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Summary:

Acer’s Iconia W3 is the second coming of Ultra Mobile PCs, only this time, there’s a touch-friendly user interface. The Windows 8 desktop is still the biggest challenge on a small slate; perhaps Microsoft should offer a “Metro”-only license?

Iconia W3 with keyboard

Folks looking for a Windows 8 companion can find it in Acer’s Iconia W3, an 8.1-inch tablet running Microsoft’s operating system. The Iconia W3, spotted on Acer’s Finland site by SlashGear, doesn’t appear to have a confirmed price tag or availability just yet.

Iconia W3 landscapeWhile Microsoft Windows 8 tablets have generally been sized at 10.1-inches or larger, the company is rumored to be working on a smaller Surface tablet. That would mean it relaxed the hardware requirements an allow for a device such as the W3, which will offer an optional keyboard to help with text input. Will the market support these smaller slates?

I’m not sold on the full Windows 8 Pro experience on such a small device. Yes, the formerly-known-as-Metro touch interface should be fine — quite good, in fact — on the Iconia W3; after all, the same design is great on smaller screens using Windows Phone 8. The bigger challenge is the Windows desktop and legacy app support, which is one of the three major points Acer calls attention to: “The Iconia W3 comes with Microsoft Office so you can edit Word, Excel and PowerPoint docs on the go,” for example.

With the 1280 x 768 resolution, running Office and other apps designed for Windows will present a challenge to most. The smaller screen and relatively lower resolution means smaller touch points, for starters. For maximum productivity in the desktop environment, a mouse will be the better option because the Windows 8 Desktop environment is similar to the Windows desktops of yesterday. Simply put, while Metro has evolved for touch and smaller screens, the Windows desktop hasn’t.

windows-7-samsung-umpcI could be wrong about this, but I do have a few years of experience that tells me it’s not likely. I used 7-inch touchscreen tablets running Windows XP and 7 on several UMPCs, often as a full-time computing device.

It took a ton of patience to make the systems work because apps weren’t designed to fit and run on them. These were the precursors to netbooks, and to a degree that’s what the Iconia W3 reminds me of: A cross between a modern UMPC and a netbook. Like those devices, Acer is using an Intel Atom to power the W3.

I’m sure to hear contrary opinions on this, but what would make the W3 more appealing would be for the tablet to run only the Metro interface and apps. (Ironically, none of the W3 product images even show the desktop, which I think is telling.) Of course, Microsoft doesn’t offer a Windows 8 license with just that part of the platform. I wish it did and did so at a reduced price since one would give up access to legacy Windows apps. In that case, and at the right price, I’d be far more interested in the W3.

Sure, one could buy the device and simply ignore the desktop completely. But you’re paying for it in the product price, which includes the cost of a Windows 8 Pro license. If Microsoft wants to allow partners to make small tablets, a better strategy would be to go Metro only at a lower license cost and truly embrace the touchscreen tablet market.

  1. I believe Microsoft is selling the license for small screens at a much cheaper price than normally for OEMs, which means that you are basically getting the Desktop for free…

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  2. windows RT is metro only windows.

    are you suggesting there should be an intel version of RT?

    i sometimes wonder if that is Microsoft ultimate plan but they wanted to test the waters on ARM first so they are not accused of ‘crippling’ windows.

    of course no one is forced to open the desktop, people are fre to buy these tablets and use them as metro only devices.

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    1. “windows RT is metro only windows.”

      Not quite. It has the desktop too, but (and even worse IMO) is that it is limited: You can’t install apps there at all. It simply exists for Office. Why not make a true consumer-friendly Windows tablet that uses Metro only instead of RT’s kludgy desktop solution? And I’d be happy if that Metro only device ran on an Atom if it was priced right.

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  3. S. Kyle Davis Monday, May 20, 2013

    The real point, I think, is that you can attach an external monitor. Recreational use when you want a small eReader, but with the versatility and plugin support of “real Windows.” That said, applications like Word will work fine on a lower screen size, especially with Office 2013 in touch mode.

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  4. Considering I’m 1 of those people who constantly dock/undock my laptop I am really looking forward to this device. The clamshell formfactor has never been good for portability since you can’t really use it while vertical. Using Windows on sub 10″ screens doesn’t really bother me since I fullscreen almost all of my programs anyways.

    I still probably wont buy this device though until the Baytrail & 8.1 update.

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  5. Scott Covington Tuesday, May 21, 2013

    “I’m not sold on the full Windows 8 Pro experience on such a small device”
    Nor should you be. Thats what HDMI ports are for. To plug this powerfull–little–thing into a bigger screen when you need it. Thats also what USB3.0 is fo…to stick a hub into which has your mouse, your keyboard, alternate HDMIs for a third–or frankly second monitor since the main device is so small.

    The tablet as a portable PC should not be viewed as a laptop replacment. It should be seen as a desktop killer/competition for ipad and andorid tablets.

    If M$ and vendors can build devices small enough to compete in the tablet market but with most of the power and usefulness of an All-in-One PC then they’ll really have something people wanna buy.

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    1. You have that backwards. Tablets will never become a desktop replacement. They are competition for notebooks.

      Attaching a tablet to a large tv, it then loses what few benefits it has. You still have to deal with the tiny screen.

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  6. @Scott I couldn’t agree more. We are still in the transitional devices phase and I hope some incarnations/ideas don’t die on the vine.
    Until the Intel Atom(2?) comes out and the other competitive performance level processors with high resolution screens and multiple input options are honed…it’s going to besacrifice something for something else devices.
    We need fully functional replacement devices in tablet sizes. or multibooting devices able to take advantage of each tablet os particular advantages. Windows for office, android for some apps.

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  7. 8 inch screen will be perfectly useable with an electromagnetic inductin pen. I used OQO with 5 inch screen and Motion LS800 with 8.4 inch screen with little problems. However, I don’t hear a mention of a stylus with W3.

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