April 21, 2011 12:06 pm

Exploring the Acer Iconia Tab W500’s Dockable Goodness

Life is filled with important choices. Chocolate or vanilla? Ketchup or mustard? Heads or tails? Choice is awesome – it’s what makes life interesting & personal.

You know what’s even more awesome than choice? Not having to choose. That’s exactly the concept behind the new Acer Iconia Tab W500. Rather than having to choose between a slate PC or a traditional laptop, the W500 gives you the convenience of both via a powerful slate PC that “docks” into a portable, attachable keyboard. It’s an interesting, unique take on multi-touch computing.

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The 10.1” Iconia Tab W500 goes on sale starting today for $549, and is loaded with a new AMD C-50 APU, 32GB of flash storage, and 2GB of RAM.

Look and Feel

Convertible PCs are nothing new – “swivel” style tablet PCs have been around for years, and more recently, we’ve seen newer, more consumer friendly convertible PCs like the Dell Inspiron duo. But the W500 is a completely new take on the concept. The core unit is a pure slate PC – it’s a 10.1”, 2.15lb multi-touch unit running Windows 7. It’s crafted from capacitive glass and aluminum and feels solid to hold. It’s nicely ergonomic, too – Acer did a very good job of using a weight, balance and thickness that is maneuverable enough to easily flip and move without feeling cheap or flimsy.

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There’s a camera on the front and back of the unit for each photo-snapping and video chatting, and the unit has built in Dolby speakers which are surprisingly loud and clear despite their diminutive size. And of course, there’s a full complement of ports – SD, USB, HDMI, and a headphone jack. Everything you need in a full PC.

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The truly unique aspect of the W500 is the keyboard dock. First off, it magnetically attaches to the unit, so you’re never forced to juggle multiple pieces of equipment. It’s easy to pop off, but when securely seated the magnets are actually very strong – I submitted the W500 to a highly technical “shake test” (which involved my 2 year old rattling the thing around while standing on her bed) to see how much force it took to shake the pieces loose and found that while you can jostle them loose if you give it a good shake, it’s unlikely that it would just separate under normal circumstances. But just in case you’re paranoid, there is a physical lock that you can apply.

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Docking the unit is very easy. Just pop open the connector USB port, slid the unit into place, and you’re done. In this mode, the W500 functions just like a normal laptop – you can move the mouse with the integrated trackpoint, type comfortably, and take advantage of a few extra ports, like Ethernet and two additional USBs. The keyboard dock is pretty ergonomic and it was easy to type on, although the clickable mouse buttons are a bit awkwardly placed.

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A word of caution when using the dock, though – don’t try to close the W500 like a laptop! We’ve all been trained for 25 years to close a laptop a certain way, and when docked, the W500 feels just like a laptop, and as such, you’d naturally expect it to close like one. But you can’t; you must remove the slate unit from the dock first. This isn’t a big deal – you can pop off the W500 from its dock with one hand – but will take some getting used to.

The dock itself weighs about 1.5lbs, so altogether the unit + dock is less than 4lbs. Plenty light to carry with you all day.

Performance

The Acer Iconia Tab W500 is powered by AMD’s new C-50 APU. It’s not a particularly fast processor (WEI score of 2.8), but perfectly adequate to handle everyday computing tasks like browsing the web, checking mail. Data recall, even large items like my Outlook profile, was super-fast due to the use of on-the-board flash storage.

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Here’s how it performed in my usual battery of fundamentals tests:

  • Startup (cold boot to desktop): 38 seconds
  • Shut down (No apps open, button press to power off): 14 seconds
  • Sleep (lid close to power off): 2.5 seconds
  • Wake (lid open to desktop): 1.5 seconds

Where the W500 really shines is with multimedia content. AMD’s new APUs are extremely powerful in the graphics department – I had no trouble playing 1080p HD content, and could even play Crysis – yes, the real version running DirectX 11 – in full screen mode. That’s seriously impressive stuff from such a little computer.

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Battery life was solid, running for about 4.5 hours before auto-hibernating.

Final Thoughts

The Acer Iconia Tab W500 is a very interesting and very useful take on the convertible PC. It really combines the best of both worlds – a pure touch environment for casual gaming, web browsing, and watching TV and movies, and a type environment for writing mail, working with documents and other text-heavy scenarios. If you’re looking for a great touch experience, but also want the convenience to work in a more traditional way, check out the W500. It’s an excellent choice for people who don’t want to choose.

Have a question about these or any other PCs? Post a comment, hit me on Twitter, or Ask Ben Anything via email!