The keyboard of the Acer Iconia W500 is largely a failure, even if it is comfortable to type on. However, it’s a necessary one in our book as Windows 7 is simply not usable with the tablet alone.
Reasons why barely need to be introduced – Windows 7 was designed with desktop computers and laptops in mind, which are almost universally equipped with keyboards and mice or trackpads. Without the keyboard dock in-place, all the Acer Iconia W500 has to rely on are its 10in capacitive touchscreen and a physical Windows button that brings-up the Start menu. Single taps on the touchscreen act as left-button clicks while a longer press works like a right mouse button click.
The touchscreen itself is responsive and accurate, but there’s lag within the software that makes the Acer Iconia W500 less responsive in use than its dual-core Android rivals. There’s a split-second gap between when the touchscreen is pressed and when it registers within Windows’s “home” screen, and while touchscreen-oriented features like multi-touch zooming are available in IE and other browsers, they’re not fast.
Zooming isn’t smooth, demonstrating that while the AMD C-50 processor may be nippy among its tablet peers, it’s a slouch compared with similarly-priced Windows laptops. However, it is largely down to the Windows software and how out of place it feels with a touchscreen rather than being solely the processor’s fault. Basic navigation around the Windows interface is fairly quick though, down in part to the 2GB of RAM – the minimum required to get decent performance out of a standard install of Windows 7.
Interface quirks also continually slow down progress. The virtual keyboard is particularly annoying. Tap on a text entry box and a keyboard icon will appear next to the cursor. You then need to tap this icon to bring up the virtual keyboard. In typical Windows fashion, it’s not a standard window that fits into what’s currently on-screen – it can be docked or moved about. Dismiss it and it’ll hide away at the side of the screen, needing to be dragged back on-stage when required.
While some may appreciate this flexibility, it’s not conducive to doing things snappily in real-world usage. The line between plenty of flexibility and too much faffing is a thin one, and the Iconia W500 often finds itself on the wrong side.
Skipping between using the Acer Iconia W500 and the Asus Eee Pad Transformer, a hybrid Android tablet in the same cost ball-park, it’s hard not to be drawn away from the Acer. It’s big, it’s clunky and using it feels comparatively clumsy. However, it’s important not to forget the supreme versatility of Windows. You can install virtually anything you like on it, just as you would with a laptop, and the two USB slots let you plug in all sorts of control peripherals – lessening the need to resort to the dedicated keyboard. With a bit of thought and an accessory or two, you can ease some of the tablet’s troubles – but it does require time and effort, and probably some additional cash.