Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Acer Iconia W3 tablet improvement suggestions for Microsoft

A month ago I bought an Acer Iconia W3 tablet, because it had a number of features that made it interesting.
  • It was only $250.
  • It ran Windows 8.1 (which I wanted to know more about).
  • It came with a license for Microsoft Office.
  • I wanted to see how it would handle my old windows software.
The tablet itself is quite nice. It has a good size (8"), weight, and I like the white color as well. It integrates well with Hotmail, which is strange, because I hardly ever use it, but not problematic. I was able to link it with Flickr and install Chrome, although Chrome doesn't have a good touch interface. During this initial configuration I ran into the first and biggest problem: the virtual keyboard.

First improvement suggestion. Since Windows 8.1 really is two user interfaces on top of each other, there are also two virtual keyboards. There is one window shaped virtual keyboard, which opens by itself and can be minimized. I still don't know how to get it back when you close it. Then there is the "Metro" virtual keyboard, which is much bigger and works with some input fields, but not all. The keyboards don't know when you want to enter text, and appear and disappear at unwelcome times. Fortunately you can always use the START button to go to the underlying Windows 8.1, and unminimize the other keyboard, which will always be on top. You will need to make sure that you focus on the text field you want to enter before typing in it, though, which is tricky. The keyboard is also rather small, and doesn't scale well when you increase its window's size. You can work around all of these problems with any hardware bluetooth keyboard: the integration with these is excellent (much better than the Nexus 7). But if I wanted a hardware keyboard, I wouldn't have bought a tablet.

After fiddling with the keyboard I downloaded Steam, so I could access my games, and from there I installed Railroad Tycoon 2. It installed well, and ran well, although here you run into the issue of screen resolutions. The tablet has a fixed resolution of 1200x768, and any other resolution just creates a small square, with the rest of the screen black. If there are compatibility issues, this sometimes expands to a bad shape, but this can be prevented using the usual Windows tricks of managing compatibility (which, in my opinion, is one of the strengths of Windows, not a weakness). I was surprised that Railroad Tycoon 2, despite being an old game, accepted my touch commands well, and handled rotate and drawing of railroads, and generally seemed playable. However, when leaving the game, I ran into the next problem.

Second improvement suggestion. There really should be an easy way to reset the screen resolution to default. Normally you'd expect right click on the desktop to give you access to this, but the tablet sometimes claims that the new resolution is really the only resolution it knows. Access to the original control panel is hidden somewhere deep into the bowels of the software, and even in the control panel it is hard to figure out how to get your resolution back. I know how these things work, and it took me over 15 minutes to reset. I feel that another user might just have to live with a tiny square. Of course, the keyboard issue appears here as well. Ideally the keyboard would be outside of this tiny square, and not take up valuable space inside it.

After Railroad Tycoon 2 I wanted to see other games, and since the collector's edition of StarCraft 2 included StarCraft 1, I decided to install that. It was here that I ran into the third problem.

Third improvement suggestion. The tablet is sold with 32 GB of space. Unfortunately, when it arrives, there is less than 10 GB of space left to install software on. For some reason, the installation of Windows 8.1 takes up over half of the size of the solid state disk. Compare this with my 6 GB Nexus 7, which had 5 GB left after Android 4.1 was installed. Since Windows software is generally bloated as well, 10 GB is not enough to install anything. Uninstalling Internet Explorer helped a little bit (it gives you over 2 GB back) but I think Microsoft should really look into parts of Windows that can be removed in order to make the installation smaller.

More suggestions will follow.