Acer, Lenovo Add 8-Inch Windows 8.1 Tablets to the Mix

The new tablets come as Windows prepares to launch Windows 8.1, which officials says will shore up shortcomings in its Windows 8 predecessor.

Acer and Lenovo are rolling out new tablets that are running Microsoft's new Windows 8.1 operating system and are powered by Intel's latest low-power Atom chips.

The new devices come as Microsoft on Oct. 17 releases its much anticipated Windows 8.1 OS, the follow-up to the radically different Windows 8, which was launched a year ago. Microsoft executives say the new operating system will clear up many of the issues users had with Windows 8, including allowing for greater customization and returning the much-missed Start button.

Both Lenovo and Acer are looking to ride the Windows 8.1 wave with the new tablets. Acer officials on Oct. 17 rolled out the Iconia W4, the successor to the company's initial 8-inch Windows tablet, the W3. The Iconia W3, which launched in 2012, reportedly had some shortcomings that drove down user interest, and company officials appear to have addressed those issues. Among the improvements was the addition of one of Intel's new 22-nanometer Atom Z3000 Series Bay Trail systems-on-a-chip (SoCs), which the chip maker launched in September.

The Bay Trail Atom SoCs, built using Intel's new Silvermont architecture, offers five times lower power consumption and three times the performance of their predecessors, according to Intel officials.

In addition to the new SoCs, Acer's Iconia W4—which company officials said can not only be used for productivity purposes, but also Web browsing and video—also offers a better In-Plane Switching (IPS) display, which will reduce glare on the screen, and has improved battery life. At 0.91 pounds and 0.42 inches, it also will be lighter and thinner than the W3, according to Acer.

The W4 will start at $329.99.

The Acer tablet came a day after Lenovo unveiled its Miix2, another 8-inch Windows 8.1 tablet that is powered by Intel's quad-core Bay Trail SoCs and runs Windows 8.1, and will start at $299. It follows the company's original 10.1-inch Miix tablet, which debuted in June.

The Acer and Lenovo devices join a growing number of 8-inch Windows 8.1 tablets. Dell officials earlier this month launched the Venue Pro 8 as part of a larger rollout of several systems, including new XPS laptops and other Venue tablets. In September, Toshiba officials unveiled the Satellite Encore, an 8-inch tablet that, like the others, leverages Intel's latest Atom chips.

The new devices are part of a growing trend toward smaller screens for tablets. IDC analyst Bob O'Donnell told eWEEK in September that a survey done earlier this year in conjunction with Intel indicated that consumers are moving away from 10.1-inch tablets and gravitating toward smaller devices, in the 7- to 9-inch range.

That trend is happening at the same time that device makers are developing smartphones with larger screens that are approaching 5 inches or more, creating what some are calling "phablets." Eventually, as the screen sizes of tablets and smartphones get closer to each other, consumers may begin asking why they need both devices. Given that smartphones already offer 4G capabilities, while many tablets are still WiFi-only, users may more often opt for smartphones, which could eventually hamper sales of low-end tablets, O'Donnell said.

"If I've got a five-and-a-half-inch smartphone, why the hell would I buy a tablet?" he asked.