By all accounts, the Acer Iconia W3 won't win any awards, but as the first 8-inch tablet to market with a full copy of Windows 8 Pro, it's something of a trailblazer. Surprisingly, many retail sites now have the Iconia W3 available for pre-order, with shipment details running from vague to quite specific. If you were waiting for the mini-Win8 market to unfold, it's starting to bust out, and the Iconia W3 takes first post out of the gate.
A cautionary note about the machine itself: The Acer Iconia W3 sports an 8.1-inch 1,280-by-800 monitor -- notable primarily for its small size -- driven by a leisurely Atom Dual-Core Z2760 1.5GHz (up to 1.8GHz burst) CPU, 2GB of RAM, and front- and rear-facing cameras, both at 2 megapixels. Rising just slightly above the ho-hum level, it also has a microSD slot that can add up to 32GB of memory, Bluetooth, and micro-HDMI and micro-USB ports.
The battery is supposed to live for eight hours, but I haven't seen any reports of rigorous, replicable testing, so don't get your hopes up.
Apparently Acer plans on releasing an extra-cost ($90) full-laptop-size keyboard that's considerably larger than the tablet, but early prototypes of the keyboard left much to be desired. The keyboard's designed with a recessed area in back that will accommodate the tablet.
If that were the whole story, the first mini-Win8 tablet would hardly rate a whiz in an expectorating contest. But there are two redeeming social factors.
First, the tablet not only ships with Windows 8 Pro, it also ships with a full-fledged copy of Office Home & Student 2013 -- yes, a real licensed copy of the stunted ALL CAPS version of Office, with no subscription required, no strings attached. Although OH&S 2013 doesn't include Outlook, the Office core programs -- Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote -- all make an appearance. Office Home & Student 2013 retails for about $140.
Microsoft is making noises as if this Office bundling was part and parcel of the Windows 8.1 "Blue" announcement, but it isn't. All new sub-10-inch Windows 8 tablets will come with Office Home & Student 2013.
Second, the price -- take a look at these list prices, all with free shipping. Amazon has the 64GB version for $430; Office Depot sells the 32GB W3 for $350 and the 64GB for $400; Staples lists the 32GB version for $380; and Target has the 32GB for $380 and the 64GB for $430.
In theory, Microsoft retail stores, OfficeMax, and Wal-Mart are all supposed to have the W3 shortly. They aren't up just yet.
As for ship dates, most of the ordering sites waffle, but Office Depot states clearly and unambiguously: "This item will be released on 06/16/2013." That's 10 days before the start of the Build conference, presumably the release date for the preview of Windows 8.1 "Blue."
One thing's painfully obvious: Microsoft lowered its price for Win8 Pro and Office Home & Student 2013 to breathtaking levels. Microsoft desperately needs something to differentiate its cheap tablets from the competition's cheap tablets. It remains to be seen if it has hit on a potential winner.
In the meantime, my eyes hurt just thinking about working with an Excel spreadsheet on an 8-inch 1,280-x-800 monitor.;
This story, "First mini-Windows 8 tablet to ship next weekend," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.