The jury is still out on the best combination of design and internal components for Windows 8 hardware, and with the Iconia W510, Acer is adding yet another variable to the mix. This 1.2-pound tablet-notebook hybrid features an Intel Atom processor and 64GB of flash storage, promising all-day battery life when attached to its keyboard dock. Priced at $749 (with keyboard), the W510 falls, price- and performance-wise, between Nvidia Tegra tablets such as the Microsoft Surface RT, and full-powered devices such as the Acer Iconia W700. Is the W510 just right, too much, or not enough?
At first glance, the Acer Iconia Tab W510 looks like a smaller, slightly cheaper version of the W700 -- which it is. Unlike its larger cousin, the back is plastic, as are the white sides, which curls around to the front. It's a nice look, but doesn't feel as premium as the Surface RT. Along the top edge is a power button and a screen lock slider, and the right edge has a volume rocker.
As with the tablet, the keyboard dock, which is made of plastic, is primarily white and silver. The bottom and deck are silver, while the keyboard and the rotating section that connects to the tablet are white. The W510 is secured in the dock via a sliding latch, as on the ASUS VivoTab RT. We found it easy to dock and undock the slate.
Like the Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga, the W510 is capable of some calisthenics of its own, but is not quite as flexible. The dock can rotate 295 degrees, so while the tablet can't double back on itself, users can rotate it so that the keyboard is facing downward, but the screen is tilted toward you. This mode should come in handy for watching movies or giving presentations.
By itself, the W510 tablet weighs 1.2 pounds, and measures 10.2 x 7.3 x 0.4 inches. That makes it lighter than the Acer Iconia W700 (2 pounds), Microsoft Surface RT (1.5 pounds) and the 4th generation iPad (1.4 pounds), but heavier than the ASUS Vivo Tab RT (1.1 pounds). However, it's thicker than the Surface (0.37 inches) and the Vivo Tab (0.33 inches).
When connected to its dock, the W510's weight increases to a still-reasonable 2.8 pounds (the Vivo Tab is 2.3 with its dock), and its thickness to about 0.75 inches. Unfortunately, the top-heaviness of the tablet caused it to flop backward in our lap if we pushed the display back further than 30 degrees or so.
Sporting a 10.1-inch Gorilla Glass 2 IPS display, the W510's resolution of 1366 x 768 is the same as the Surface and the Vivo Tab, but far below that of the iPad's Retina display. Still, this resolution made it easier to target icons with our fingertips.
While watching an HD trailer for "Star Trek into Darkness," the blue of Chris Pine's eyes and the red leaves and lava of alien planets popped on the display. While its glossy surface did kick back some reflections, on-screen action was visible from oblique angles.
The W510's brightness of 262 lux is far below competing tablets. By comparison, the tablet average is 367 lux, the W700 averaged 369 lux, the iPad is 346 lux, and the Surface RT is 373 lux. The Asus Vivo Tab RT outshone them all at 516 lux.
The two small speakers on either side of the W510 kicked out loud, if somewhat tinny sound. While watching the "Star Trek" trailer, the back of the tablet vibrated from all the noise. However, when streaming Bruce Springsteen's "Badlands" from Pandora, the Boss sounded distant and echoey. Same with the Rolling Stones' "Gimme Shelter" and Jay-Z's "So Ambitious."
For something that has to fit inside a 10-inch form factor, Acer does a good job with the W510's keyboard dock. The island- style keys are fairly large and provided a good amount of travel. However, some keys are shrunken, such as the right Shift key. We would much rather have smaller arrow keys. While we wouldn't want to type a thesis on the W510, it's more than acceptable for emails and shorter documents.
Less thrilling is the W510's 3.1 x 1.8-inch touchpad. The integrated mouse buttons were stiff, and on our review unit, the touchpad behaved erratically. Acer said this was an issue with a small number of touchpads. Regardless, the touchpad does not support Windows 8 gestures; you'll have to use the touch screen for that.
As with the W700, the W510 features Acer's Ring utility. Simultaneously placing all five fingers on the screen in either the desktop or modern UI causes a gray circle to appear. Inside the ring are icons for Favorite Apps, Documents, Photos, Videos and Device Controls. Tapping on one of these icons causes a new tab to appear at the top left of the screen, along with context-sensitive data. For instance, tapping on the Photo icon opens a thumbnail collage of your photos, which can be expanded to a thumbnail list of photos by swiping left on the collage with your finger. Swiping right with your finger collapses the list back into a collage.
Each of the icons has its own page that can be opened by tapping on the tab to the left of the ring. The Favorite Apps page, for example, lists thumbnails of your most-used applications that you can tap to open, while Photos shows all of your pictures and their accompanying albums. Tapping on the Edge Ring icon in the upper right corner opens two context-sensitive ring menus on the left and right side of the screen (the left is always the Acer Ring menu, from which you can switch to any of the other pages). On the Music page, for instance, tapping on the Edge Ring icon opens a ring menu with buttons for play, shuffle, repeat, forward and back.
Aside from a few quibbles (being unable to add Modern apps to the Favorite Apps page, for example), the Acer Ring utility proved intuitive to use and was a welcome relief from trying to navigate the Windows 8 desktop using our fingers. We wish other manufacturers of Windows 8 slates would follow Acer's lead.
After streaming a Hulu video for 15 minutes at full screen, the touchpad on the Iconia W510 measured a cool 75 degrees Fahrenheit, and space between the G and H keys was 77 degrees, and the middle of the underside was 78 degrees. However, the right back of the tablet reached 103 degrees. That's higher than what we consider acceptable (100 degrees), but it didn't feel uncomfortable in our hands.
On the tablet itself are a microHDMI, microUSB, and a microSD card slot along the right edge, a headphone jack on the top, and a docking connector on the bottom. The keyboard dock has a full-size USB 2.0 port. Embedded in the back of the W510 is an NFC chip.
It's been a while since we've tested a device with an Atom processor inside -- anyone remember netbooks? -- but Intel's power-sipping chip is due to make a comeback in Windows 8 tablets. The W510 packs a 1.5-GHz Z2760 "Clover Trail" processor, 2GB of RAM and 64GB of flash memory. And, like those faddish ultraportables, the W510 is best suited for light tasks such as surfing the Web, checking email, word processing and social networking.
On PCMark 7, the W510's score of 1,305 bested the 1.70 GHz AMD E2-1800 dual-core processor in the Sony VAIO E11, which mustered a score of 976, but is no match for more powerful CPUs. The W700, which has a 1.7-GHz Core i5-3317U CPU, 4GB of RAM and a 128GB Toshiba SSD, scored 4,439 on the same test.
Our configuration of the W510 came with 64GB of storage. However, only 31.7GB is available to the user.
The 64GB of flash memory in the W510 was a good deal slower than SSDs. The W510 took 7 minutes and 52 seconds to duplicate 4.97GB of multimedia files for a transfer rate of 10.8 MBps. That's on a par with the VivoTab RT (10 MBps) and the Surface RT (14 MBps), but far below the category average of 55 MBps. The W700, which has a genuine SSD, blazed through with a rate of 138 MBps.
Still, the W510 booted into Windows 8 in a relatively fast 20 seconds, about 10 seconds faster than the Surface RT and VivoTab, and half that of the category average. The W700, though, took just 10 seconds.
On our Spreadsheet test (matching 20,000 names to their addresses), the W510 took 29 minutes and 56 seconds. That's three times longer than the category average (9:17), and nearly six times as long as the W700 (5:49). The VAIO E11 took 18 minutes and 49 seconds.
How does performance compare across tablets? We ran the Speed Test Pro benchmark in the Windows App Store on the W510, the W700 and the Surface RT. On the CPU portion of the test, the W510 scored 71.64 MBps, which falls below the Surface (105.3 MBps) as well as the W700 (363.31 MBps). However, on the GPU test, the W510's score of 40,220 was almost double that of the Surface (22,610). Both were eclipsed by the W700's score of 643,784.
Opening a 135MB TIFF file on the Iconia W510 took about 13 seconds, compared with 3 seconds for the W700, and 29 seconds for the Surface RT.
A 50MB PowerPoint presentation took about 8 seconds to open on the W510, versus 13 seconds on the Surface RT, and less than 2 seconds on the W700.
Overall, it's clear that the Atom CPU inside the Iconia W510 offers snappier performance than ARM-based slates like the Surface with RT, but Core-powered devices are a big step above Atom.
One of the limitations of the W510's Intel Graphics Media Accelerator GPU is that it's not DirectX 11 compatible, so our standard 3DMark11 benchmark wouldn't run. You can forget about playing "World of Warcraft," too. Even when effects were set to low, the W510 averaged just 12 fps, and even hung up during our test flights.
Still, games downloaded from the App Store played well, from "Angry Birds: Star Wars" to "Hydro Thunder Hurricane." However, on the latter game, we wish we could simply tilt the W510 to turn the boat, instead of having to use on-screen controls.
The W510 has some serious staying power. On the LAPTOP Battery Test (Web surfing via Wi-Fi), the tablet lasted 8 hours and 49 minutes, almost two hours longer than the category average of 7:06. This runtime also bests the W700 (6:48), the Asus Vivo Tab RT (6:33) and the Microsoft Surface RT (7:43). The 4th-Generation iPad, however, lasted 12:22.
With the keyboard dock, the W510 lasted 15 hours and 9 minutes. By comparison, the Vivo Tab RT lasted 11:15 with its keyboard dock.
Using the Windows 8 camera app, the rear-facing 8-MP camera on the Iconia W510 was slow to take photos. The W510 would make a shutter sound, but wouldn't actually snap a photo until about a second later. As a result, we shot many blurry pictures before we realized what was happening. Outdoor shots were generally crisp and colors, such as the yellow of a taxicab, were bright, but indoors, there was a persistent graininess and white cast.
Photos we took of ourselves using the front-facing camera, which can take 2.1-MP stills, were grainy and lacked color, but at least the camera was fast.
The rear camera can record video up to 1080p in resolution. A video we shot of traffic driving by a New York street corner was smooth and colors bright, but the camera had some difficulty when panning from a bright sky to the darker sidewalks.
The front camera, too, can record 1080p video; as with stills, moving images were also on the grainy side.
Bloatware is starting to creep onto Windows 8 systems, but the apps on the W510 are more useful than not. These include Acer Explorer, a portal for users to discover apps and get tutorials and support from Acer. Also here is Evernote, Kindle, Skitch, 7digital (a music app), ChaCha, Netflix, iCookbook, TuneIn, StumbleUpon, SocialJogger, newsXpresso and Skype.
While its name may suggest cloud storage and/or backup, the AcerCloud app lets you remotely access content stored on the W510 from another PC or Android device. You can access music, photos, videos and files even if the W510 is in sleep mode.
Our review configuration of the Acer W510-1422 costs $749, and has a 1.5-GHz Intel Atom Z2760 with 2GB of RAM, a 64GB SSD and a keyboard dock. The starting configuration (W510-1674; $499) has the same processor and RAM, but a 32GB SSD and no keyboard dock. A $599 version (W510-1666) increases the storage to 64GB, but does not include the keyboard. Finally, a $799 version (W510P) has the same configuration as our review unit, but comes with Windows 8 Professional and a two-year warranty.
The Acer Iconia W510 is a fairly attractive tablet that can double as a notebook, offering a design that makes it easy to change modes, plus a comfortable keyboard and very long battery life. The fact that you can get more than 15 hours of endurance with the keyboard dock alone will cause some to look this Acer's way. The W510 also has a leg up on the Microsoft Surface RT and Vivo Tab RT in that it can run traditional desktop programs.
However, for $749, you're getting netbooklike performance. Depending on the tasks you perform on a daily basis, the W510 might not be powerful enough to be your everyday PC. Those looking for a larger display may want to step up to the 11-inch HP Envy x2 ($849), which is also Atom-powered, but is more of a laptop than a tablet because of its size. But if you like the idea of owning a lightweight Windows 8-powered hybrid that can run desktop programs as well as apps downloaded from the Windows 8 store, the W510 is a solid choice.