Windows tablets have been around for years, in the form of slates and convertible laptops with touch-screen lids that rotate and fold down over the keyboard. To date, many of these have been disappointing, largely because they failed on either the software or hardware fronts, or both. The Windows OS is simply not designed for fingertip (or even stylus) input, and the CPUs used to power most Windows tablets have been so underpowered as to make these devices mostly useless.
Stepping into the ring following the launch of Apple's second-generation iPad is the Acer Iconia Tab W500 . Similar to Lenovo's (still MIA U1) Hybrid and the Asus Eee Pad Transformer, the 10.1-inch W500 consists of a touch-screen slate and a separate keyboard dock. When combined, the two halves form something close to a traditional laptop. The W500 is $549 with Windows 7 Home Premium, or $619 with Windows 7 Professional. Both versions have 2GB of RAM and a 32GB SSD. (Acer also makes a keyboard-less Android version, called the Iconia A500.)
In the case of the Acer W500, we saw a lot of potentially good ideas, but the overall effect was undone by half-baked physical design. After struggling with docking, undocking, and folding down the W500, it's clear that if any designer at Apple presented this product in its current form to Steve Jobs, they'd quickly find themselves reassigned as the night janitor at an Apple store in Siberia.
|Price as reviewed||$549|
|Processor||1.0GHz AMD C-50|
|Memory||2GB, 667MHz DDR3|
|Hard drive||32GB SSD|
|Graphics||ATI Radeon HD 6250|
|Operating system||Windows 7 Home Premium|
|Dimensions (WD)||10.8 x 7.4 inches|
|Height||0.62 inches (in tablet mode)|
|Screen size (diagonal)||10.1 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||3.5/3.9 pounds|
When the screen and keyboard of the W500 are connected to each other, it looks much like any other 10-inch Netbook, with a drab gray-and-black design and chunky body. It's so laptop-like, it feels like one should be able to simply fold it shut, like any other clamshell design. Unfortunately, that's not the case.
To close the system, you must pull the screen straight up, detaching it from the keyboard, and then close a flap on the keyboard dock that covers the docking connection. From there, the screen is placed on top of the keyboard, face down, where a small magnet in one corner holds it in place (sort of). Finally, a physical latch on the front lip of the dock has to get pushed into place. After all that, you have something that looks pretty much like a closed laptop, although if it's not handled exactly right, the two halves will come apart.
To take the closed system and convert it back to a faux laptop the steps must be reversed, which is, if that's even possible, a more awkward exercise. It also means the system is literally impossible to either open or close one-handed.
Taking a lesson from the recent 14-inch dual-screen Iconia laptop (which is really a very fun machine to play with), Acer includes a few custom tablet-oriented apps. As on the larger Iconia, tapping down with five fingertips on the screen brings up a jogwheel-like menu, which grants access to finger-friendly apps such as a social media browser and augmented Web browser. The TouchBrowser, as it's called, is easier to use than a standard Web browser, but these custom apps all took several long seconds to launch, which slowed us down considerably.
The separate keyboard dock has shallow but acceptable island-style keys, but in tablet mode, using the built-in Windows onscreen keyboard, remains a challenge.
The keyboard dock includes only a trackpoint for onscreen navigation. We'd much prefer a touch pad, even a tiny one, especially as the left and right mouse buttons for the trackpoint are so narrow and mounted right on the front lip of the keyboard dock. Note that the W500 keyboard dock only works when connected to the tablet though its proprietary plug, so you can't use it wirelessly as one might with a Bluetooth iPad keyboard.
|Acer Iconia W500||Average for category [Netbook]|
|Audio||Stereo speakers, headphone jack||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||2 USB 2.0, SD card reader||3 USB 2.0, SD card reader|
|Networking||Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth||Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth|
The W500 skips the standard VGA video-out port, and instead substitutes an HDMI port, which seems like a positive, but may depend on your specific video needs. It also includes Bluetooth, missing from many 10-inch Netbooks, but note that the two USB ports are located in the keyboard base, not in the detachable screen, so you won't be able to use them in tablet mode.
The W500 performs about as well, if not better, than other small-screen Windows tablets we've tested over the years. Even with the low-power processor, we were able to stream Netflix video and scroll through Web pages with a minimum of stuttering. Powered by AMD's 1GHz dual-core C-50 processor, the touch screen was responsive, and dragging a finger down the screen actually resulted in something close to satisfactory scrolling--a task many Windows tablets seem to especially have trouble with.
Matched up against other Netbooks and ultraportable laptops, the W500 was comparable in our benchmark tests with systems using Intel's standard dual-core Atom N550 CPU, but well behind AMD's step-up E-350, which is found in several 11-inch laptops (and we'd be very eager to check out a future tablet with that Fusion E-350 processor).