Acer Iconia Tab W500 Review

Acer, a company known for “Breaking the barriers between people and technology”, now attempts to break the barriers between mobile computing and desktop computing, combining the functionality of desktop while offering the portability of mobile devices with its hybird Acer Iconia Tab W500. The Tablet ships with a keyboard docking station similar to Asus Transformer Eee Pad and Lenovo ThinkPad.

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When talking about Tablets you are unconsciously always referring to either iPads or Tablets powered by Android Honeycomb OS. Windows, the most popular OS for desktop computers is noticeably sunken on Tablets. Acer’s Tablet, on the other hand, comes with Windows making it rather prominent in the horde of Tablets, particularly targeting the enterprise consumers.

When compared to the modern iOS and Android Tablets in the market, Acer Iconia W500 lags way behind, nevertheless it is among the finest Tablets with Windows OS. The Acer Iconia W500 can be categorized as an unrefined device at present that has great potential to emerge as a productive device, with the evolution through generations, serving as a full-fledged solution for both entertainment and for computing requirements.

Unfortunately the Tablet could not impress us, despite its innovation of keyboard. Overall, the design has loop-holes, performance is sluggish in some aspects and the OS is largely misfit.

Read along the complete review to know if the Tablet possesses specs that you look-forward to or the Tablet is just another strive in the Tablet market.

Hardware

The device boasts some pretty reasonable technical specs, yet the lack of intuitive design holds it back from being ground-breaking. The device has two parts, the Tablet and the keyboard dock. We shall deal with each in detail.

Docking Station

The Acer Iconia comes with an optional chiclet-style keyboard dock to facilitate you at work along with entertainment on the go. The keyboard surely saves you from a lot of exertion posed by the tedious typing on touch-screen. It’s good to note that the docking station features full-fledge typical QWERTY keyboard, unlike the iPad’s optional keyboard dock.

Connecting the docking station

The docking station will connect to your Tablet via the dock connector on the docking station. The dock connector comprises of a USB port and 2 metal prongs. The station conceals the connection with a flap that folds to the level of keyboard keys. You will be able to connect your Tablet to the docking station by USB port situated on the bottom of the Tablet. The two metal pins on the docking station will fix on the bottom of the Tablet holding it straight up (at so-called-comfortable viewing angle). To dock the two devices together simply align the Tablet to the docking station and press it down to mate the USB ports together.

Docking Station design issues

The design and look of connection mechanism does not give a premium feel, rather, it seems a poor design example and appears like part of old age machinery. Besides the unpolished look of the connection mechanism, there are serious design and usability issues associated with it.

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Firstly, the problem with the connection mechanism is that even when the two devices are docked and transformed into a netbook, you won’t be able to fold the Tablet over the docking station just like you would expect to do with a usual netbook or laptop. Inorder to fold the netbook, you will have to remove the Tablet from the docking station, conceal the dock connection and lay the Tablet over the docking station. Only then you will be able to actually fold the netbook. The sandwiched devices are held in this arrangement by a set of magnets at the rear end of the docking station and a plastic latch. The latch is nothing more than a low quality unreliable plastic and if not handled with extreme delicacy is prone to breakage. Hence, personally I feel it is rather a weak and perverted mechanism to secure the Tablet to the docking station.

Another issue with the design of the docking connection is that it is fixed. This means, when your Tablet and the station is docked forming a netbook, you won’t be able to tilt the Tablet like a normal netbook screen. Imagine a simplest consequence of this; place yourself in a situation when you feel like adjusting the netbook-screen to shoot yourself for a videochat from the front facing camera, you won’t be able to do that; and infact you will have to adjust yourself so that you fit in the scope of camera completely. This issue is particularly annoying. Compared to the hinge provided in the ASUS transformer, the design is just too clumsy. In the later device, the Tablet simply slides on to the hinge to make it the screen of netbook that can be tilted at any angle and even closed like a usual netbook. Anyone who had complaint earlier about the inconvenience in mounting the Tablet to the docking station, for ASUS transformer, would even find it a blessing after having faced the limitation of Acer Acer Iconia Tab W500.

The overall look and shape doesn’t match that of Asus Transformer. When the ASUS transformer is docked, anyone can hardly distinguish if it is a netbook or two different devices docked. But in case of Acer Iconia Tab W500, not even a slight feel of nobility was felt in the design. From almost every angle, may it be the low-quality plastic latch, dock connector or plastic body the device does feel just low-quality.

The docking station features, their good and bad

Having discussed the issues of docking station, let us investigate the features of the docking station, of course critically.

Weight & Measurements

The keyboard docking station measures 10.83 wide, 7.48 deep and 0.43-0.77 in height matching the Tablet in width and height. The keyboard docking station weighs about 1.34 pounds, lighter than the Tablet, that itself weighing just about 2.07 pounds. This difference in weight poses instability to the complete assembly. You might not feel this instability when the Tablet is placed on a plain flat surface but that won’t be the case always. Many a times you will want to place the netbook in your lap while sitting, or on a cushion or sofa when watching a movie or simply on any uneven surface and in all such situations, you will feel that the device is extremely liable to fall. The netbook can easily drop when you tap the Tablet screen with even normal pressure as it’s heavier than the docking station. This feature reduces the overall usability of the device. The situation could have been healthier if the docking station and the Tablet were of the same weight.

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Acer Fine-track pointing device- the rubber trackpoint

To move the cursor on the Tablet screen, you are provided with a nipple at the center of the keyboard in-between the keys while the two mouse buttons lay on the bottom the Spacebar, just at the edge of the keyboard station. This is an awful replacement of touch pad. While moving the cursor you will find yourself pressing the connected buttons B, G and H frequently.

Pressing the mouse buttons on the bottom is something you will take time to get used to. I found myself often opting to tap the screen than to use the track point. Once again, comparing it to the docking station of Asus transformer! The docking station comes with a familiar convenient to use touchpad making it again an example of better design. Obviously as there is no touchpad you can’t expect a finger print scanner. This feature will be missed a lot by business oriented users for whom the Tablet is actually intended for.

Apart from the design and appearance issues, the provision of full size keys and complete keyboard is really a plus, especially when you are using Windows OS! You might feel that the keys are a bit shallow nevertheless you will get used to it in almost no time.

Astonishingly there is no wrist rest for you on the vast docking station. This will cause distress to your hand and wrist while typing elaborated documents.

Additional Connectivity

You don’t need to be disheartened with the docking station that easily. The docking station comes with a number of treats too. The docking station contains Ethernet Port for connecting your device to internet (10/100/1000- based networks) if you do not wish to connect wirelessly. The docking station also comes with 2 USB ports.

Cameras

Like all other Tablets, Acer Iconia Tab W500 has 2 cameras. The two web-camera mounted on the top-center of the Tablet while the rear-end camera is located exactly on the opposite end of the Tablet. Both the web-cams included are of High Definition quality, each of 1.3 Megapixel resolution unlike usual Tablets that have higher resolution for rear-end camera. This in the first place where Acer Iconia Tab W500 loses to other Tablets in market offering as much as 8 MP camera (in Galaxy Tab 10.1v). You can capture still images at a resolution of 1,280 x 1,024 pixels.

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You can use the cameras for video communications with Acer Video Conference Manager. The application enables you to engage in video conferencing, as well as record HD videos and then quickly share them on Facebook, YouTube and other sites. Unfortunately neither of the camera has flash. The quality of video recorded is barely reasonable-read further.

Processor, RAM & Memory

The Tablet features dual-core 1GHz AMD Fusion processor, with dedicated ATI Radeon HD 6250 graphic processor. The processor though is just under-power when compared to some popular notebooks today but inclusion of graphic processor is a definite plus. The processor is aided with 2 GB DDR RAM (would that be enough for a touch-system running Windows 7?)The system comes with 32 GB built-in memory that can be extended via SD card that can support SD cards up to 32GB in capacity. The built-in memory is astonishingly small (for user like me- keep reading) After the installation of Microsoft office, some necessary files and Acer standard software etc. the system will have already consumed about 15 GB of memory leaving only 17 GB for you that is hardly enough for ebooks, HD movies, and digital photographs games etc. Even if you extend the memory by 32 GB SD card, I feel the memory is still less to hold your essential data, particularly needed when you will carry the Tablet on the go.

The case is however different if you are a Skydriver! Tablets have been long thought of devices for recreation aided by minimal internal memory and cloud. Though personally I am not a cloud person but we cannot deny the fact that gradually everything is moving to the cloud. If you are a Skydrive user and a fan of webapps then 13 to 14 GB must be a good space for you to use. Still adhering to cloud seems to be a gradual process and I feel that Iconia Tab should have had some more memory.

Battery Life & Performance

Your machine comes with 3260mAh Li-polymer battery, powered by Acer PowerSmart technology. Acer claims that your device will support up to six hours of internet browsing and that you can watch HD videos for up to four hours on a single battery charge. Definitely the battery consumption will be low when performing less demanding tasks- but who cares? Aren’t Tablets for watching movies? This is the second most important frontier where Acer looses again. Tablets are supposed to be mobile devices and a mobile device with such a low battery is simply unacceptable. Today even less popular Tablets come with reasonable battery, atleast better than this.

The Other side

Considering the machine as a Windows powered touch enabled netbook, you will find that the battery is not as disappointing; as most of Windows powered Tablets live no more than 2 to 3 hours. It will help you do trivial jobs like using the Office, emails and browsing in a considerable familiar environment. If you are already a Window OS powered netbook user you might not feel the deficiency.

Over all the machine performs well, rather above expectations. Your system will boot quickly, that is appreciable considering it is after all a machine running on Windows OS. The system is responsive and quick. The minor delay you may experience is due to the OS and does not have anything to do with the hardware itself. The screen rotation is sluggish infact it won’t even work sometimes, just like on another windows Tablet.

Connections

Here is some good news! The Tablet comes with standard sized HDMI port for high definition digital video connection at 1080p instead of Micro HDMI. The device also comes with 2 in 1 card reader that accepts both the SD card and MMC card. The bottom of the Tablet also houses an unused SIM card slot, however the current versions do not support 3g or 4g connections, but it is supposedly expected to do so in coming versions. The Tablet has 4 USB ports, before getting excited read further. When not docked you may use all the 4 USB ports but once docked, one USB port will be used up in the connecting the docking station while a second port will be blocked by the station, therefore when docked only 2 USB ports will be available on the Tablet. Yes, you will get additional 2 ports with the docking station so it’s a no loss no profit game! Additionally the Tablet has WLAN 802.11 b/g/n and Bluetooth 3.0. WiFi connection is found to be prone to often disconnection.

Indeed Acer Iconia Tab W500 has the best port selection that has given the Tablet an edge over other devices.

Appearance, Screen and Built

The build quality of the Tablet is one thing that Acer just did not pay attention to.

The Tablet boosts a diagonal display of 10.1 inch (like Motorola Xoom and Galaxy Tab 10.1) and a glossy capacitive touch screen with a native-screen-resolution of 1280 x 1024. The touch screen is surrounded by a thick and unpleasing double lined bezel. You will be amused to know that the home button with blue LED light; is placed nowhere other than on the bezel! I found the placement bit awkward. Nevertheless, you might feel that the bezel is spacious enough to hold the Tablet without accidently hitting the touch screen. The dimensions of the Tablet are 0.7 inch deep, 10.83 inch high and 7.48 inch wide.

The picture display quality is truly impressive! The Tablet displays very crisp and sharp images just more than expectations. The LED-backlit TFT has fine viewing angles making watching videos together all the more fun.

The Tablet is about 0.7 inch thick and weighs about 2.07 pounds. When docked the total weight of the netbook becomes 3.4 pounds. I found it difficult to compare and defend the weight of the hybrid device. It is lighter than some netbooks and convertible machine yet heavier than some ultraportable devices (such as Sony VAIO Z-series), and definitely they have lot more to offer too (more of RAM and screen). If you compare the weight of the Tablet alone, to other Tablets in the market you will be saddened. The non-window Tablets are far lighter than this one; iPad 2 weighs 1.34 pounds, ASUS Transformer weights 1.52 pounds, Motorola Xoom (thought of as the heaviest) is only about 1.62 pounds. Acer Iconia Tab W500 is even heavier than its Android counterpart Acer Iconia Tab A500 which weights just about 1.63 pounds.

The overall built quality is poor and feels bit cheap and plastic-y despite the brushed Aluminum look. The built cannot be compared to iPad or Htc flyer with metallic bodies by any means neither to other Tablets that have a plastic body. Particularly I feel the poor look ows due to excessively thick bezel, 2 ventilators on the Tablet, lack of delicacy and additional weight.

On the front façade lies the Windows key / power status indicator. To open the Start Menu simple press the button once. The button can also be used to wake the Tablet from sleep mode. The speakers lie on the bottom back of the Tablet. The top edge comprises a ventilation slot for maintaining a safe operating temperature. On the bottom edge lies the dock connector used to dock the Tablet to the station, a SIM card slot, USB port and Lock switch to lock the screen orientation. On the other side lies the 3.5 mm headphone jack, Battery LED, power button, card reader, HDMI slot and volume keys.

Audio & video

Two internal microphones for the stereo sound recording are situated besides the integrated front facing web-camera while the speakers are mounted on the back side of the Tablet to deliver audio output. The pair of stereo speakers delivers a loud clear and high quality sound. Watching a movie on Acer Iconia Tab W500 is a treat with bright and crisp images and high quality sound- as long as the battery supports. Ensure to enable the Dolby software settings to get the best sound out of your Tablet.

Videos can be recorded at 320×240 or 640×480 only. you might experience the captured videos to be blurry and choppy, and that it contains noticeable pauses; to conclude, the Tablet’s processor simply can’t keep up with the real-time recording.

You can expect to run any audio video format on the machine that you can run on your laptop. So this time we have no list of permitted file formats-a plus of windows 7! Flash will work! However seems to be more functional when the Tablet is docked.

OS and Apps!

Controversy is in other way popularity. Almost all the controversy about the Tablet owes to Windows OS. Acer without doubts was courageous to opt for Windows OS than Google’s Android. Acer with Iconia W500 does not only struggle to contend with the benchmark iPad but also the horde of Honeycomb and Android Tablets. Acer Iconia Tab W500 gives you 2 choices with Window versions. First version run Windows 7 Home Premium and is available at a price of $549.99 and a second version that runs Windows 7 Professional at $619.00.

So the question remains is windows 7 yet ready for Tablets?

Windows 7 was optimized to be compatible with touch screens and Tablets: but it was not designed from scratch for touch Tablets. There is a difference. Largely Windows 7 is used on desktops and laptops. On touch devices Windows 7 isn’t yet ready to give a tough fight to its competitors.

Windows 7 is definitely not finger friendly on touch devices. Microsoft is not ready to part with keyboard and touchpad- a hardware that limits the portability that Tablets seek to bring- this remains a great hurdle in widespread adoption of Windows on Tablets; as most Tablets won’t integrate the additional bulky hardware. Though iPad and Android powered Tablets are provided with touch keyboards but they are optional, whilst for Windows powered Tablets keyboard and mice become intrinsic.

The major issue with Windows7 it that it has excessive battery drainage as compared to the OS that are designed for touch screens and Tablets from scratch. The excessive battery drainage causes the battery life of Windows Tablets to be particularly short-lived – that Tablet users will surely unwelcome.

Nonetheless Windows is definitely a desirable OS for individuals and particularly enterprises on Tablets. Everyone would want to have a slight feel of their desktop on Tablets and would want to work in an acquainted environment than to shift to a completely new OS. Many look forward to an OS with which you can easily synchronize their daily programs and other data and files. Windows frees you from many hassles like worrying about flash compatibility, using skype for video-chat, drivers etc.

Taking into consideration that the device runs on a rather low power AMD processor, windows 7 OS was commendable. The entire experience was impressive interms of responsiveness, quickness and efficiency; as expected from a low power machine running full-fledge windows: still don’t dare to compare with Android or iOS.

The basic rules of windows still apply. Tap twice the app icon to open the program. Tap and hold to open the context menu. Yet you won’t be very comfortable as you might find most of the system tray icons, desktop icons and quick launch buttons to be too small to touch. Multi-touch features like pinch zooming, swipe etc are available; but they are not so efficient.

Windows bring with it the inherent vulnerabilities of virus, malware and Trojans. You will need an antivirus software or MS Security essential to secure your device; here again you would find the internal storage is far less than required. Windows 7, on laptops has a considerable startup time that for Tablet users is just unbearable. Also windows updates would be an unwanted feature for Tablets.

Virtual keyboard

The soft keyboard is a horrible experience, sorry to say so. Whenever you need to enter text in a text field you will have to follow a number of steps. Firstly tap on a text entry box. With this a keyboard icon will appear next to the cursor. To bring about the virtual keyboard you will have to tap this icon again. On dismissing the virtual keyboard it’ll hide itself on the side of the screen. You will have to drag the virtual keyboard back on-stage each time you want to type. Can you imagine how complex a simple task of entering text can be? A simple consequence; think you want to find any program by typing to the search bar in the start menu; you will have to follow all these steps to bring about job that is otherwise not more tan second consuming. You can dock or move about the virtual keyboard anywhere on the screen.

Apps

The power of Tablets lays in the light weight efficient apps. The more apps you have in the market to use on Tablet, more the consumers will opt for that OS loaded Tablets. When it comes to apps, Windows lags way behind. Windows has faced substantial resistance in the widespread adoption on Tablets and one of the reasons is the limited number of apps. Microsoft hardly managed to boost a handful of apps, amounting about 5500 in answer to 200,000 for Android and 300,000 for Apple. Yes, but with Windows 7 based Tablets you can use some familiar programs- that you comfortably use on desktops, if the internal memory and RAM permits you to do that.

The Acer Iconia Tab W500 comes with a number of built in apps. On the top list is the Acer Ring. Let us review Acer Rings and some other notable apps in brief.

Acer Ring

Acer Ring incorporates a number of useful functions and tools in one easy to-use interface. You can initialize it by touching the screen with five fingers in a grab-like gesture. Acer Ring is a rather complex piece of software, not because it has difficult to learn interface but because the purpose of the software is just unambiguous. It is primarily an application launcher. It includes shortcuts to Synchronous wizard, Game, Calculator, Disk-clean etc. I was pretty excited about it, but to my utter disappointment I found that the shortcuts cannot be customized, neither edited nor added. It is also a gesture launcher with which you can edit default gestures according to your will. But unfortunately you cannot use the gesture anywhere at any time. For it to be functional you will have to invoke Acer ring every time.

Touch Browser

Touch Browser is aimed at providing a touch-optimized browsing experience. The browser performs an optimal job however you might find that some commonly accessed website like Hotmail, MSN yahoo etc take more time to load than usual.

Acer clear.fi

Clear.fi is one of the most prominent and useful software on the Tablet. Acer clear.fi is a home media database viewer and controller. It allows you to browse media content, such as music, photos, or videos, on devices that are on the same network. The interface is easy-to-use and all over the experience is smooth and responsive.

Device Controller

With this piece of software you can adjust the volume, find the location of each port, turn your connectivity devices on or off, select a power scheme, lock your computer, turn it off, or place it in sleep mode and even find if the docking station is connected or not.

Other notable apps include: Social Jogger, My Journal, Backup manager etc.

Conclusion

The Overall built and design of the Tablet is not impressive despite the innovation that it seeks to bring with itself. To me the machine seems to belong to some olden days the ventilators, the latch the plastic add to the cheap look. The port selection, screen, responsiveness are appreciable. Either good or bad, the Tablet comes with Windows for a change. When talking about Tablets, consumers are looking for a completely optimized OS for Tablets that is quick fast and responsive that windows OS certainly doesn’t provide. If you use Tablets for 3d gaming, shooting videos and taking images, and watching HD movies than the Tablet is surely not for you. The Tablet is for people who want a desktop like experience on the Tablet, but it is surely in its very initial stages.

Finally, Acer Iconia Tab W500 is the device that may be trend setter and a great experiment that other companies would take lesson from. If you call a machine with lot improvement margin as a bad machine then this is really one!