Acer favours the Iconia Tab W500, we go hands-on

Acer confirmed the details for its Iconia tablet range coming to the UK at a London press event on Thursday.

Three devices will be coming to the UK: the Iconia Tab W500, the Iconia A500 and the Iconia A100. If you haven’t already guessed, the W or A indicates whether it is Windows 7 or Android.

All these devices were first announced at Mobile World Congress back in February.

Acer did seem to be most focused on the Iconia Tab W500, a unique device that offers an accessory keyboard dock for your Windows tablet. Or is that a netbook with a detachable screen? Jose-Luiz Munoz, business unit manager at Acer, claimed that the format wasn’t new to Acer, following some of the tablet TravelMate tablet PCs of the past (so it’s a netbook?).

Of all the devices launching, the Iconia Tab W500 was the only one ready to roll; although the A500 was also there, it was running Android 2.2, rather than the Android 3.0 it will ship with. The Iconia A100 wasn’t available, and will follow a little later in the launch cycle.

Sticking to the W500, which we had the most hands-on time with, you get a 10.1-inch 1280 x 800 touchscreen tablet, which comes with a full-sized chiclet keyboard as an accessory. The end result is that you can use it as a straight tablet for consuming your multimedia content and then dock it when you want to get on with some real work.

This hybrid beast will run Windows 7 and comes equipped with the 1GHz AMD C-50 dual-core processor and ADM Radeon HD6250 GPU, 2GB RAM and a 32GB SSD drive. Michel Lisiecki, product marketing manager EMEA, AMD, confirmed the AMD chip offered full HD video playback, as well as stating that they had “slaughtered the power consumption”, although the battery life is cited as 4-6 hours, so it's more netbook than tablet again.

Taking the multimedia seriously, it comes sporting Dolby optimisation as well as HDMI on top of all the normal notebook connections - USB, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth Ethernet. Most of the connectivity is in the tablet, the keyboard bringing additional USBs and Ethernet.

In the hand the “tablet” is noticeably weighty and chunky, whereas the docking keyboard is rather lightweight and plastic. They connect together with a simple plug in solution, which is essentially a USB connector. We were concerned that it felt a little too much like a screen balanced on a keyboard when connected together.

The base provides enough support for the screen when on the flat, but if you fancy typing on your lap, there’s chance that the whole thing will topple off your knees onto the floor.

The touch response seemed adequate in Windows and to get around the fact that Windows 7 isn’t a great touchscreen interface, Acer has introduced something it calls Acer Ring.

This is essentially a larger touch-specific interface offering up "AppCards" to easily get to things like the browser. In our brief play it did seem a little too slow when set alongside the likes of the Apple iPad 2 or the Motorola Xoom to give you the sort of consumer buzz you want from a new device. At least Windows 7 will let you run a whole world of apps without scaling issues.

So, you’ll be able to watch videos on the plane without your keyboard, and type the notes of your board meeting when you get to the other end. Having played with it, we definitely see the Acer Iconia Tab W500 as a netbook with a detachable screen, rather than a tablet with an accessory keyboard. 

The Acer Iconia Tab W500 will set you back £529 for both parts, or you can get the tablet only for £449, or the keyboard only for £89.99 and it will be landing on 8 April at a number of retailers (Dixons, HMV, John Lewis, Harrods, etc.). A 3G version will follow in May for £579.

The Iconia A500 tablet (10.1-inch) with Android 3.0 will cost you a not unsubstantial £449 from 8 April.

The Iconia A100 tablet (7-inch) with Android 3.0 is yet to be finally priced, but is said to have a “trendy design” and be landing in May.

When asked about the range of tablets available and its target audience, Bobby Watkins, Acer UK managing director, informed us: “we’re going to stay in the wide-awake club”, when it comes to sizes and operating systems, before saying that market research had indicated that “the females were voting for a 7-inch product”.

Of course, we'll be reviewing the new products in all sizes in the not too distant future.