The Dock Experience

For $150 Acer will sell you a keyboard dock that gives you a full sized USB 2.0 port, a QWERTY keyboard, trackpad and integrated 27Wh battery. The dock charges the tablet, and the tablet powers the dock once the dock’s battery is exhausted. If this sounds familiar it’s because it’s exactly what ASUS has been offering since the first Eee Pad Transformer in 2011.

The tablet/dock mating process is actually one of the smoothest I’ve seen thus far. The tablet just slides in and locks in place - there’s no struggling or any real pain points in the process. Once connected the tablet seems pretty secure. As the dock uses the charging port to connect to the tablet (for both power and data), the dock gets its own charging port on the left side that you can use to power the setup.

 

The docking hinge can rotate up to 295 degrees, letting you face the W510 away from you with the keyboard pointing down. The keyboard is disabled once you hit opposite lock on the hinge, and what you end up with is an approximation of Surface’s mild-tilt-away operating mode. It’s good for presenting content to someone else or watching a video, but the angle is a bit too small to make it useful on a surface that’s significantly lower than you.

When assembled the tablet+dock loses the svelte form factor of the W510 itself. The combination grows to 13mm at its thinnest point and 23mm at its thickest. The weight more than doubles to 1265g (up from 568g for the tablet alone). The resulting device isn’t reminiscent of a tablet and instead reminds me a lot of a netbook. Ultimately where you fall on this issue depends on whether or not you want more of a tablet or notebook experience. The Surface approach retains the tablet experience while giving you some of the benefits of a standard clamshell notebook via the touch/type covers. The Acer/ASUS approach on the other hand gives you more of a flexible notebook experience, with the benefit of added battery life and IO expansion. As with most things, it’s a trade off.

Keyboard & Trackpad

In presenting Surface RT, Microsoft talked about the path that took it to building a fairly uncommon 10.6-inch tablet. The motivation behind the unique form factor was two fold: 1) Microsoft wanted to deliver a good multitasking experience under Windows 8’s Modern UI, and 2) it wanted to deliver a good typing experience with the touch/type cover attached. With a 10-inch tablet Microsoft felt the keyboard experience would suffer too much, but at 10.6-inches it could design a keyboard with big enough keys to approximate a good notebook keyboard.

There’s no better proof that Microsoft was right than to use the W510’s keyboard dock. While typing on Surface felt laptop-like from a size perspective, the W510’s dock feels more netbook-like. The alphanumeric keys measure around 13 x 14mm, compared to 16 x 16mm on Surface’s Touch Cover (71% coverage) and 17 x 17mm on Type Cover (63% coverage). That’s not to say that you can’t get used to it, it’s just immediately apparent that the keyboard is smaller than normal.

Key travel is pretty decent but the feel is mushier than I would like. Key placement is solid though, I didn’t have any trouble just jumping into the W510’s dock and finding my way around without staring at keys. Transitioning between the W510 and other physical keyboards wasn’t an issue either. I did occasionally have an issue where a key would repeat itself a bunch when typing (e.g. hellllllllllllllllllllllo instead of hello), but I'm not sure if that was a dock or Windows 8 problem.

What I couldn't get used to however is the trackpad. It’s almost 2013 and we’re still having issues delivering good PC trackpad experiences. The hardware, firmware and software to do this right is out in the wild and it’s not all that expensive, it just seems underutilized for whatever reason.

The W510’s trackpad is actually a clickpad, with no dedicated buttons but rather a horizontal line below which depressing the pad registers as a click. As with most clickpads, if you’re the type of user who rests a thumb near the “button” while you mouse around with your index finger you’re going to have a bad time. The W510 dock’s clickpad does a horrible job of rejecting any resting fingers/thumbs and instead you get very erratic, almost unusable tracking. Single finger operation is mostly ok, but even then there are issues. The clickpad seems to do a terrible job of rejecting noise in general. Sometimes just having a finger near the trackpad will be enough to throw off tracking.

Overall the clickpad is where the dock experience breaks down. The keyboard works well enough, but the clickpad is nothing short of frustrating. The good news is that you get a full USB 2.0 port from having the dock, so you can always plug in an external mouse, but that seems like a solution to a problem that shouldn’t have existed in the first place. I don’t know why we’re still dealing with clickpad issues, but I’m going to have to think up something creative to deter them in the future.

Software & Stability

The W510 ships with a full install of 32-bit Windows 8. As I mentioned earlier, there’s no free-Office with Windows 8 - that’s a Windows RT exclusive. On the plus side, you can still install traditional desktop mode applications which you can’t do on Windows RT.

Acer doesn’t do a whole lot to customize the Windows 8 experience, but there are a bunch preloaded apps that come on the system. The good news is that most of these apps aren’t things that run in the background at startup.


woops

The bigger issue I had with the W510’s software experience had to do with stability. If I left the camera app running and the system went to sleep I’d frequently come back to a machine that had to reboot itself. Most of my stability issues seemed related to the camera app but every now and then apps would crash or I’d encounter an unexpected reboot. It’s clear to me that there are still a lot of rough edges with Windows 8, although interestingly enough I didn’t seem to have as many stability issues with Surface RT as far as I can remember.

Design & Build Quality The Display
POST A COMMENT

102 Comments

View All Comments

  • Pirks - Saturday, December 22, 2012 - link

    I noticed serious differences in user experience between Win8 tablets bought at MS retail store and elsewhere. Anand went for the worst possible scenario and got tablet stuffed with crapware instead of buying a tablet at MS store, online or retail, WITHOUT any crapware. Guys, PLEASE bear this in mind when reading this review. THIS REVIEW IS NOT, I EMPHASIZE THIS AGAIN - _NOT_ REFLECTING REAL END USER EXPERIENCE AS ENVISIONED BY MICROSOFT. In other words, standard stores AT buys its review hardware from and MS stores are DIFFERENT things.

    Please, KEEP this in mind when reading this review. It is VERY likely that you will see quite a difference between experiences using two same tablets bought in different stores, MS and non-MS one. I've seen it by own eyes when for example comparing how responsive the OS is, and how stylus works on ATIV Smart PC bought on Amazon versus the one bought in MS online store.

    In the end, if you buy hardware not in MS store and see some issues - quite likely it is now YOUR issue, not Microsoft's. MS is offering people retail and online stores to buy clean reliable crapware-free Windows hardware. If you buy elsewhere - you must be dumb. End of story.

    Anand, please consider what I said above. I am serious, no trolling or anything here. You are one of the best tech reviewers on the net. You should strive for better, so please think again where are you buying your review units in the future. PLEASE. Thank you.
    Reply
  • Death666Angel - Saturday, December 22, 2012 - link

    I don't believe I am even dignifying your comment by commenting on my own. Firstly, I didn't find an online MS store that would sell me a W510 in Germany. Amazon.de has that. Secondly, you say it is all worse, yet you only talk about crapware, which Anand mentions in a few paragraphs but has no bearing on his conclusion or any of the real numbers (performance, battery life...). So your post screams either "bought" or "troll" to me. Reply
  • Ned - Saturday, December 22, 2012 - link

    Ive just had confirmed that the first batch of Acer W510 optional Keyboard docks have a faulty touchpad which is fixable by any Acer service centre.
    All new batches from Acer have this now fixed.
    Also, if you have one of the original first production W510, make sure you update the BIOS which is available on the Acer website.
    Reply
  • powerarmour - Sunday, December 23, 2012 - link

    And yet again Intel fail to deliver a quality GPU driver for PowerVR series hardware, how many times will customers be forced to put up with this mess?

    The reason why a Tegra 3 is more responsive is that at least Nvidia know how to write a driver that isn't a buggy mess, even the fact that Clover Trail is x86 means little at this level of dire performance, what the hell are you going to run on it that you can't already do on a WinRT platform?
    Reply
  • agentsmithitaly - Sunday, December 23, 2012 - link

    Dear Anand
    I know it has been already already debated, but measurement units are quite inconsistent in Anandtech's articles.
    Sometimes they report both Celsius and Fahrenheit for temperatures, as well as inches and millimeters for length measurements, in this case we see imperial units for dimensions and weight comparision, dock and tablet weight in grams, millimeters for keyboard keys. Of course it's perfectly fine to express display size, or storage unit size in inches as it is the de-facto standard.

    Is it possible to have International system of units on all articles? Not only for the international visitors I'm sure Anandtech has, but also because this is technology website, which I think it could be considered as science. And scientists use metrical units, including NASA ones. You remember what happened to the Mars Climate Orbiter, right?

    Apart this, keep up the good work guys! And Merry Christmas to all!
    Reply
  • yannigr - Monday, December 24, 2012 - link

    We NEED AMD solutions. Pity AMD is for far behind. A tablet with for balanced hardware would have been great. Reply
  • zeo - Monday, December 31, 2012 - link

    Yes, though AMD is releasing the Z-60 Hondo as a stop gap for now. Being a slight update to the previous Z-01 Desna, which itself was just a more power optimized version of the C-50 Ontario.

    2013 though will see AMD's 28nm updates, with the newer Jaguar CPU cores.

    Specifically, for tablets, the upcoming 2W max TDP SoC AMD Tamesh will be their first serious entry into the tablet market and we'll see then how they compare.

    For now, the Hondo is at least a option for those who don't mind limited run time but want 3x better graphics than Clover Trail, which also puts it above Tegra 3 graphical performance, and full 64bit and better Linux support.

    At 1GHz though, don't expect better CPU performance...
    Reply
  • OBLAMA2009 - Monday, December 24, 2012 - link

    i think all these windows 8 tablet/notebook thingies will be a huge fail. carrying something with all these parts isnt more convenient that just using different devices or using chromeos and doing things in the cloud. atom is a seriously damaged brand name because of low performance and this new stuff doesnt change that. finally the prices for stuff like this are ridiculous. were used to paying $350 for laptops, we arent going to pay $600 for stuff a tenth as good Reply
  • zeo - Monday, December 31, 2012 - link

    First, there aren't that many parts and overall it is more convenient to carry one device than multiple... especially, if your actual usage favors tablet usage most of the time.

    Second, people have being paying such prices for iPads for years, a lot more when you consider the cost of peripherals, and ARM has only recently gotten around the performance range of a ATOM!

    Tablets are typically higher priced than laptops, though Ultrabooks puts a premium that lessens the difference a bit.

    People though have and will pay for the convenience of mobility, which laptops can only be considered to be portable but not truly mobile. While tablets can provide mobile usage, along with hybrids and other solutions retaining most, if not all, of the benefits of laptops as well.

    It's just that there's always compromise when going smaller and lighter, and no solution is perfect for everyone! Along with it yet being determined what size the actual market will be, as these are first gen Windows based devices and many are just waiting for the pro and second gen products.

    So it's comparing apples to oranges with tablets and laptops, different solution for people with different needs!

    Btw, even Chromebooks require a certain level of performance. Cloud doesn't run everything and you can't always have a high speed connection, which is one of the reasons why Chrome OS has a native client and support for hardware acceleration!

    The Cloud isn't that reliable yet either and not everything can be replaced by Cloud apps yet. Though such services are getting better and help alleviate the limitations of these mobile devices.
    Reply
  • mhaager2 - Monday, December 24, 2012 - link

    I don't really understand all the negativity towards Win RT and the Surface RT in particular. We have an iPad3, a nexus 7, and now a surface RT in our house. Hands down I like my Surface RT the best. It is by far the best of all in terms of productivity. I like the OS a lot. Its stable, responsive, and a pleasure to use. I like the touch cover a lot. I can type well enough on it to be useful without being a hassle to lug around. I have never experienced lag with it yet.
    Could MS improve the Surface? Of course. A higher DPI screen would be nice. A faster CPU is always nice. A lower price would be nice. Still despite all of this I still find this the most useful tablet I have used. As far as the paucity of apps goes, I think having half a million apps in your app store means a LOT of redundancy. MS is missing some key apps for me unfortunately which means I can't go to Win8 phone yet but as long as they keep adding quality apps I think this is the platform for me going forward.
    Reply

Log in

Don't have an account? Sign up now