The Acer Aspire P3 is a new product that already feels old.
Windows tablets are here, and they'll be everywhere by the end of the year. Different prices, different performance levels, different values. The Acer Aspire P3 is bit of a holdover conceptually--it's really not much different under the hood than the Microsoft Surface Pro. Or, for that matter, the Acer Iconia W700, a Core i5 tablet we reviewed months ago. Where it differs: price. The P3 costs $799 (for a Core i3 version, or $899 for our configuration); the Surface Pro, $899 (but $129 extra for a keyboard cover). The older Iconia originally cost $999, but now is available for less.
Instead of the last Iconia W700's stand and separate keyboard, the Aspire P3 adopts a folio-style keyboard case as a pack-in.
The mediocre Bluetooth keyboard case would be a hard accessory to recommend on its own, but at least it's included in the purchase price. Microsoft's Surface Type Cover blows it away, but that accessory costs $129 on top of the already-high Surface Pro price. Laptops like the Samsung ATIV Smart PC Pro 700T cost nearly the same, and at least have a proper keyboard-and-touch-pad base.
Many Atom-powered Windows 8 tablets tend to fall in the $500-$800 range; to see one with more powerful Core i5 processor is rare. You're also getting a fair set of specs: a slightly slower-than-normal Core i5 processor, 128GB SSD (more than many tablets), and 4GB of RAM.
But Intel is in the middle of revamping the processors you'll see in stores to fourth-gen Haswell ones, resulting in significant battery-life gains thus far. If I were buying a Windows 8 tablet, I'd wait for one of those processors to show up in what I was buying. As it stands, the Aspire P3 might do in a pinch, but it's a holdover product caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. Call it the Surface Amateur.
|Acer Aspire P3 171-6820||Sony Vaio Pro 11||MacBook Air 11-inch (June 2013)||Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 11S|
|Display size/resolution||11.6-inch, 1,366 x 768 screen||11-inch, 1,920 x 1,080 touch screen||11.6-inch, 1,766 x 768 screen||11.6-inch, 1,366 x 768 screen|
|PC CPU||1.5GHz Intel Core i5 3339Y||1.6GHz Intel Core i5 4200U||1.3GHz Intel Core i5 4250U||1.5GHz Intel Core i5 3339Y|
|PC memory||4,096MB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz||4,096MB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz||4096MB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz||8,192MB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz|
|Graphics||32MB Intel HD Graphics 4000||1,748MB Intel HD Graphics 4400||1024MB Intel HD Graphics 5000||32MB Intel HD Graphics 4000|
|Storage||120GB SSD hard drive||128GB SSD hard drive||128GB SSD hard drive||256GB SSD hard drive|
|Networking||802.11 b/g/n wireless, Bluetooth 4.0||802.11b/g/n wireless, Bluetooth 4.0||802.11a/c wireless, Bluetooth 4.0||802.11 b/g/n wireless, Bluetooth 4.0|
|Operating system||Windows 8 (64-bit)||Windows 8 (64-bit)||OSX Mountain Lion 10.8.4||Windows 8 (64-bit)|
Design and feel
Define "generic." Here it is. Combine gray metal, boxy design, and an overall appearance that says "knockoff Android tablet," and you have the Aspire P3. Actually, the tablet is virtually identical to the previous Acer Iconia W700 in design. To give it credit, the P3 has a solid aluminum case, even though from any distance the flat gray looks like plastic.
A glass-covered 11.6-inch display lends the P3 a better "touch feel" than some lower-end tablets. At just under 3 pounds with the keyboard case, it's a good half-pound heavier than the 11-inch MacBook Air. Without the case, it's 1.74 pounds: lighter than a Surface Pro, but that's not saying much.
An official Ultrabook sticker comes pasted onto the Aspire P3. That's a sign, perhaps, that this machine is considered a laptop more than a tablet. It's not: it's really a tablet that got a low-end keyboard case, the type you graft onto any iPad. And, unfortunately, this tablet's as heavy as a laptop. I'd ignore that "Ultrabook" moniker; although from a processing perspective it's as good as any basic ultrabook, it's far from being as comfortable to type on as a laptop.
The keyboard case pairs via Bluetooth like any iPad third-party accessory, and lacks any touch pad or touchpoint, which is a feature we especially like on the Surface Pro Type Cover. The flat, slightly raised island keys are reasonably comfortable, and the keyboard layout generous enough, but the material of the case itself feels cheap, and the plastic's too flexible to rest easily in your lap. The P3 docks into the cover just by resting in a slot. The case auto-pairs, but needs to be separately recharged via Micro-USB, and has its own confusing power button.
Snapping the case onto the tablet is easy; getting it back off is the bigger challenge, and I actually bruised my finger trying to free the P3 from its plastic-case prison with my nail. The whole construction feels bound to snap sooner or later.
There are some oddities with how the Bluetooth keyboard and the tablet interact, too. Tap on the screen, and a pop-up virtual keyboard appears. Start typing and the soft keyboard vanishes. If the physical keyboard is paired, that pop-up keyboard shouldn't be invading your screen at all. While all this is going on, a fabric loop holds an optional capacitive stylus.
An 11.6-inch 1,366x768-pixel IPS display looks better than you'd expect for an ordinary resolution, but it's not as good as the Acer Iconia W700's 1080p-resolution screen. The step-down means it's equivalent to any basic laptop resolution, including the 11-inch MacBook Air. Because it's an IPS display, off-angle viewing still looks crisp. Stereo speakers, mounted on the bottom edge, sound adequate.
A front-facing 1MP and rear 5MP camera take unimpressive photos, certainly short of the quality you'd see on any recent premium smartphone.
Windows 8 runs as it does on any recent ultrabook, without too many pre-installed freebies clogging the aesthetics. Acer Cloud, a service for sharing files across Acer devices, comes included.
Features, performance, and battery
You get the same basic ports that are in most Core i5-level "pro" tablets: one USB 3.0 port, Micro-HDMI, a headphone jack. Oddly, that's it: there's no SD card slot, even though there's tons of room for one. 802.11n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, of course, are included.
The included Intel Core i5-3339Y processor is, in fact, the same as the one in the new 11-inch Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga. Y-series processors are more energy-efficient, and also a little slower, but the real-world performance of the Aspire P3 matches what you'd expect out of an ultrabook. It's better than the average Atom Windows 8 tablet by a considerable margin. And keep in mind: newer fourth-gen Haswell processors aren't really much faster, but an update to newer chips would certainly help battery life and graphics performance.
Thankfully, the Acer Aspire P3's not a terrible battery performer: it bested the Surface Pro on battery life, at 5 hours and 50 minutes, but the Surface Pro was an underachiever in that department. Again: Intel processors are bound to improve on this number sooner than later. It's a fine number for a laptop circa 2012, but 2013 tablets and laptops already have a higher bar. The new 11-inch Air already topped 10 hours on the same test, and many Atom Windows 8 tablets easily top 7 hours or more.
I don't know why someone would want the Acer Aspire P3. Bang for the buck, maybe, or an included keyboard case. But the price isn't much less than that of a Surface Pro, and doesn't offer anything that feels particularly great. Add in that new processors are going to improve this class of Windows tablet sooner than later. In the meantime, consider an ultrabook (or the new MacBook Air) unless you're truly tablet-desperate. The Aspire P3 will offer ultrabook-level performance in a tablet, but in mid-2013 it feels like too little, too late.
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Acer Aspire P3 171-6820
Windows 8 (64bit); 1.5GHz Intel Core i5 3339Y; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 32MB (dedicated) Intel HD Graphics 4000; 120GB Intel SSD
MacBook Air 11-inch (June 2013)
OSX 10.8.4 Mountain Lion; 1.3GHz Intel Core i5 4240U; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 1024MB (shared) Intel HD Graphics 4000; 128GB Apple SSD
Sony Vaio Pro 11
Windows 8 (64-bit); 1.6GHz Intel Core i5 4200U; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1600MHz; 1748MB (shared) Intel HD Graphics 4400; 128GB SSD
Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 13
Windows 8 (64-bit); 1.7GHz Intel Core i5 3317U; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1600MHz; 32MB (dedicated) Intel HD 4000; 128GB Samsung SSD
Lenovo Yoga 11-inch
Windows 8 (64bit); 1.5GHz Intel Core i5 3339Y; 8GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 32MB (dedicated) Intel HD Graphics 4000; 256GB Samsung SSD