Bad news for cynical tech bloggers, grenade-lobbing Internet trolls, and everyone else who’s been attacking Windows 8 for the sheer thrill of sport: I’ve been using a Windows 8 tablet for over a week now, and the experience has been a revelation.
Indeed, if you’ve been judging Windows 8 based on how well the RTM version works on a traditional desktop PC, you haven’t been privy to the full OS experience.
My tablet test model was a preproduction version of Acer’s W700, which Acer officially announced Thursday, promising a ship date of October 26 and prices starting at $799. Until I began using the W700, my Window 8 experience consisted of playing with the OS on a non-touch laptop, and spending a scant few minutes with it on random tablets and hybrids at press events. But now that I’ve devoted some serious quality time to the W700, I can report that the operating system breaks compelling new ground.
In fact, Windows 8 might even disrupt the mobile space if consumers deign to give Microsoft a fighting chance.
Interested? Intrigued? Maybe even a little frustrated or angry because Microsoft might actually be doing something right? First let me tell you about Acer’s new hardware, then I’ll get into the nitty-gritty of how Windows 8 performs as a tablet OS.
Despite all the hubbub over Windows 8 hybrids, my first extended Windows 8 experience comes from using a pure tablet device—albeit one with bundled accessories designed for laptop-like productivity.
The W700 boasts an 11.6-inch, 1920-by-1080-pixel display whose viewing quality ranks somewhere between that of the iPad 2 and that of the new iPad, due in part to the Acer tablet’s pixel density of 190 pixels per inch (versus 132 ppi for the the iPad 2 and 264 ppi for the new iPad). And with a 16:9 aspect ratio, the W700’s rich, vivid IPS display offers a generous expanse of screen real estate that’s perfect for 1080p video playback, and makes you think, “Hmm, it sure would be nice if my iPad’s screen extended this far horizontally.”
Our test model’s specs put it at the high end of the W700’s configuration range, with such Ultrabook-caliber components as a 1.7GHz Core i5 processor capable of turbo bursts of up to 2.6GHz; 4GB of memory; and a 128GB solid-state drive. This hardware profile runs a pricey $999, but that bitter brew might be easier to swallow if you consider the W700’s mission to deliver a tablet and a work PC in a single package.
Though the W700 doesn’t directly attach to a keyboard the way a newfangled hybrid would, it comes with a sturdy cradle that positions the tablet at a 70-degree angle, much like the screen of an open clamshell laptop. The bundle also includes a matching Bluetooth keyboard that never dropped a keystroke or exhibited any lag during multiple periods of extended typing.
Pair the cradled tablet with its keyboard buddy, and you have a serviceable Windows workstation. It’s by no means a perfect productivity system—more about that later—and, sure, many W700 owners will inevitably experience that “Doh!” moment when they discover they never packed the keyboard in their carry-on. Nonetheless, as a total package, the W700 offers much more productivity potential than any Android or Apple tablet.
I found the W700’s styling a bit too blingy. The tablet itself looked classy enough: It’s mostly touchscreen and aluminum unibody, so how flamboyant could it be? Still, I’m not a fan of the sparkly silver accents and stark, white plastic on the cradle and the keyboard. To its credit, the tablet exhibited no flex when I attempted to bend it in half (sorry, Acer, I had to try!), and the device’s overall build quality gave me confidence in its long-term durability.
At 0.47 inch thick, the W700 easily satisfies Intel’s Ultrabook spec (0.82 inch), but it’s a bit thicker than the new iPad (0.37 inch). At almost exactly 2.1 pounds, the W700 feels noticeably heavier than the new iPad (1.46 pounds), but the extra heft didn’t seem excessive, perhaps because the weight scales evenly with the extra screen real estate.
As far as data ports and other points of interest on the hardware slab, the W700 offers a bit more than most Android tablets, and much more than the iPad, including one full-size USB 3.0 port, a Micro HDMI port, and a headphone/speaker combo jack. The tablet’s 5-megapixel rear camera shoots 1080p video, while its front-facing camera (megapixel count not disclosed) shoots 720p. Unspectacular stereo speakers are located at the bottom of the device, and a physical Windows Start screen button sits smack dab in the middle of the lower bezel.
Maybe that button is there for people who’ll never get used to Windows 8’s new touch controls. I’m not one of these people.