansion, a 3.5mm headphone socket and micro USB charging port. The stereo speakers at the bottom of the slate are unobtrusive but still pack a punch despite their placement.

Cameras on tablets are more of an extra for those just-in-case situations. But people are increasingly using them as to snap shots and it's easy to share directly from the tablet. That's probably why Acer has decided to pack in 5-megapixel and 2-megapixel cameras, the former which can shoot 1080p video at 30fps or 720p video at 60fps. Useful for Skype and whatever else you may happen to do.

Storage onboard and beyond

While the 32GB Acer Iconia W4 comes with 28.5GB registered as useable on the SSD, once we were up and running it showed 14.6GB of actual free space for use. Ouch. There is a "64GB" variant also available should you want more core storage capacity, while a microSD slot means up to an additional 64GB can be slotted in for relatively little cost.

The integration of Sky Drive also makes storage and sharing of images simple while not filling up your local drive thanks to its 7GB of cloud storage. There is also Acer Remote Files software that can connect up to your PC for added storage - so long as you have the wireless connection to access the files.

Verdict

The Acer Iconia W4 is a very capable 8.1-inch Windows 8.1 tablet, especially for the price. For an all-day-use Windows tablet that's portable but still offers plenty of apps and a good screen the W4 is spot on.

If you're hoping to replace your laptop with an affordable tablet then this might not meet the needs of power users. It delivers everything the day-to-day user could want, although - and despite full Windows 8.1 - it doesn't feel like a powerful enough contender to replace a laptop. But with accessories like the Crunch Keyboard case it could handle most of your work needs as Microsoft Office Home & Student 2013 is included.

Competition is stiff from Android and Apple tablet offerings, though, and Acer lacks that truly premium finish. Still, for the price the W4 punches above its category weight. We like.



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