Acer_Iconia_W8a

I have owned the Surface RT since launch, but admittedly have not used it as much as I would like. There are a few things that have been holding me back;

– Key apps in the Windows Store have not materialized, like Weave and Tapatalk, to make this my primary device for daily consumption and interaction with the blogging world.

– While the Surface is a sturdy tablet (I do believe it can survive being run over) it is a bit unwieldy to hold in one hand while browsing on the couch, or even sit on a counter next to my morning cup of java.

– Connected Standby appears to drain my battery quickly, so almost every time I think of using my Surface I have to “wait” to charge the battery. After some internal discussions it appears this is a bug of sorts that does not affect every Surface RT. Hopefully Win 8.1 will correct it, although it may be a hardware issue, which would be disappointing.

– RT – Enough said

That last point it what has nagged me the most more recently. While I understand the concept of RT, it simply doesn’t play well in many situations in today’s world. More and more, I am finding things that I would like to do but can’t, due to RTs limitations. It was time to look for an alternative.

 

While there are several 10” Windows tablets out there running full Win 8, most would still lose out due to my second concern above. I decided to give the Acer W8 a try; the only 8” Win 8 tablet available today. This is not a review of the W8. You can find plenty of those searching Bing. Instead, I wanted to share what I find most useful in this tiny tablet. But let’s get the Pros and Cons out of the way.

Cons

– The Active Matrix TFT Color LCD screen leaves a bit to be desired. While text is easy to read even for my old and tired eyes, you are sometimes reminded that you are viewing an LCD screen.

– 32GB is simply not enough memory for a Win 8 tablet. Sure, you can drop in a micro-SD (which I have already done) for media, but the OS and programs need to run from C. I know this is a price point thing, but unless you really plan on limiting your usage, expect to run out of memory long before you wear out the device. Think I had 10-11GB available before I started installing programs and applications. Now I am down to 8GB. I would definitely recommend the 64GB version for anyone thinking of picking up the W8.

– Charging takes forever. Not sure if this is to protect the battery circuitry, but it takes 4+ hours to fully charge the device. It seems to get up to 40-50% quickly, but then slows after that. Not a problem though if you plug in overnight.

Pros

– Battery life is fantastic. Connected Standby drains a few percent per day. I am on my seventh day with moderate to heavy usage, and have only (fully) charged the device twice.

– The form factor seems perfect in my hand. The weight difference (1.1lb for the W8 vs. 1.5lb for the Surface RT) is not that significant, but the 8.5” wide vs. 11” is. It’s easier to balance the W8 in one hand while tapping with the other. And using the on-screen keyboard, especially in portrait mode (5.25” vs. 6.75”) is much more natural.

– Office Home & Student 2013 is included.

– I can load any program I choose.

– $249

 

With the W8 I have decided to go completely keyboard and pointing device free. I have tried that with the Surface, but have resorted to snapping on a keyboard or plugging in my wireless mouse more often than not. While using the device from the Start screen, along with Modern apps, is a breeze, working within the desktop and programs (pinch to zoom please) can be a challenge. But honestly for every frustrating moment I have encountered, I have had several “that was cool” moments. As on my other Win 8 devices, I have setup my “sort of” Start Menu, along with a few shortcuts, like; Desktop, Windows Switcher, Windows Mobility Center and the On-Screen Keyboard. I have also installed Adobe Reader and the Desktop Companion for Sky Wallet, a Windows Phone application that syncs across devices through the Cloud. I am still missing some of those apps mentioned above, but I find the W8 easier to handle and navigate, whether laying flat on a counter or while sitting on the sofa. I can understand why those 7’-8” Android tablets, the Kindle Fire and iPad Mini have become so popular. I see myself using this device around the house as much or more than I currently use my Nokia phone. It just seems to be the right size, at least for me.

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But my real “Me Moment” came when I was able to install Microsoft Access 2010 Runtime on the W8. Access Runtime is a free program offered by Microsoft (think Office Viewers on steroids) that allows users to navigate, enter data and print reports in an Access database application. Basically, Runtime is a full blown version of Access, with component creation (tables, forms, reports, etc.) disabled. Having complex Access applications running on an 8” tablet is a real treat for me, an Access developer for more than 15 years. And not something you can ever hope to do on an RT tablet.  Sure, you can create some database scenarios with iPads and even Android tablets. But they are all limiting and require some kind of bridge to move data in and out of tables. Your imagination is the only limit when running full Windows. I am not suggesting that an 8” Windows 8 tablet would be ideal for creating Access applications, developing Excel spreadsheets, or creating/editing PowerPoint presentations (although it could). I am suggesting though that a Windows 8 tablet is the best device for viewing and using these applications, with files that were created on a big screen machine.

I am employed by a company who has commissioned sales reps who do in-home sales. So, they provide their own hardware to make use of our presentations, videos, calculator tools, etc. They show up at training with a menagerie of devices; iPads, Android tablets, MacBooks and laptops, typically HP or Toshiba,  that take 5 minutes to boot and won’t turn on unless they are plugged into a wall socket. It’s my challenge to get our stuff onto their devices. Needless to say, running things like; full Power Point presentations with imbedded GIF animation and videos, Excel templates, and of course, Access applications, are off the table for all but the last category of devices. But even those old broken down laptops need an Office license to use (not view) PowerPoint and Excel, And generally the license is worth more than the laptop. So I resort to something that everyone can use, Adobe Reader and hopefully a way for all of them to view MP4 video. Very frustrating indeed.

The W8 is my “proof of concept” device to show management that a low cost Windows tablet can provide these sales reps with a full arsenal of eye catching tools to help with their schmoozing. Working on a way to rent to buy, or some other way to get these little powerhouses into their hands. That would be a win-win for everyone. I do believe that these 8” – 10” Windows tablets are going to change the way people do business.Second case in point. We are doing a show this weekend and I was tasked with creating an Access application to collect registration information and create an interactive show followed by a quiz so participants can earn tokens that they use to purchase snacks, or earn more tokens via a bank of slots machines, for even bigger prizes. Pretty exciting stuff. We built a kiosk and tucked a PC underneath with a monitor and keyboard up top. But I demonstrated how the W8 could be used to collect registration data. The company may just have a couple before the next show.

I am not suggesting that you run out and buy the Acer Iconia W8, as there are sure to be a slew of 8” Win 8 tablet options available in the coming months. But if you have a specific business need today, or you are thinking of picking up a tablet in the 7”-8” form factor, the W8 is worth you consideration.

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