Among the many versions of Windows 8 PCs pushing back against the traditional clamshell laptop is the detachable-screen hybrid. Examples include the HP Envy X2 and the Lenovo ThinkPad Helix, but the first version of this style we got our hands on was the Acer Iconia W510.
The version of this 10-inch hybrid we looked at during the Windows 8 launch was a nonfinal preproduction unit, but now that the final hardware is available, we've been able to benchmark the W510 for an official review. In truth, our experience with the early hardware and this final version differs little, and those initial impressions mostly stand.
While Acer's other Windows 8 systems, such as the Aspire S7 and W700, have impressed, the W510 is held back by a couple of factors. First, it's powered by a direct descendant of the Atom processors behind the Netbook, a nearly extinct laptop subcompact category that was hugely popular for a year or so before low-cost ultraportables and the iPad overshadowed it. The new Atoms are faster than their predecessors, while maintaining long battery life and power efficiency, but that may not be enough to satisfy laptop shoppers used to finding Intel Core i3, i5, and even i7 chips in the thinnest of ultrabooks.
The other psychological hurdle here is price. Atom-powered laptops from a few years ago cost $299 or so. The Iconia W510 is $749 (or $599 for the tablet/screen only without the keyboard dock). There are a lot of impressive laptops you can buy for $750 that are more powerful, have better features, and are easier to use than this one. To be fair, there are many Atom-powered Windows 8 tablets and hybrids that cost around the same or more -- but they don't make the most compelling case, either.
The idea of a touch-screen slate running a full Windows operating system that can instantly transform into a working laptop is an appealing one. In practice, the slate part of the W510 is well-built and responsive, and the hinge that connects the two halves is easy to use and secure.
But, the keyboard half (which contains an additional battery) is too light, making the entire thing top-heavy and prone to tipping over. Adding to my usability concerns, $750 only gets you a 64GB SSD hard drive (with about half that space free after OS and software overhead), and the tablet half has connections -- Micro-HDMI, microSD, and Micro-USB -- that are only useful if you walk around with a pocketful of adapters.
Hybrids such as this need to be priced appropriately (especially ones with Atom processors), and offer great design and usability in order to be a compelling alternative to other computing products in the same price range. As much as the Acer Aspire S7 touch-screen ultrabook was an excellent advertisement for Windows 8, the Iconia W510 feels like an advertisement for the iPad, or any of the $700 to $800 ultrabooks that offer slim, portable computing at a reasonable price.
|Price as reviewed||$749|
|Processor||1.8GHz Intel Atom Z2760|
|Memory||2GB, 1,066MHz DDR2|
|Hard drive||64GB SSD|
|Operating system||Windows 8|
|Dimensions (WD)||10.2x7.3 inches|
|Screen size (diagonal)||10.1 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||2.8 pounds / 3 pounds (screen + keyboard)|
Design and features
There are small differences in color, button placement, and overall visual ID, but Windows 8 hybrid laptop/tablets I've seen from Samsung, HP, Dell, Lenovo, Acer, and others generally look the same. None is particularly streamlined, as all require beefed-up hinge assemblies to keep the screen securely tethered.
The screen part of the W510 looks very professional, like a slightly smaller, squatter iPad, virtually indistinguishable from other Windows or Android 10-inch tablets with edge-to-edge glass and a gently curved back panel. It's solidly built, but not overly heavy.
In tablet mode, the Windows 8 UI moves smoothly, and the screen rotation in tablet mode feels faster and smoother than in the preproduction version of this system we tried several months ago. There's a rotation lock button on the top edge of the screen if you don't want the screen to reorient with every move.
The keyboard dock it plugs into is somewhat less upscale-looking than the tablet. It's bulky, but contains an additional battery, so connecting the two parts helps with battery life. The keyboard features white island-style keys against a light silver keyboard tray, with a small clickpad below.
The keys, as noted previously, are on the small side, and reminded me of typing on a tiny Netbook keyboard years ago. Keystrokes were definitely more accurate on this final version than on the earlier sample hardware, but I occasionally ran into a double input, where a keystroke would register twice.
The clickpad-style touch pad (which means it has the left and right mouse buttons built into the pad itself, instead of separate buttons) is functional, but feels cramped. As noted with the Acer Aspire S7, the Windows 8 interface doesn't work especially well with a touch pad, so you'll find yourself using a combination of pad and screen for navigation.
When combined, the screen and keyboard form something that looks and feels a lot like a traditional clamshell laptop. The hinge holds very securely, and the entire hinge assembly can also fold open to nearly 180 degrees.
The 13-inch 1,366x768-pixel display is clear and bright, and suffers no visual degradation from having touch incorporated into it. Despite my Atom-centric concerns, touch response is immediate and quick, and off-axis viewing (important for a tablet) was excellent from any angle.
|Acer Iconia W510||Average for category [ultraportable]|
|Video||Micro-HDMI||HDMI or DisplayPort|
|Audio||Stereo speakers, combo headphone/mic jack||Stereo speakers, headphone/mic jacks|
|Data||1 USB 2.0 (tablet), 1 USB 2.0 (base), Micro-SD card reader||2 USB 3.0, SD card reader|
|Networking||802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth||Ethernet (via dongle), 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, optional mobile broadband|
Connections and performance
If you look at the W510 as a tablet, its ports and connections are decent. If you look at it as a laptop, it's potentially frustrating. As mentioned, the display has Micro-USB, Micro-HDMI, and a microSD card slot. The keyboard base adds a full-size USB port, but available USB ports are of the older 2.0 variety (something to look out for when getting an Atom over a Core i-series Intel chip).