My 2 weeks with an Acer Iconia W700 & W8 -long

When I got the Acer Iconia W700, it was out of necessity. I had been carrying around an HP Envy 17 to and from work for the last 2 years and developed severe back and feet pains. It’s heavy in a bag and it’s incredibly large to be carrying around. I had also spent north of $600 on quality bags that kept breaking due to the weight, so the time was now to get something more portable.

I had waited months and apart from a few rebadged laptops installed with windows 8, only the Iconia was available. It was also close to 30% cheaper than its nearest rival. It lacks an sd card reader and it lacks the technology to use pressure sensitive pen input, but I can live without those.

For context, I am a designer/marketing manager and my needs in my current company are quite exceptional by company standards. While my company did its best to provide me what I needed, it still wasn’t powerful enough for my full duties which include but are not limited to; Web design/development, print design at 300 dpi, data analysis, photogrsphy, massive amounts of EDM’s, and more on top of my daily MS Office usage.

I needed a second computer that I could carry around because a lot of what I do is also from home.

Now that we have the context out there, how did the Iconia W700 perform for me and how was windows 8 Pro for my usage.

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via i.imgur.com

In 2 weeks, this is what came of it.

1. It took me 2 days to come to grips with the not-metro UI. It is, like any new learning experience, a little painful and a little clumsy. That said, it has now become second nature (by the 4th day).

2. The new metro style multitasking took, me about 3 days before I could automatically switch in and out without thinking about it. Desktop still provides full windows multitasking, and to be honest, you could live here almost entirely if you set everything up right, which takes 10 minutes.

3. I was prepared for a slow, compromised experience. Surely no ultrabook could replace my. Envy 17 for photoshop and InDesign. The Iconia not only took everything I threw at it but also was much faster due to the ssd. My Envy 17 has 2 standard HDD of 2TB; storage over performance. That said, photoshop had some hiccups with redraws but that was easily solved by going into settings and allocating 75% ram usage to the program. It seems windows 8 is lightweight enough that even with 75% of ram taken up, it still performed smoothly.

4. Battery life is fantasic. Acer claims 9 hours but real world usage is probably 6 to 7 hours. Synthetic tests will probably net 5+ hours. Suffice to say, battery hasn’t been an issue. Note that I do carry around the power supply (compact, nice) and you honestly don’t want to be photoshopping on battery for extended periods.

5. I was able to give my Smartphone a battery boost during my outside use during the day and still have plenty left.

6. I was able to use it for my photography using a small usb card reader and make edits on the spot. I could do none of these on my galaxy tabs.

7. I was able to create, test, send edm’s via outlook. I previously could not do these with any. Of the other tablets. They were mostly all text affairs with some images. Alignment, branding etc, was simply not possible on my galaxytab.

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via i.imgur.com

HOW DID I USE IT ON A DAILY BASIS?

I would say, 75% of my time is spent in photoshop with occasional Illustrator and InDesign use. The rest of my time is spent in Office 2013 preview (which I shall be purchasing once available because it’s definitely their best yet).

On certain days, I spend more time in Office depending on my duties/projects.

Can you see where I’m going at here? Most of my time is spent in desktop mode using legacy applications. There are some metro apps which I use regularly because of their performance, like Reader and the photo application. I also use Toolbox app and the music player as my sidebar window. Works exceptionally well with this split screen use while still allowing me full desktop multitasking. Once you get past the 2 different use paradigms, it becomes very easy to use and a very powerful tool.

For example, converter and calculator in the metro side bar on the left while I’m in desktop doing reporting on the right in Office and other 3rd party apps. I have found that once you get past the mental hurdle, it is much better in use than windows 7. Incidentally, once you open a metro sidebar, the main window takes on an aspect ratio of 4:3; you can begin to appreciate why 16:9 is the preferred aspect ratio for Windows 8.

When I am not at the desk or out of the office/house, I simply close the book cover and I’m off using the metro interface as my main UI. I may or may not leave the MS keyboard out of my bag and to be honest, it is small enough that it really doesn’t make any appreciable difference if I do carry it. I also have the Bluetooth keyboard for the dock that I can opt to bring around. That is a full sized keyboard and much more comfortable to type on than the MS keyboard, which tends to be a little cramped – though it works very well otherwise.

In all, though the Acer wasn’t my preferred device prior to the purchase, I believe that it ended up being the best solution for my work/use style. When I don’t need a laptop, the W700 doubles as a very power and capable tablet without the added bulk of a built in keyboard like the Dell or the exposed keys of the Lenovo Yoga.

I’m very happy with the hardware, build quality and general performance though there are a couple things you should know:

1. The Iconia W700 has wonky wifi drivers out of the box. It may give you limited connectivity or just not connect at all when other devices have no issues with the same access points. This happened in my home as well as my office wifi network. This is easily solved by going to the Acer website, downloading the wifi drivers and uninstalling and reinstalling the network adapter in Device Manager (from desktop). It works flawlessly after that.

2. I have the 64 GB variant as the 128 GB isn’t available in this part of the world. It’s very small indeed for such heavy lifting as Photoshop use. I get around this by using a USB 3.0 external HDD (2TB). Works flawlessly.

3. You will want a Bluetooth mouse for desktop app use. I have found – again-, in practice, that the desktop is easily navigated by touch alone. The ribbon was/is a revelation to that end. I repeat, the mouse is only required for desktop app usage.

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via i.imgur.com

So in the end, what do I end up carrying around: - The Acer in the book cover - MS Bluetooth keyboard - MS wireless mouse

While that may sound bothersome, it really isn’t. It’s still a very light, very compact solution that allows me to discard it for my weekend use as a pure tablet; by which time, I only carry the tablet in the supplied cover.

HEAT:
Is negligible. In extended use and carrying around, the W700 barely got warmer than my smartphone after extended use. It’s well controlled. You probably won’t even notice it. I believe the iPad gets warmer – the Acer has 2 machine drilled vents at the top edge that works very well to keep it cool.

NOISE:
Negligible. In a quiet room you may notice a barely audible swooshing (the internal cooling), but in practice, it’s not easily noticeable – this is using photoshop, mind you. When Intel stated they were very proud of the Iconia, now I know why. Most times you read these things, you pass it off as marketing/PR hogwash, but in this case, the Iconia W700 is a superb machine. If the MacBook Air ever became a full computing tablet, it would be the Acer Iconia.

Acer… can you believe it? I still can’t.

MY FINAL VERDICT:
The Iconia is everything I had dreamed of as a computing tablet when MS first proposed this idea many moons ago. It is now fully realised in this device. It’s not the perfect computing device but damned if it doesn’t come the closest to it. The only thing I can think of that would rival this is the Lenovo Thinkpad tablet and the Surface Pro. And I do believe the Surface Pro may end up being the most ideal solution with the included typecover – I have used the typecover and it is excellent!

Final Note:
This was typed out in full at a coffee shop in about an hour in MS Word 2013 Preview. All supplied pictures were edited in situ on the device itself using photoshop CS6, shot with a Sony NEX 7 with the Carl Zeiss 24mm f1.8 – excellent piece of kit by the way.

By the way, what may not be readily known is that Windows 8 remembers the state of your app when you last closed it. Yes, even in desktop. For example, opening photoshop, it opened all my last opened pictures in the state I had them in before I exited the application. I did not save my work so Win 8 took it to mean that it was an unintended closure and saved the state. Superb!