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The Acer Iconia W3 features a murky screen and a corpulent but comfortable build (hands-on)

At the 2013 Computex show in Taiwan, CNET checks out Acer's new Iconia W3 tablet.

The Acer Iconia W3 attached to its keyboard accessory. Well, maybe not attached. More like resting precariously on top of. Eric Franklin/CNET

Acer is attempting to differentiate itself in the highly competitive tablet market with its new Iconia W3. The company says the tablet, which debuted at the 2013 Computex show, delivers desktop PC capabilities and is the first 8.1-inch tablet running Windows 8.1 Preview. In a nutshell, the W3 is compatible with all current Windows software, including productivity tools like the bundled Microsoft Office Home & Student 2013 suite.

Powered by the latest Intel Atom Z2760 CPU, the W3 has a long 8-hour battery life that you'll be able to extend using a "Connected Standby" mode. This allows you to switch off the screen to conserve power, while the device remains active to process apps in the background. Furthermore, Acer has developed a Bluetooth keyboard with a nifty docking function to go with the W3. It seems, however, that this docking feature (see the last picture below) is probably why it sports a rather unorthodox layout for its controls and ports.

Acer Iconia W3
The power button, Micro-USB port, and Micro-HDMI output are on the tablet's left side. Philip Wong/CNET

Even without the keyboard, the W3 seems to be designed for use horizontally based on the unusual positioning of the company name. As such, I'll describe the different parts of this tablet in its landscape orientation for the rest of this analysis.

The front is pretty bare just like most current tablets in the market, except for a 2-megapixel camera and a Windows button. On the rear is another camera with a similar resolution.

Up top is microSD card slot and volume controls. Philip Wong/CNET

On the left, you'll find a power button, a Micro-USB port, and a Micro-HDMI output. I noticed that the sockets are on top when I held the W3 vertically (in portrait mode). This could potentially be awkward if you have cables connected to the tablet while playing a game on a TV.

You should be able to swap microSD cards fairly easily through the top-mounted card slot. The two buttons next to the card reader are used for adjusting volume. At 11.35mm (0.45 inch) thick, the W3 is not as slim as the Samsung Galaxy Note 8, although its screen is marginally wider.

Acer Iconia W3
On the right side are the stereo speakers, earphone jack, and AC input. Philip Wong/CNET

The right side of the W3 tablet houses the stereo speakers, earphone jack, and AC input. Based on this layout design, it is possible to partially block the speakers when the tablet is held horizontally. The earphone plug also seems to get in the way and prevents a proper grip of the device.

What's really cool is the keyboard, which is modeled after Acer's 13.3-inch laptops for better comfort. Besides holding the tablet upright for reading/typing, you also can dock it securely with the tablet for easy transportation.

Acer Iconia W3
You can dock the Iconia W3 with its keyboard when on the go. Philip Wong/CNET

A nifty keyboard and the ability to run Windows software are the main selling points for the Acer Iconia W3, but its design could have been better. In some ways, it appears that the company has sacrificed design ergonomics by reshuffling all the ports and controls just to accommodate the keyboard. Also, take note that this tablet does not support 3G or other mobile broadband connectivity.

The Iconia W3 has one of the most visually confining screens I've seen recently. Sure, it features a decently high 1,280x800 resolution, but its narrow viewing angles mean image integrity collapses when you’re not looking directly at the screen. Colors warp and text becomes much more difficult to interpret when not looking straight-on. The screen however was responsive, reacting immediately to swipes and seemed to load apps just as fast as the Surface Pro.

The 7.9-inch tablets like the iPad Mini and Galaxy Note 8 betray their larger-than-usual screens with weights that top out well under a pound -- 0.68 for the iPad and 0.74 for the Note 8. The W3 weighs 1.10 pounds and its surplus of girth is immediately palpable. That is to say: for an 8.1-inch tablet it feels heavy and is noticeably thicker than either aforementioned tablet.

Having said that, the W3's smooth round corners take some of the sting out of its generous weight. It’s also rare to see tablet edges aligned with as many physical ports as the W3 has without some of them feeling sharp and uncomfortable. However, the W3 delivers seamless, well-designed ports that are surprisingly pleasant-feeling. That’s a small but impactful detail that really makes a difference in the tablet’s overall comfort.

The Windows home button is responsive and depresses quickly, but is a bit small for my large fingers and I couldn’t always get my thumb to depress it fully and instead had to make use of my admittedly long fingernails.

The W3’s bluetooth keyboard accessory has an 8-inch long cavity on its underside which the W3 fits perfectly into. There’s also a slot on top of the keyboard where the tablet can rest. It doesn't actually lock-in however and will easily fall out if you tilt the keyboard forward.

Keyboard buttons are well-spaced, pleasantly soft, and springy. Aside from a number pad, it includes every key you’d expect to see. There are unfortunately no ports on the keyboard.

The W3 tablet is priced at $379.99 for the 32GB model and $429.99 for the 64GB model. As one of the first small tablet form factors running Windows 8.1, it does little to encourage excitement. Look for a full review soon.

Editors' note: This review was updated on 6/26/2013 with hands-on impressions.

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