By CHONG JINN XIUNGintech@thestar.com.my
If you can't decide between a Tablet and a netbook, check out the Acer Iconia Tab W500 which is both.
JUST about every computer manufacturer is in the Tablet computer race and Acer isn't one that is going to be left out.
It has two Android 3.0 (Honeycomb) Tablet computers in the pipeline, and has just released the Iconia Tab W500.
The W500 is a different beast - it runs a full version of Windows 7 Home Premium.
So, is running a desktop operating system on a Tablet computer more practical and attractive than the Android or iOS mobile platforms? Read on to find out.
Whenever I used the W500, it drew curious looks. People would often stop by to ask whether it is a netbook or Tablet computer.
The answer is that it is both. The W500 has a unique design - its keyboard can be detached which instantly transforms it from a netbook to a Tablet.
Even when the keyboard was removed, the Tablet felt thick but solid. The smooth metallic back is a nice touch but doesn't provide much grip.
It weighs 970g which is quite heavy for a Tablet which means it'll be uncomfortable to hold for very long with one hand. With the keyboard attached, the device weighs 1.5kg which is still light enough for taking it with you wherever you go.
When you need to do serious work, just plug in the keyboard and the device transforms into a netbook.
The keyboard easily attaches to the Tablet but the docking mechanism didn't feel solid and the connection was a little loose. Also, you can't close the device like a regular netbook because doing so will probably damage the docking mechanism.
The chiclet-styled keyboard felt comfortable to use and the keys are well spaced out. The only problem I had was the arrow keys which were crammed into a tiny area, making it easy to accidentally press the wrong keys.
Another downside is that the keyboard doesn't come with a trackpad and instead has a trackpoint. If you are not used to one, you will find it uncomfortable to use like I did.
The keyboard also has two USB ports - one on each side - for hooking up peripherals. Unlike most Tablet computers, it also has an Ethernet port for plugging it into a wired network.
The 10.1in touchsreen is sharp, bright, and has good viewing angles. However, the screen is a fingerprint magnet and needs constant cleaning. Also, it is very reflective so it is quite difficult to view the screen when using it outdoors on a sunny day.
The Tablet comes with two 1.3-megapixel cameras - one on the front for video calls and another on the back for shooting pictures.
The quality isn't fantastic but that's not surprising because of the low megapixel count.
The computer also has a HDMI slot for connecting it to a high-definition TV.
You get the full Windows 7 experience with the W500 which is rather cool. You'll be able to install most Windows programs on the W500 as long as you stay away from the resource intensive ones like Photoshop.
The main limiting factor is the storage space. The SSD (solid-state drive) is only 32GB in size which means you can't install many apps - bear in mind that Windows 7 apps are mostly big unlike Android or iOS ones.
On the bright side, the device boots up really fast thanks to the speedy SSD.
In terms of specs, the Tablet is powered by a dual-core 1GHz AMD C-50 Fusion processor and has 2GB of RAM.
We tested two first-person shooter games - Left 4 Dead 2 and Far Cry 2 - and the device was able to handle them both. However, the graphics had to be toned down significantly and some effects like antialiasing had to be turned off for the games to run smoothly.
Less demanding games like Torchlight ran without any problems on the W500.
In terms of navigation, the touchscreen was responsive and it felt quite intuitive to tap on the screen to navigate, run applications and move icons around.
Browsing the Web felt quite natural be it using Firefox, Chrome or Internet Explorer.
The only drawback is that you have to rely on the virtual keyboard for text input and it's quite clunky.
There is also a handwriting recognition feature but it often incorrectly guessed the character I was trying to write.
In terms of battery life, the W500 ran out of power after about three to four hours depending on usage.
Without external power, you'll be able to get some work done but not play a long game or watch a movie.
Speaking of movies, the W500 plays back standard definition videos fine but it can't seem to handle 720p HD videos. The HD videos appeared jerky and were not watchable.
The built-in speakers were decent and sounded better when the keyboard was attached. When the keyboard was removed, the speakers sounded flat.
Still, you are better off with a pair of headphones or external speakers for a richer audio experience.
The Acer Iconia Tab W500 is an interesting hybrid device that tries to be both a Tablet and netbook. The problem is that it doesn't really excel as one or the other.
When used as a Tablet, Windows 7 works pretty well but is let down by a number of things. The main shortcoming is the clunky virtual keyboard which makes text entry a nightmare.
This really spoils an otherwise wonderful experience of being able to use full applications such as Outlook for e-mail.
Of course, this can be easily solved by attaching the keyboard which effectively turns the W500 into a netbook. Sure, it's a hassle to lug the keyboard around but it's good to have the option.
The W500 isn't a particularly powerful machine - it can pretty much handle what most netbooks can but with one exception. In our tests, it faltered when it came to playing HD videos which is a big letdown. The speakers were also not that great and sounded average.
The addition of an SSD is both good and bad. The drive helps the device start up very fast but 32GB is very little space.
Overall, the Acer Iconia Tab W500 works better as netbook than a Tablet.
If you are looking for a lightweight netbook primarily for surfing the Web, the W500 fits the bill nicely.
Pros: Unique design; runs standard Windows apps; handy removable keyboard; sharp screen with good viewing angles; SSD is fast.
Cons: Windows 7 not optimised for Tablet computers; virtual keyboard is clunky; SSD offers little storage space; won't play 720p HD videos.
Iconia Tab W500
Tablet/netbook hybrid computer
PROCESSOR: Dual-core 1GHz AMD C-50 Fusion processor
MEMORY: 2GB RAM
DISPLAY: 10.1in (1,280 x 800-pixels) LED back-lit
GRAPHICS: AMD Radeon HD 6250
STORAGE: 32GB SSD
CONNECTIVITY: WiFi 802.11b/g/n, 10/100 Ethernet port, Bluetooth 3.0
PORTS/SLOTS: Two USB 2.0 ports, card reader (SD, MMC), HDMI port, headphone and microphone jacks
BATTERY: Three-cell lithium-ion polymer
OPERATING SYSTEM: Windows 7 Home Premium (32-bit)
OTHER FEATURES: Two 1.3-megapixel cameras with ambient light sensor
DIMENSIONS (W x D x H): 27.5 x 19.0 x 1.6cm
WEIGHT: 0.97kg (1.5kg with keyboard)
Review unit courtesy of Acer Sales & Services Sdn Bhd, 1-800-88-1288