The Acer Iconia W4 is the company’s second stab at a compact Windows 8.1 tablet, and hopes to make amends for last year’s disappointing Iconia W3. On paper, it does everything right: it has a faster Atom Bay Trail processor, a free copy of Microsoft Office and an upgraded display with a gleaming IPS panel. The cost-free copy of Office is a significant inclusion. Many road warriors and other less deskbound types, as well as regular folks just wanting a quality tool to use for docs, spreadsheets and presentations, could find that this alone sways them in favour of the Acer Iconia W4. To a degree, too, it’s also indicative of what’s required to wean some tablet users off Android or iOS.
The IPS display is a significant improvement on the Iconia W3’s washed-out TN panel. The 800 x 1280 resolution remains the same, but the wider viewing angles and vivacious colour reproduction are obvious from the start. If there’s a negative, it’s that the Acer’s vibrant image quality comes at the expense of colour accuracy, and in the Labs it narrowly failed to produce the full sRGB colour gamut. Otherwise, it’s a solid panel. We measured the Iconia W4’s LED backlight peaking at a brightness of 312cd/m², and it delivered a contrast ratio of 1030:1.
Display aside, the Iconia W4 is physically very similar to its predecessor. Thankfully, though,
it has abandoned the matte-white finish of the original model. The Iconia W4 looks better, thanks to a fake brushed-metal effect that covers the rear and softens into a matte grey around the edges and front. It still measures a chunky 11mm thick, but the rounded edges feel comfy in the hand and, at 415g, it’s 85g lighter than the Iconia W3. Build quality is good, too, and apart from a little flex in the back panel, this is a solid compact tablet that certainly feels every bit the well-made device that it is, and with premium materials to impart a sense of pride to owners.
Unlike Asus’ stylus-equipped VivoTab Note 8, the Iconia W4 relies on fingertips. Still, the touchscreen is responsive to flicking through web pages and navigating Windows. Some desktop applications can be fiddly to use, but it’s here that the modest screen resolution and Windows 8.1 scaling settings work together to provide sensibly sized icons and menus. We were also pleased to see that Acer has located the physical Windows button on the lower bezel – Asus’ VivoTab Note 8 has moved the Windows button to the tablet’s edge, and we found it far too easy to press by mistake.
Under the hood there have been some major changes. Acer has replaced the Iconia W3’s Intel Atom Z2760 with a 1.33GHz Atom Z3740 supported by 2GB of DDR3 RAM. The result is improved performance across the board and, when compared to Android and iOS tablets, Intel’s Bay Trail Atom delivers a serious kick in the SunSpider browser benchmark. While the Iconia W3 soared past much of the competition with a SunSpider result of 670ms, the Iconia W4 sped to a score of 430ms – more than a third faster. By way of comparison, the Apple iPad mini with Retina display finished the test in 418ms.
Performance in Windows is surprisingly strong for such a tiny device. Despite using the same CPU as the VivoTab Note 8, the Iconia W4’s Real World Benchmark score of 0.41 outstripped the VivoTab’s result of 0.35, thanks to the Acer’s nippier Samsung 32GB eMMC drive. In the CrystalDiskMark benchmark, the Acer achieved sequential read and write speeds of 161MB/sec and 53MB/sec, while the Asus’ Hynix HGB4E eMMC drive fell behind with 75MB/sec and 35MB/sec in the same tests.
The Acer’s battery is strong enough to keep it powering through a working day. In our looping video test with the screen set to 120cd/m2, the W4 managed 10hrs 33mins. The W4’s score in our light-use battery test was equally impressive. With the screen dimmed to 75cd/m2, the W4 lasted 12hrs 5mins, a comfortable 36 minutes longer than the VivoTab’s 11hrs 29mins.
The 32GB of eMMC storage is fairly cramped, but can be expanded via the microSD card slot on the tablet’s right side. Acer has spread the ports around more effectively than on the Iconia
W3, too. There’s a micro-USB port and 3.5mm headset jack and a micro-HDMI output. A video output is a welcome addition and gives the option of using the Iconia W4 as a desktop PC, with monitor and Bluetooth keyboard and mouse. An optional Acer Crunch keyboard is forthcoming, too, which combines a lightweight Bluetooth keyboard with a foldable stand for the tablet.
The Acer Iconia W4 is a huge improvement on its predecessor, largely thanks to the inclusion of an IPS screen and faster processor. It also narrowly beats the VivoTab Note 8 thanks to eMMC storage, improved battery life and additional video output. It lacks the Note 8’s stylus, but overall the Iconia W4 is one of the most persuasive Windows 8 tablets we’ve seen yet.