Review: Acer Iconia Tab W500

 
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Published: July 6, 2011 11:00 PM
By Romain Thuret
In the jungle of newly available touchscreen tablets, Acer has decided not to differentiate the names of its models all that much and is marketing both the Iconia Tab A500, tested and approved by DigitalVersus, and today's patient, the Iconia Tab W500.
The difference of this one letter does however represent a real difference between the two models, with the A500 running on Android and the W500 on Windows 7. Acer, then, has gone for a computer OS on this mobile product.

Acer Iconia Tab W500 review

The architecture is radically different with the Iconia Tab W500 coming with an AMD C-500 CPU clocked at 1 GHz and not an ARM type core, a Windows button to launch the start menu, 32 GB of memory, 2 GB of RAM and the Premium version of the Windows 7 operating system.

Acer Iconia Tab W500 review connections

There's a whole lot of connectivity available here, with 2 USB 2.0 ports, one of which is used to connect the base of the tablet to its keyboard dock, an MMC/SD/SDHC card slot, a network port and an HDMI out. It also has two camera sensors: a 5 Megapixel with LED flash on the back and a 1.3 Megapixel on the front.

The Acer Iconia Tab W500 has an RRP of £449 or £529 with the keyboard dock.

Design & Handling

At 970 grammes, without the keyboard dock, the Iconia Tab W500 is on the heavy side for a tablet. The glitter effect on the casing must no doubt be to somebody's liking somewhere. All the connectivity is easily accessible.

Acer Iconia Tab W500 review - back

The speaker, low down at the back, isn't positioned as well as it could be. When you're watching a film with the tablet on your knees, you often find the speaker gets muffled.
The frame on the screen of this tablet is one of the widest on the market with, first of all, a border around the panel and then the glitter frame as well. This accentuates its already bulky feel.

Acer Iconia Tab W500 review - keyboard

As you can see in the inset, putting the screen together with the physical keyboard is somewhat problematic. There's no touchpad but rather a trackpoint, positioned between the keys in the middle as on IBM laptops.

Acer Iconia Tab W500 review keyboard dock connector

Screen

A very nice contrast ratio! At 1971: 1 on average, the Iconia Tab W500 destroys the record held by the Packard Bell Liberty Tab and the Iconia Tab A500 with 1215: 1 and 1160: 1 respectively.
As usual, the impressive contrast ratio is counterbalanced by an average DeltaE (colour accuracy, a decent score being under 3) of 10 with less dominant reds than on other tablets and more of a tendency towards blue and light colours.

As on all TN panels, the viewing angles are reduced, though less than on the Archos IT or HannSpree SN10T tablets.

Interface & Navigation

Here Asus has gone for the Windows 7 OS. Of course we're all pretty familiar with this OS but in spite of its responsiveness and Acer's attempts to improve the experience of using it on a tablet, we have to say that a tablet is no place for Windows 7!

You have to double click on the overly small icons to launch software, pressing down at length activates - sometimes - the right click, you close an application using the now far too old-fashioned red cross and the physical Windows button doesn't take you to the desktop but rather the Start menu.

Acer Iconia Tab W500 review test screen

Acer's Acer Ring, a nicely designed graphical access to multimedia content, has been included - the various parts of the ring take you to videos, music, photos and so on. This is actually the only tool designed in keeping with the spirit of the tablet.  

Acer Iconia Tab W500 review test multimedia

There is a sort of app market but everything is too expensive at the moment.

It's nice to see a number row above the letters on the virtual keyboard. Responsiveness isn't as nice as on Android 3 or iOS and we don't advise you to use it for frenetic typing. It is also too big in terms of visibility in some circumstances, such as when you want to rename a folder or fill in an online form as you'll find you often have to take it on trust that you've typed in whatever you're looking to type successfully rather than being able to read it on screen.

Acer Iconia Tab W500 review onscreen keyboard

Special mention finally for portrait/landscape alternation, which is unfortunately completely chaotic. We advise you to turn on the screen lock, placed under the lower edge, so you aren't subject to painful and random switching.

Multimedia

Internet browsing is fine but doesn't match up to the speed of the latest Honeycomb versions, the RIM PlayBook or the iPad with iOS 4.3.
There are however no browser or Flash restrictions here.

Acer Iconia Tab W500 review web bowser

 
For videos, photos and music you can use the usual Microsoft Windows Media player. Once again, it hasn't been adapted to the tablet format and when you want to move from one full screen photo to the next you have to click on a next button rather than sliding your finger across the screen.

Being able to download a player such as VLC is however a saving grace, as you can then play whatever you want, except large 1080p files (FAT32 standard for file transfers limited to 4 GB). Note that the Iconia Tab W500 does suffer in HD or very well encoded SD videos when you try and interact with it during playback.

Acer Iconia Tab W500 review wondows 7
 
This Iconia Tab W500 doesn't do too badly when it comes to audio, as the speaker, when unobstructed, delivers good power, though there is a loss of detail at high volumes. The same issue comes up when you're listening with headphones, with a powerful clean sound until you push the volume too high.
Unusually, we do advise you to turn Dolby Advanced Audio (V2) on, as here it does improve the audio quality nicely.

In spite being poorly designed the camera mode is usable. Visibility is limited to an overly small window however with the picture button placed in the middle, which isn't at all practical, especially on what is already a rather heavy product.

Acer Iconia Tab W500 review camera test
Acer Iconia Tab W500 review photo and video camera


What's more, the responsiveness of the 5 Megapixel sensor compares to a bad webcam and is pretty much unusable in full definition. The result is less blue or red than the A500 but is sadly lacking in detail overall.

Battery life

The netbook architecture combined with portability make for limited battery life. In mixed usage we couldn't take it beyond 5H15, while in exclusively web use, we rarely got beyond 5H30. It gave 5 hours video playback. This is okay but a long way behind what Apple, RIM, Motorola or even Acer themselves have managed on other solutions.
3/5 Acer Iconia Tab W500 DigitalVersus 2011-07-07 00:00:00

Pros

  • A jack of all trades tablet, or almost
  • A few touchscreen applications have been developed
  • Good connectivity
  • Windows 7 is flexible in comparison with mobile OS solutions
  • Very nice screen contrast / good sound

Cons

  • Windows 7 is an anti-tablet, anti-touch OS, demanding in processing and battery power
  • Heavy / inaccurate colours
  • Physical keyboard / screen don't marry well, unbalanced
  • Low battery life
  • Reduced viewing angles and poor screen rendering

Conclusion

With low battery life, an inappropriate OS and problematic tablet / keyboard fixture, this Acer Iconia Tab W500 hasn't quite come through as a successful hybrid tablet as far as we're concerned. The flexibility of Windows 7 may well attract some users, however, and it has good audio quality. We can't wait for Windows 8 ...

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