Some tablets like the Nexus 7 pride themselves on being small enough to slide into a smart suit jacket pocket and remain unnoticed until they're needed. Others, however, come in big, hulking forms that require backpacks, not pockets, for carrying. The Acer Iconia W700 falls into the second category.
It's an 11.6-inch slab with a Full HD screen. It's chunky to make room for laptop components -- an Intel Core i3 processor and 4GB of RAM -- that makes it much more powerful than regular slates. It's running on the full version of Windows 8, rather than the tablet-specific RT version, meaning you can install any desktop software you want.
You'll also get a dock and a wireless keyboard to let you use it as a laptop on your desk. That lot will set you back £600.
Should I buy the Acer Iconia W700?
The W700 is quite a bit chunkier than tablets like the iPad, so if you want a slate for casual swiping fun, it's not the guy for you. That size is there for a reason though -- inside you'll find an Intel Core i3 processor and 4GB of RAM. It's more powerful than regular tablets, allowing you to tackle more demanding tasks that would usually be reserved only for laptops.
It comes with a desktop docking station too, increasing the number of USB ports. With a mouse plugged in and the included wireless keyboard, you can work on it as you would a normal laptop. That's not going to suit everyone of course, but if you're looking for a slate to work on that you can pick up to edit your documents on the bus, the W700 is a good option to consider.
For £600 though, you can snag yourself a more high-performance laptop. Samsung's Series 5 550P5C comes with a Core i5 chip and 6GB of RAM for £570, although you will be sacrificing a lot of portability. If you just want a slate to take advantage of Windows 8's live tiles and don't care much about speed, the Asus VivoTab Smart is delightfully slender, runs full Windows 8 and costs £400.
Design and build quality
The W700 is most aptly described as a slab, rather than a slate. At 295mm wide, 191mm deep and 11.1mm thick, it's considerably chunkier than tablets like the iPad and with a weight of 942g, it's a lot heavier too.
Compare it to laptops though -- even the super-light ultrabooks -- and it doesn't seem quite as cumbersome. It's easily small enough to slide into the more diminutive of shoulder bags and it's unlikely to seriously drag you down. It's wrapped in a metal alloy that feels firm and there's no annoying loose panelling.
It doesn't have quite the same solid premium feel of the iPad, but it doesn't feel as though it'll fall apart the first time you bump it against the table either. With its all-grey design and odd white strip on the back, it's not the most beautiful of tablets. If you're after a tablet that also wants to make an artistic statement, you should probably look elsewhere.
Around the edges you'll find one full-sized USB 3.0 port, a micro HDMI port, an auto-rotation lock switch, power and volume buttons and a 3.5mm headphone jack. On the front you'll spy a physical Windows home button. There's sadly no SD card slot to increase the internal storage.
You'll find two camera as well. One on the front for video calling over Skype and one on the back for showing your friends and family what you're eating or what your cat is up to.
Dock and keyboard
The W700 comes with a combine stand and dock. It's essentially a cradle, with an L-shaped front edge that keeps the tablet securely in place. Pop the tablet into the ridge, and slide it along until the USB and power connectors slide into the tablet's ports. It bumps up the single USB port on the slate to three USB 3.0 ports, making it particularly handy on your desk when you want to use a mouse or external hard drive.
The stand itself isn't very nice though. It's constructed entirely out of plastic which both looks and feels extremely cheap. The kickstand is simple an angled piece of plastic that you have to slot into the back. I didn't get the impression it would easily break, but it did feel more like I was playing with a child's construction toy than a professional piece of office equipment.
Depending on the model you buy, you'll also get a wireless keyboard. It pairs in the same way any other keyboard does and has a design that's very reminiscent of Apple's wireless keyboard. The touchscreen tablet might be great for consuming all the media you want, but the dock, keyboard and a mouse turns it into a fully-functioning desktop PC. You have the added benefit of course of being able to take the slate with you to check through your work on the bus.
The Iconia W700's 11.6-inch display has a 1,920x1,080-pixel resolution, making it Full HD. That's a whole lot of pixels to cram into a relatively small space, and certainly more than some of its rivals offer. Both Dell's XPS 10 and the Asus VivoTab Smart offer lesser 1,366x768-pixel displays, although do have slightly smaller price tags.
Given the vast number of pixels, it's no surprise that the screen is delightfully sharp. Tiny text on Web pages was extremely crisp, making reading for longer periods a mite more comfortable. There was no unsightly blurred edges around any of the icons either. It also means it's great for viewing and editing high-resolution photos as well as playing back Full HD movies.
Better yet, it offers great colours and contrast. If you're something of a movie buff then rest assured that this display is well up to the task of showing off your film collection at its best.
The high resolution isn't such a bonus when you jump into desktop mode though, as all icons, windows and text are made rather small and a little awkward to read. The editing sliders in Adobe Lightroom 4 were quite fiddly to use so it's essential to use a mouse and keyboard when you're working in desktop mode.
Power and performance
Inside that hulking silver chassis is an Intel Core i3-2365M processor clocked at 1.4GHz with 4GB of RAM. The processor is a little disappointing as it's not particularly fast and it's from Intel's previous generation of processors codenamed Sandy Bridge, rather than the more recent Ivy Bridge models.
It's a real shame to see Acer still flogging outdated components in its new kit -- it did the same with its Aspire V5 laptop. The older processors don't have the same graphics grunt and are more power hungry, but should still be able to deliver a decent level of speed.
On the Geekbench test, the W700 achieved a score of 3,791 which matches the V5 -- hardly surprising considering their identical internal components. It's far below machines like the Asus Zenbook U500 which clocked up over 12,000, but it's a lot cheaper and comes in a much smaller, more portable tablet form. The iPad-sized Asus VivoTab Smart managed a much more modest 1,404 on the same test.
In general use I found it to be perfectly competent. Start-up times were quick, and swiping around the Windows 8 interface was swift and free of annoying lag. Heavy multi-tabbed Web browsing was handled with ease and I was able to flick through open tabs without delay -- even when the tabs were streaming high-definition video.
Tasks like Web browsing, social networking using Windows 8's various hubs and playing back video files were tackled competently, but it also turns its hands fairly well to more intense jobs. Editing photos in Adobe Lightroom 4 was mostly smooth, but exporting large image files took up to 8 seconds per photo -- something that's sure to slow down the hardcore users.
Encoding my 1,080p video file into 24fps H.264 took around 24 minutes which is far from speedy, but I've seen worse.
The Iconia W700 might be a lot chunkier than slates like the Asus VivoTab Smart, but it offers plenty of stuff to make up for it. Its Full HD screen is great for photos and movies and its Intel Core i3 processor gives enough juice for all everyday tasks.
Its unwieldy size means it won't be for the casual tablet fan, but its dock, multiple USB ports and wireless keyboard make it a good option for those of you wanting a Windows 8 slate to function as a regular laptop.
If you do just want a normal laptop though then bear in mind that £600 can snag you a much higher-performance system, with or without touchscreen. Lenovo's U310 laptop packs a more recent Core i3 processor with 6GB of RAM and comes in at £500.