Since the launch of Windows 8, the laptop market has been flooded with new Ultrabook form factors ranging from keyboard sliders to swivel-screens and detachables. However, Acer's new Aspire P3 takes the Ultrabook category to a new extreme, pairing an 11.6-inch tablet with a detachable Bluetooth keyboard case. Unveiled at Acer's New York press event, the 11.6--inch Windows 8 device will arrive this month with a starting price of $799.
We had a chance to go hands-on with the Aspire P3 and were intrigued but a bit puzzled by some of Acer's design choices.
The slate functions as a completely independent 11-inch Windows 8 tablet with all of the ports, components, storage and battery inside. Unlike other detachable hybrids such as the HP Envy X2 and ThinkPad Helix, which physically connect to hard metal or plastic keyboard bases, the P3 simply snaps into a bracket you can fold into clamshell or slate modes on the leather-like cover.
In our brief hands-on with a demo unit, we found the on-lap experience rather awkward. Like the Microsoft Surface cover, the keyboard on the Aspire P3 weighs very little compared to the screen. Add in a "hinge" that's made from material rather than metal and you have a clamshell device that didn't feel particularly sturdy when we balanced it on our knees.
We appreciated the large, sturdy keys on the keyboard, though they didn't appear to have much travel. However, the lack of a dedicated pointing device is a limitation some consumers won't be able to live with.
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The Aspire P3 snaps very securely into the bracket on the cover, so securely that we had a very hard time popping it out. Most users will probably want to keep the slate in the cover, because they can fold the keyboard part of it over and use the device in slate mode. The case also folds closed so, like a regular notebook though the leather-like material is not what you'd expect to see on a notebook lid.
Strangely, the backside of the keyboard cover completely obstructs the rear of the tablet, blocking the 5-MP rear-facing camera. So, if you want to shoot photos, you'll need to pop the slate out of its bracket.
When detached, the Aspire P3 looks and functions like a typical Windows 8 slate. The 1.7-pound, 11.6-inch metal chassis reminded us a lot of the lighter, 1.5-pound HP Envy X2. Like the Envy X2, the Aspire P3 sports a 1366 x 768 resolution touch screen, but unlike the Atom-powered Envy, the Aspire P3 sports an Intel Core i3 or Core i5 CPU.
When mounted in its case, the P3 jumps up to 3.06 pounds, about the same weight as the 3.1-pound, docked HP Envy X2. Other key specs include 2 or 4GB of RAM, 60 or 120GB of internal storage, a single USB port, a front-facing 720p camera and the aforementioned rear 5-MP camera.
The IPS screen seemed quite bright and colorful and was very responsive to our touches. When we folded the case closed, it automatically put the slate to sleep and, as advertised, it woke back up again when we reopened the case. At least on the unit we tried, though, it took the P3 several seconds to wake back up.
Whether consumers will find the keyboard case convenient or awkward remains to be seen. In either case, Acer is making a bold move by labeling the Aspire P3 as an Ultrabook. We can't wait to get this system in the labs.