Much of the pre-release hype for Windows 8 tablets was focused on devices like the Microsoft Surface with Windows RT and the ASUS VivoTab RT, which sport mobile-friendly ARM processors. But there are only a handful of Windows RT devices on the market, and they are by no means a desktop or laptop replacement. Intel, however, stepped up to the plate and managed to deliver a system-on-chip processor comparable to ARM in terms of battery life and performance yet capable of supporting traditional desktop applications. I was a little skeptical at first, but my time with the Acer Iconia W510 proved that Intel tablets can be just as mobile-friendly as their ARM counterparts – and sometimes more so.
The Acer Iconia W510 comes with Windows 8 32-bit and it features a 10.1-inch multi-touch HD Acer CineCrystal Active Matrix TFT Color LCD with a resolution of 1366 x 768. Inside, you’ll find a dual-core 1.8GHz Intel Atom Z2760 – also known as “Clover Trail” – processor, 2GB of memory, a 64GB SSD, and a 3,650mAh battery rated at approximately nine hours of constant use. It also comes with dual cameras – an 8MP camera with flash on the back and a 2.1MP Crystal Eye Full HD webcam on the front. The whole package measures 10.18 x 6360 x 0.35 inches and weighs 1.3 pounds.
Of course, the device also includes a number of ports and connectivity options, including 802.11a/b/g/n WiFi, Bluetooth 4.0, micro-HDMI, microUSB (USB 2.0 when using the included dongle), a microSD SDHC card slot, NFC, stereo speakers, an integrated microphone, a standard 3.5mm audio jack, a gyroscope, e-compass, accelerometer, and an ambient light sensor.
Like the ASUS VivoTab RT, the Acer Iconia W510 supports an optional keyboard dock, bringing with it a full QWERTY keyboard and an additional nine hours of battery life. The dock also allows you to twist the screen 295 degrees – something others do not – and lets you access the full-size USB port without a special dongle.
The Iconia W510’s packaging closely matches the look of the device itself, right down to the white on the front and silver on the back. Although the designers apparently decided to deviate from the source material somewhat and went with silver for the sides. On the back, however, you’ll find two long stickers with the serial number, specs, and other information and disclaimers. I would have preferred a more simplistic approach, but this is the norm with most PCs. Overall, the packaging isn’t particularly eye-catching but it’s not terrible either.
Inside the box, you’ll find the tablet, the proprietary power cable, a microUSB-to-USB dongle, a quick start guide, an addendum for notebooks/tablets, and three pamphlets with various tips in English, French, and Dutch.
The Acer Iconia W510 is billed as a silver tablet, but you wouldn’t think that unless you’re looking at the back. The glass covering the screen extends to the black border, which is in turn set into a white plastic case. The seam between these two pieces is usually sturdy, but there were one or two instances where there seemed to be some slight separation. The back of the device and the bottom quarter of the edge, however, is covered with silver plastic which, unfortunately, is prone to picking up scratches and dings. Rounded corners are everywhere as well. The aesthetics don’t really excite me – due in large part to the fact that I rarely choose white devices – but other people might prefer it.
The Start button sees a lot of use on Windows 8 tablets, so the quality of the one on the Iconia is disappointing. The strength of the haptic feedback is perfect, but it doesn’t kick in until after you remove your finger. This makes it feel as if the Start button isn’t responding immediately to the touch. The button is also notoriously finicky, sometimes requiring a firm lingering press before it kicks in. As a result, I occasionally had to press the Start button a few times in a row.
The back of the device is curved slightly near the top and bottom, and like many PCs it’s covered with stickers advertising Windows 8, Intel Atom inside, and the Bluetooth FCC information, as well as the location of the NFC zone. The camera and LED flash also have the completely unnecessary “8.0 megapixels” engraved next to them. Some of this is required, of course, but do we really need to have the camera’s specs on the back of the device? The Surface still holds the record for displaying the most important information in a very unobtrusive manner. The area around the NFC zone tends to become warm after constant use, but it was never hot or uncomfortable.
If you’re someone who plugs a lot of things into your tablet, you’ll appreciate the fact that all of the ports are situated on the right side of the device. The headphone jack, rotation lock button, and power button are located on the top right, while the volume rocker, micro-HDMI, microUSB, and microSD ports are lined up along the side. Only the power and two docking ports are on the bottom – the latter of which is by necessity. Strangely, the power cable angles toward the center, rather than the right, which meant that the cable was usually folded in half. The location also made it difficult to charge the device while it was resting against something.
The other strange design choice is the location of the stereo speakers, which can be found on each side of the device near the bottom. This sounds great in theory, but holding the Iconia with two hands causes your palms to completely cover the speakers and muffle the sound.
Over the last few weeks, I’ve also run into a few short-lived hardware glitches. In addition to the screen imperfection (see below for more details), there have been a few instances where the accelerometer refused to rotate the screen (rotation lock was off) or sound wouldn’t play. More recently, the Start button simply stopped working. A quick restart fixed these issues and I haven’t encountered them on any other Windows 8 PC or tablet, so I can only assume that they are hardware-related.
At this point, it feels like I’ve done nothing but complain about the hardware design. It’s not bad by any stretch, but it just feels like it could have been improved in a few key areas. And maybe I’ve been spoiled, but I really miss having a kickstand. I do, however, want to praise the rotation lock button. This option can also be found in the Windows 8 Settings Charm, but the physical button is extremely convenient. It’s so nice, in fact, that I wish all Windows 8 tablets included one. I tend to leave the setting set to locked on my Surface, but I found myself frequently swapping back and forth on the Iconia. I also really liked the feel of the buttons.
It’s going to be a little difficult to review the Acer Iconia W510’s screen quality, due to a hardware issue which resulted in an imperfection on the display. The five-point multi-touch 10.1-inch HD Acer CineCrystal display runs at the standard tablet resolution of 1366 x 768, and it’s very responsive to the touch.
Unfortunately, as I’ve noted previously, the contrast is a little on the high side. A recent firmware update improved the situation, but I suspect that the entire screen is defective; especially due to the strange bright circle on the right-hand side of the screen. As a result, I can’t render a verdict on the screen quality, and it’s unlikely that this issue will be found on other devices.
One of the Acer Iconia W510’s biggest draws is the fact that it runs Windows 8 32-bit, rather than the more limited Windows RT. This means that you can install anything on your tablet, from new Windows Store apps to traditional desktop applications like Outlook and Photoshop. I tend to use Windows Store apps more and more, but there are some situations where a Windows 8 app equivalent isn’t yet available. In these cases, the Iconia’s full compatibility has been a life saver. The most notable use cases I’ve encountered lately include creating recurring appointments in Outlook 2013, filling out a PDF form using Adobe Reader XI, syncing files using the SkyDrive for Windows desktop app, and recording a podcast via Skype.
Windows RT tablets are excellent, but they still very much a tablet like the iPad or Android. They can do a lot, but not everything. Windows 8 tablets, on the other hand, are full PCs, and you could likely get away with using one as your sole computing device. Of course, I’d recommend picking up a keyboard dock if you want to get work done more quickly.
But while the Acer Iconia W510 comes with all of the features you’d expect in a full PC, it also comes with some of the weaknesses too. Like most computers, this tablet comes riddled with crapware. If you’re like me, you’ll probably feel some sadness when you navigate to the desktop and discover a number of shortcuts and pinned taskbar items for websites, free trials, and pre-installed apps, applications, and pinned sites. While the 36 items help Acer bring down the overall cost of the device, I would have preferred a Signature PC experience.
Acer also made a number of tweaks to the OS, such as bumping up the size of toolbars and icons 125%. This was done with the intention of making the desktop easier to use with touch, but I immediately returned it to the standard 100% setting which I have used without difficulty for months.
Unlike Windows RT, Windows 8 does not come with a free copy of Microsoft Office 2013. So if you want the popular productivity suite, you’ll need to purchase your own copy (or pick up one of the new subscriptions). The tablet did come with a free trial of Office 2010, which I promptly replaced with Office 2013. The Iconia also comes with software called AcerRing, which seems to randomly start up from time to time.
Strangely, the Acer Iconia W510 does not support the Windows Key + Volume Down shortcut for taking screenshots, so you’ll need to use Windows Key + Print Screen if you want to save a copy of what’s on the screen. This is fine if you have a keyboard dock, but it makes taking screenshots next to impossible (except for applications on the desktop, where you can use the Snipping Tool) if all you have is the tablet.
From a performance standpoint, the Acer Iconia W510 is the best Windows 8 tablet I’ve used yet. It’s noticeably faster than the Microsoft Surface RT and ASUS VivoTab RT, and both the OS and apps are very responsive. Even Photoshop works well on the device, which is somewhat of a surprise. The Atom “Clover Trail” processor isn’t top-of-the-line by any means, but it works great on a tablet like this one.
Looking at the Windows Experience Index (WEI), the device is rated at a 3.4 processor, 4.7 RAM, 3.7 graphics, 3.3 gaming graphics, and 5.7 primary hard disk. Not bad for a tablet.
The cameras on the Acer Iconia W510 look great on paper, but they’re not all that impressive in reality. While the front- and rear-facing cameras are rated at 2.1MP and 8MP, respectively, the Camera app defaults to a much lower (albeit 16:9) resolution. While you can bump up the resolution to the full 4:3 2.1MP/8MP, the image quality doesn’t change very much. I found most of the photos to be blurry and pixelated, although the flash did help considerably. Frankly, the cameras are good enough for video chats, but I wouldn’t use them for everyday photos.
Once again, I have to note the Camera app’s strange lack of SkyDrive integration. The app’s Windows phone counterpart supports automatic image uploads to Microsoft’s cloud storage service, but this is not supported on Windows 8/RT. I hope Microsoft updates the app with this functionality sometime in the future, since it would make things much more convenient.
I’ll be honest – I was a little skeptical about how the Intel-based tablet would fare on battery life. Thankfully, it blew away all of my expectations, matching Windows RT tablets like the Surface and VivoTab second-for-second. I was able to consistently get around nine hours of constant use from the 3,650mAh battery, even with desktop applications like SkyDrive for Windows desktop and Office running in the background. Impressive, most impressive.
Of course, if you need even more power, you can always pick up a Keyboard Dock for an additional nine hours of work/entertainment. This will increase the overall size and weight, but you can’t beat a 16-hour battery life.
As you’ve no doubt realized, the hardware isn’t perfect. Far from it. The build quality could be slightly better, the preinstalled apps could be fewer (or eliminated), and the camera image quality could be improved. But from a software standpoint, it’s hard not to recommend the Acer Iconia W510. It may not look like much, but it’s got it where it counts: performance, compatibility, and battery life.
You can purchase a 64GB Acer Iconia W510-1666 for $599.99, with the optional Keyboard Dock retailing for an additional $149.99. This review unit was provided to me by Intel as part of the company’s #IntelTablets #TabletCrew program.