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Acer's Iconia Tab W500 is in many ways a logical product. Businesspeople are often wary of tablets because most of the current crop run non-business-standard operating systems (Android and iOS) and lack a physical keyboard. On the other hand, many are drawn to tablets because they are small, light and convenient. Acer has seen an opportunity here, and equips the Iconia W500 with Windows 7 and a separate (optional) keyboard.
Arguably, because the Acer Iconia Tab W500 costs as much as a notebook and can be used like a notebook, it needs to be able to substitute, 100 percent of the time, for a notebook. So is the Iconia Tab W500 up to the task?
On its own, the 10.1in. Iconia Tab W500 costs £449 (inc. VAT; £374.16); with the optional keyboard dock (as reviewed) the price is £529 (inc. VAT; £440.83 ex. VAT)
The Iconia Tab W500's two-piece design certainly has its plus points. The tablet has a 10.1in. screen with a native resolution of 1,280 by 800 pixels. It is capacitive, which means it's fully touch-responsive with support for gestures such as pinch to zoom. This makes it easy to scroll through documents or web pages, and zoom into content simply by sweeping the screen — just as you'd expect from any tablet.
The LED-backlit TFT has superb viewing angles, and is bright and sharp. There is an accelerometer that handles automatic screen rotation in all four orientations. As is often the case with tablets, this sometimes kicks in when you don't want it to, but you can lock it out using a button on the side of the chassis.
The tablet feels robust, and at 970g is lighter than a convertible notebook, although not hugely lighter than some ultraportables. The Sony VAIO Z, for example, starts at 1.4kg while Toshiba's Portégé R700 starts at 1.3kg. Both notebooks have 13in. screens.
At 27.5cm by 19cm by 1.59cm, the Iconia Tab W500 is a little chunky — compare these dimensions to the iPad 2, which has a slightly smaller 9.7in. screen but measures 24.12cm by 18.57cm by 0.88cm and 613g for the (heavier) Wi-Fi and 3G model.
The W500's screen bezel has a button that duplicates the Windows key's function on the keyboard plus a VGA-resolution webcam, and so is much less cluttered than the bezel of most convertible Tablet PCs. One long edge carries a connector for the keyboard section.
The keyboard connector feels very solid, with two lugs on either side and a dual-thickness strip behind it on the keyboard, helping to hold everything firmly in place. The tablet sits on the keyboard at a similar angle to a notebook screen, but the position is fixed, which we found a little irritating. During testing we realised how often we adjust a notebook screen's angle to avoid light reflection. Given that the W500's screen has a shiny, reflective finish, this may prove something of an issue.
The tablet slots into the optional keyboard dock at a fixed angle, and the relative weights of the two sections makes the docked arrangement rather top-heavy
We also found it impossible to use the Iconia Tab W500 on the lap. Although it balances reasonably well on a desk, the relative weighting of the 610g keyboard and the 970g tablet make it top-heavy and prone to fall forwards off the knees; tapping at the screen only makes this more likely to happen.
The keyboard itself is nicely made, with responsive 'chiclet'-style keys. In lieu of a trackpad there's a FineTrack pointing stick between the G, H and B keys, with a pair of mouse buttons beneath the screen.
The tablet and keyboard sections can be held together by a hinged clasp. This was broken on our review sample so we can't judge its utility. The plastic 'hook' located beneath the space bar has to be pushed down when not in use, so as not to interfere with using the keyboard.
The absence of a wrist rest makes for slightly uncomfortable typing, but some may find this more of an issue than others. Business users may be disappointed by the absence of a fingerprint scanner.
The Acer Iconia Tab W500 runs an AMD Fusion APU (Accelerated Processing Unit) processor, the 1GHz C-50. This is a dual-core processor with integrated DirectX 11 graphics courtesy of a 256MB Radeon HD 6250 GPU. Our review sample had the maximum 2GB of RAM on board.
Windows 7 Home Premium was installed on our review unit, but the W500 can also be configured with Windows 7 Professional. In both cases these are 32-bit operating systems.
Wi-Fi (802.11b/g/n) and Bluetooth (3.0+EDR) are present on the tablet as standard, with Fast Ethernet available on the optional keyboard dock.
There is just 32GB of SSD storage and no optical drive. In these respects the Iconia Tab W500 falls short of what a business user might expect as standard. However, you can configure the W500 with an optional mobile broadband (Huawei EM770W) module. There are two cameras: the front-mounted VGA unit mentioned earlier and, on the back, a 1.3-megapixel (1,280 by 1,024) webcam. Neither camera has a flash.
There are fewer ports and connectors than you'd expect to see on a business notebook. The tablet offers an HDMI port, an SD card slot, a USB 2.0 port and a headphone jack. There's also a small volume rocker and an on/off switch.
The keyboard dock adds an Ethernet connector and two more USB ports. Unfortunately the W500's on-board USB port is on the bottom long edge, which means it's obscured when the tablet is docked.
Acer's Ring user interface attempts to put a finger-friendly gloss on Windows 7
Windows 7 is not the most finger-friendly operating system, as its icons are generally rather small. Well aware of this, Acer has introduced a second UI, which it calls the Acer Ring.
You call this up by simply grabbing the screen — you place several fingertips onto the screen and pull inwards as though making a fist. To shut it down the Ring and return to Windows you tap a 'close' icon in the top right-hand corner.
The Acer Ring is a neat looking interface, but its offerings are a little confused. The centre point of the Acer Ring, labeled Device Control, takes you into a utility offering some basic settings for the display, volume, Wi-Fi and power.
Acer Ring's Device Control utility lets you adjust basic system settings
Surrounding this central point are icons accessing a calculator, camera controls, a backup utility, a snipping tool, a adisk space manager and a gaming hub. All bar the last of these simply drop you into the Windows 7 interface with an appropriate window opened. The gaming hub goes online to an Acer gaming web page, which runs in the Windows 7 UI.
The outer section of the Acer Ring has four more shortcuts. One takes you to Acer's Clear-Fi DLNA media-sharing application. Another takes you to My Journal, a place you can store web clippings and other information.
You'll need to use Acer Ring's TouchBrowser to make use of web clippings in the My Journal utility
The third shortcut loads a web browser, called TouchBrowser, which you have to use if you want to make clippings to My Journal. Acer claims that TouchBrowser is finger friendly, but its icons are still pretty small and links within web pages are rendered no bigger than they are in regular Windows 7-based browsers. You may still need to pinch-zoom in order to hit links accurately with a finger. The fourth shortcut brings up SocialJogger, which aggregates social media sources such as Facebook, YouTube and Flickr.
We didn't find Acer Ring particularly inspiring, and business users are likely to ignore it. That's a shame, as there's definitely a case for a finger-friendly Windows 7 overlay.
The Iconia Tab W500's processor/RAM combination is unlikely to satisfy business users who require sprightly performance. During testing the W500 felt a little sluggish, and the tablet's Windows Experience Index (WEI) score bears this out: the overall score of 2.7 (out of 7.9) is, in fact, the lowest we've seen in a Windows 7 device. The WEI corresponds to the lowest-performing component score, which in this case is for Processor (calculations per second).
The remaining scores are more respectable: 4.1 for Graphics (desktop performance for Windows Aero); 4.9 for RAM (Memory operations per second); 5.5 for Gaming Graphics (3D business and gaming graphics performance) and 5.9 for Primary hard disk (Disk data transfer rate).
The W500's 3,260mAh battery is quoted as good for six hours of internet use or four hours of HD video playback. We tested it by choosing the balanced power mode and asking the battery to loop video from a USB stick for as long as possible. Under these conditions we got video playback for just under four hours. Audio output is loud and of reasonably high quality thanks to a pair of stereo speakers and Dolby Advanced Audio.
On paper, a tablet with a dockable keyboard seems like the ideal combination for many business users, delivering full-blown notebook functionality and tablet computing in a single package.
The Iconia Tab W500 is far from ideal, though: it has just 32GB of internal storage; it lacks an integrated optical drive; the processor is underpowered; and the docked tablet has an awkward weight distribution that makes it unwieldy. And although the Acer Ring overlay is easily ignored if its services don't appeal, Windows 7 just isn't finger-friendly enough to function well in tablet format.
Whatever else it is, the Acer Iconia Tab W500 is not a replacement for a standard notebook.