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Can a Solid Windows 8 'Mini' Shake Up the Tablet Market?

Microsoft has hinted for some time that it expects demand for Windows 8 and Windows RT to accelerate with the release of smaller tablets aimed at competing with the iPad Mini, Samsung Galaxy Tab, Amazon Kindle Fire and others.

The topic came up on Microsoft's earnings call last week, and CFO Amy Hood gave a plug for the new smaller Windows tablets in the pipeline that has driven robust sales of competing tablets. I for one am curious if that means Microsoft is readying a Surface device that will take on the smaller tablets and, if so, whether it will include just Windows RT or a full-blown version of Windows 8. A competitively priced "Surface Mini" could be pretty remarkable if it has the right feature set.

So far the most prominent example of what a miniature Windows tablet might look like is the recently released Acer Iconia W3, an 8.1-inch tablet that runs the full-blown Windows 8. It's bundled with a free copy of Office Home and Student 2013 (sans the Outlook client), weighs just 1.1 pounds and is slightly less than a half-inch thin. Battery life is eight hours and an optional keyboard is available. It can fit nicely into a purse or jacket pocket.

I took a brief look at the Iconia W3 over the weekend at the Microsoft Store where sales reps were plugging the device. While I spent some time using it in the store, more extensive reviews suggest while it's a good concept, it misses the mark. A Wall Street Journal review published today by columnist Walt Mossberg captured what I've observed.

Although Mossberg pointed to some advantages the Iconia W3 offers over the iPad Mini, notably Office, an SD card slot, USB and HDMI ports and better resolution (1280 x 800 versus 1024 x 768), he concluded those collective extras aren't enough to make Acer's device a superior alternative.

"Overall, I found it to be no match for the iPad Mini," he said. "Compared with the smallest iPad, the Acer features cheaper, bulkier construction; a worse-looking, slower-responding screen; significantly less battery life; and drastically worse cameras. And it's Wi-Fi only, with no cellular data option."

If you're among those who feel Mossberg's reviews are too consumer focused, keep in mind if this form factor catches on, your organization will ultimately be supporting them in this new era of bring your own device (BYOD). The Iconia W3 also failed to impress PC Magazine reviewer Brian Westover either, who found it performed poorly.

Nor did the Iconia excite someone I know who spent considerable time with it and found it frustrating, especially the display, which he described as "pretty much unusable" in that reading Web pages was "difficult to the point of being painful... I thought mine was defective, only to learn that the W3 was designed to look this way."

It wasn't all bad, he said, noting it is easy to handle with one hand, offers a responsive touch-UI and he likes the extra IO. But all of that is negated by the poor display, he concluded.

The fact that Acer has already slashed the price from $380 to $300 after less than two months on the market may suggest it has received a less-than-stellar reception, Mossberg suggested.

If Acer and other OEMs -- and Microsoft itself -- are able to release $300 tablets that fix these shortcomings, would you pick one over an iPad Mini, an Android tablet or a Kindle Fire? Share your thoughts below or drop me a line at [email protected].

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 07/24/2013 at 1:15 PM


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