The Acer Iconia Tab W500 is a 10.1-inch Windows slate that's designed to solve some of the problems of the tablet form factor -- namely, that you wouldn't want to sit down and work on one for long periods. It solves that problem with a keyboard dock.
The W500 will be available in the UK in early March 2011. The tablet will cost around £450 on its own, or £530 together with the keyboard dock.
The keyboard dock means the W500 offers the features most obviously missing from a tablet. When you set the W500 in the dock, you no longer have to hold onto it with one or both hands. Your hands are free to type properly on the chiclet-style keyboard. It's comfortable enough to type on, and certainly no worse than a netbook's keyboard. There's a nipple in the middle of the keyboard that will let you move the cursor around. It's pretty awful, but you can always just tap directly on the screen instead.
The dock also offers access to an Ethernet port so you can get a faster and more reliable connection to the Web than that offered by Wi-Fi. The dock contains an HDMI port too, for connecting the tablet to a high-definition television, and a USB socket for attaching peripherals. There's only one USB socket though, so, if you want to connect a few devices, you'll need a USB hub.
The keyboard is a non-powered device, so you don't have to plug it in to use it. The tablet provides power to the USB socket when not plugged into the mains. Asus told us that means you can charge your phone from your tablet.
The tablet connects to the keyboard via USB, with two simple pins holding the tablet in place. When not in use, the dock has a flap that folds flat and conceals the connection.
The problem with this folding flap is it makes the screen look like it folds downwards, like a laptop, but it doesn't. The pre-production sample we tried was cracked along the casing, where other folk had clearly kept trying to fold the screen down. We're not going to draw any conclusions about the W500's build quality, because we didn't see a finished model. Nevertheless, it's a misleading design.
Touching me, touching you
You can access the W500's features via the Acer Ring, a custom-designed interface added to Windows. When you launch the Ring, applications and options fan out in a cool circular design. Among them are the settings menu, the camera and your games section. Built-in apps include a snipping tool to clip and tag screen grabs, and an app to manage and clean up your disk space.
Acer's software includes SocialJogger, an app that pulls together your Facebook, Twitter and other social-network activity in one place. The coolest app is MyJournal, which allows you to clip parts of Web sites and save them for later. They then continue to update so you're kept abreast of the news.
The Acer software is pretty slick, and in fact it's Windows that lets the side down. Windows 7 supports tapping and multi-touch gestures on the screen, but it's not specifically designed for touch interaction. Icons and menus that are fine for clicking with a mouse are often small and fiddly for fingers.
Rounding out the features list, the W500 includes Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 3.0 connectivity. You'll be able to choose a model either with or without 3G. There are two Acer Crystal Eye 1.3-megapixel webcams -- one on the front for video calling and checking your hair's okay, and one on the back for taking proper photos. The tablet packs a 1GHz, dual-core AMD C-50 processor and an AMD Radeon HD 6250 GPU.
The Acer Iconia Tab W500 provides a novel solution to the sacrifices made by tablets in the name of portability. Like the similar, two-part Asus Eee Pad Transformer, it aims to give you the comfort of sitting down in front of a laptop -- or, rather, a netbook -- while still offering the portability of a tablet. Stay tuned for a full review.
Edited by Charles Kloet