Not quite a tablet, a desktop PC, a laptop, or a convertible, the Windows 8-running Acer Iconia W700 occupies a strange netherworld among all of those form factors. It's a bold experiment in design and a sign of how Windows 8 can inspire intriguing new ways for a computing device to be packaged. However, it's also an awkward device to work with.
The tablet part of the Acer Iconia W700, with its lightweight aluminum body, is a little thicker than some other tablets and a bit heavier, but not to the point where it seems clunky or unmanageable. That said, unlike other tablets, it doesn't taper its Gorilla Glass front around the rim of the device -- the edges are metal all around and a bit sharper than I expected. I'd prefer that over it feeling cheap or brittle, though. A professional SKU for the W700, the W700P, is also available. It comes with an extended two-year warranty and Windows 8 Professional but the exact same hardware configuration.
Acer Iconia W700: dock and keyboard
It's the dock and keyboard for the Acer Iconia W700 that leave it a mixed bag. The dock (Acer calls it "cradle") supplies power to the unit, but also works as a viewing stand, and it can be oriented either horizontally or vertically. This is done by sliding a kickstand, a solid piece of L-shaped plastic, into the back of the dock. The stand is reasonably sturdy, but because it's all one piece, there's no way to adjust the viewing angle for the screen. This is a major disadvantage -- the default viewing angle wasn't comfortable at all.
I tried to make up for this by moving the whole unit farther away, but that didn't help. It only made the smaller elements on the 11.6-inch, 1,920-by-1,080 display all the harder to read. I'm pleased that a full HD display is provided on the W700, but you'll want to do yourself a favor and raise the dot pitch of Windows's visual elements; otherwise, you'll be squinting at the contents of every dialog box. Even the big, bold text in the Modern UI side of Windows 8 becomes a blur-fest at that resolution.
Don't count on using the included Bluetooth keyboard with the W700 if you're traveling. It doesn't attach to the unit in any form -- it's a completely freestanding piece of hardware. You don't need the dock to have the keyboard work with the W700, but juggling both keyboard and display on one's lap is a hopeless endeavor without any simple way to gang them together. The Bluetooth keyboard doesn't even include dedicated F keys, but its Fn key lets you access those and a slew of Windows 8-specific hotkeys (charms, sharing, search), which is handy. While the included stitched-leather carrying case does let you prop up the W700 at a variety of angles, it doesn't include an easy way to tote the keyboard.
I'm not enamoured of how, even after all this time, PC makers still preload their systems with software that no one uses. Acer's systems are particularly bad in this respect, so be sure to set aside some time to sponge things down and make a full-scale backup afterward. Among the inclusions: the McAfee Internet Security suite, a trial edition of Microsoft Office 2010, Spotify, and the Acer Ring. The last is a full-screen application launcher and media management tool with an interface that's even more baffling and counterintuitive than Windows 8's Modern UI. In some cases, Acer Ring and the Modern UI conflict directly.
I did appreciate the presence of a live update package from Acer that scanned the system for driver or firmware revisions. It's one fewer task for you, and right after I uncrated the W700, it found an update for the Intel video driver -- probably the OEM component that'll get the most software refreshes, come to think of it. The W700 also did well in my Netflix playback test, racking up 3 hours, 20 minutes on the most power-conservative battery setting.