Hands On With the Acer Iconia Tab W500

When I first saw photos of the hybrid tablet Acer Iconia Tab W500, my thoughts went way back to the early days of tablets and the HP TC1100. A slate when you want to be as light as possible and an attachable keyboard when you need a real keyboard. Since I’m a sucker for getting my hands on all kinds of tablets, I sent a twitter message to my good friend Pat Moorhead at AMD and asked if he could help me obtain a review unit: ask and you shall receive!

I’ve been playing with the Windows + AMD-based Iconia Tab for the past several days and thought I’d share a few thoughts on the usability of this tablet. A photo gallery is included below

Specs:

  • AMD Dual Core C50 1 ghz processor
  • ATI Radeon™ HD 6250 Graphics
  • Windows 7 Home Premium
  • 2 gb ram, 32 gb SSD
  • 2 usb, 1 2-in-1 card reader, and 1 hdmi port.  With the keyboard attached, you gain an additional 2 usb ports and an ethernet port
  • 1.3 megapixel front and rear camera
  • 3 cell battery
  • 4 point capacitive multi-touch digitizer by EETI
  • 1280 x 800 resolution
  • 10.1″ LED screen

Usage Thoughts

The beauty of a hybrid tablet is that it can adapt to how a person needs to use it. With just a couple of exceptions, I found that to be true of the Iconia Tab as well. When I wanted to watch some videos on the couch, I could unobtrusively do so. When I wanted to type some notes in OneNote, I could do so by easily plugging in the keyboard. The keyboard attaches to the Iconia Tab in two different ways: 1) in laptop mode, 2) to the front of the screen in the way a closed notebook looks. Unfortunately, the keyboard does not attach to the back of the Iconia Tab. This would be helpful so a person could use the tablet in slate mode and not have to forget to bring the keyboard. Another negative with the keyboard is that there is no tilt adjustment. I have a picture below that shows the camera showing half my face – I couldn’t adjust the camera or angle of the tablet in order to show my entire face. Having a tilt option would be another way to improve this tablet.

The Iconia Tab is designed to be a touch and keyboard device, and within the current Windows 7 experience it operates similar to other Windows-based tablets out there. Touch operated as expected and the chicklet-style keyboard was a joy to type on. I could type for hours on that keyboard. However, don’t expect to be very happy using your favorite capacitive-touch stylus to hand write notes in OneNote with it. The experience is awful on other Windows units and the Iconia Tab is no different. If you want to take hand writen notes, find another solution.

Rotation on the Iconia Tab is supported with full 360 degree options and it is supposed to rotate automatically based on the angle the tablet is being held and turned. Unfortunately, rotation is a bit laggy and I found that it didn’t always respond.

Acer includes some of their own software that is supposed to enhance the experience. Unfortunately, I found that it does the complete opposite. The Acer Ring is supposed to be launch panel for frequently used programs. It has pre-built options for Sync, Acer GameZone, Windows Calculator, WebCam, Snipping Tool, Disk Cleaner, and Device Control. There are no options to remove those and add your own program shortcuts. In summary, it is a useless piece of software. Another piece of included software is the Device Control which allows control of WiFi, back light, brightness, power, and volume. There are a couple of problems with Device Control: it is not rotation aware and not touch friendly. When I launched the Device Control from the Acer Ring launch panel in anything other than primary landscape, the screen would always rotate to primary landscape. Although the Device Control UI elements had some big touch-friendly elements, the slider elements were not responsive to sliding even though the UI communicated differently. Someone coming from an iPad world would not be impressed with Acer’s software and they do nothing to encourage people to try Windows solutions.

Battery life was between 4 and 6 hours – pretty darn good for a Windows machine and I’m sure AMD’s processor has something to do with that.

Overall, boot-up and speed were decent enough, especially considering this is a 1ghz Dual Core machine. I did find the system responded better when sticking to core Windows applications and not running the Acer-included utilities.

Closing Thoughts

At $549, the price is definitely right. However, for me to recommend the Acer Iconia Tab or buy it for use within my office, I would like to see the following things improved upon:

1) Fix the rotation bugs

2) Make the keyboard attachable to the back of the tablet

3) Support tilt while the Iconia Tab is attached to the keyboard.

4) Put in a different digitizer so handwriting can also be supported. Wacom and N-Trig would love to talk with you…

5) Slap Windows 8 on this baby. I see value in a Windows-based tablet in the enterprise, but the use-cases that need solving won’t come about until we get to Windows 8