Microsoft’s Windows 8/RT launch has been a bit choppier than expected. I remember hearing rumors that the OS release could slip into next year, but it seems that the solution to the problem was to launch as devices were ready rather than delay everything. Surface was among the first out of the gate, and I was generally pleased with the tablet, but Microsoft’s partner devices have been slower to release. ASUS held its VivoTab RT launch on the same day as Surface RT, but there were many key absences from the launch week in late October.

Among those missing from launch week were any x86 Windows 8 tablets. Although for most of the year Intel had been quite confident in its Windows 8 tablet story, the fact that I had to secretly borrow one just to get some rough performance numbers in our Surface RT story was a problem.

A little over a month later and things are beginning to change. Contrary to popular belief, driver problems aren’t what kept the first Atom Windows 8 tablets out of the market at launch. A bug (not related to power management) caught several months ago caused schedules to slip by about a month and a half. Depending on whose design the OEM followed (Intel’s or their own), the implementation of the fix could come quickly or would take a bit longer. In this case, Acer and Samsung found themselves on the right side of the fence. We’ve had Atom based Windows 8 tablets from both companies for weeks now. Vivek is working on our review of the Samsung ATIV Smart PC, while I’ll kick things off with Acer’s Iconia W510.

The W510 features Intel’s Atom Z2760, the SoC more commonly associated with the codename Clover Trail. While Intel’s Core series of CPUs will be used in high-end Ultrabooks, tablets and convertibles, doing battle at the lower price points against ARM is the Z2760/Clover Trail. Down here, Intel promises all of the power efficiency of ARM, similar pricing, better performance and of course backwards compatibility with older Windows applications.

Although Intel has largely lost the advantage x86 compatibility promised to bring to the smartphone space years ago, that advantage is alive and well under Windows. With Windows RT devices, Microsoft has the somewhat difficult job of explaining that your brand new Windows device won’t run older Windows applications. For an Atom based Windows 8 platform however, that caveat just isn’t there. Meanwhile you get all of the benefits of a Windows RT device, including connected standby - a feature that won’t be present on Core based Windows 8 tablets until Haswell rolls around in the second half of 2013.

Acer’s W510 is a 10-inch Windows 8 tablet designed to compete in a market crowded by ARM based solutions running Android, iOS and Windows RT. Backwards compatibility with decades of x86 applications is a clear point of differentiation.

The W510 is available in two different capacities: 32GB and 64GB. Acer sent along a 64GB version, which is divided into a 46.6GB user partition and 11.05GB recovery partition. Of that 46.6GB that you get to begin with, nearly 13GB is taken up by Windows, leaving you around 30GB free to begin with. This isn’t anything unusual for folks buying a Mac or PC, but if you’re comparing to lightweight mobile OSes you’re going to end up with substantially less usable storage than is advertised.

While Microsoft has definitely help cut down on the amount of bloatware installed on Windows 8 systems from the factory, there are still some culprits. Acer ships McAfee Internet Security trial-ware on the W510 by default). Spotify comes pre-loaded on the machine, as are direct links to Amazon and Ebay for some reason. The tradeoff in buying a Windows 8 tablet instead of an ARM based Windows RT tablet is that you don’t get Office Student/Home Edition 2013 for free. Acer makes it easy for you to get an Office 2010 trial, but that’s about it.

Tablet Specification Comparison
  Acer W510 Apple iPad 4 Google Nexus 10 Microsoft Surface RT Samsung Ativ Smart PC
Dimensions 10.2 x 6.6 x 0.3" 9.5 x 7.31 x 0.37" 10.39 x 6.99 x 0.35" 10.81 x 6.77 x 0.37" 11.97 x 7.46 x 0.39"
Display 10.1-inch 1366 x 768 IPS 9.7-inch 2048 x 1536 IPS 10.1-inch 2560 x 1600 PLS 10.6-inch 1366 x 768 PLS 11.6-inch 1366 x 768 PLS
Weight 1.27 lbs 1.44 lbs (WiFi) 1.33 lbs 1.5 lbs 1.64 lbs
Processor Intel Atom Z2760 (2 x 1.8GHz Atom, PowerVR SGX 545)

Apple A6X (2 x Swift, PowerVR SGX 554MP4)

Samsung Exynos 5 Dual

NVIDIA Tegra 3

Intel Atom Z2760 (2 x 1.8GHz Atom, PowerVR SGX 545)
Connectivity WiFi WiFi , Optional 4G LTE WiFi WiFi WiFi , Optional 4G LTE
Memory 2GB 1GB 2GB 2GB 2GB
Storage 32-64GB 16GB—64GB 16GB or 32GB 32GB or 64GB 64GB
Battery 27.0Wh 42.5Wh 33.75Wh 31.5Wh 30.0Wh
Starting Price $499 $499 $399 $499 $599

Although the official MSRP of the W510 is $599, you’ll find the 32GB model at $499 and the 64GB model will set you back another $50 on top of that. Each capacity is available as a standalone tablet or bundled with the keyboard dock.

Like Microsoft’s Touch/Type Covers for Surface, the W510’s keyboard dock isn’t cheap. Acer lists the dock at $150, and that’s roughly what I’ve seen it cost online as well. Acer will sell you the dock separately through its online store but I haven’t seen it widely available elsewhere (as of writing this the dock is out of stock at Acer as well).

Design & Build Quality

I’ve been saying this a lot privately, but Acer’s recent transformation reminds me a lot of HTC. From a design standpoint, the products Acer was putting out two years ago look absolutely nothing like what it’s shipping today. Design is now a priority at Acer, and it shows.

The W510 is all plastic and glass, but it doesn’t feel cheap. The back is an aluminum colored plastic that looks good and feels durable. Around the edge is a nice looking white plastic border and up front there’s the usual bezel and glass treatment. The result is a black frame with white border aesthetic that isn’t fundamentally new, but surprisingly rare in modern tablets.

There is a hint of flex in the chassis that’s barely enough to make a creaking sound if you try and flex the W510 at its corners. Where the back and border plastics meet isn’t particularly well engineered either – the two meet in a relatively neat fashion but run your finger along the border and you’ll feel the unevenness of the levels they meet at. None of these things are deal breakers, but Acer is playing in a different league now – with much higher standards.

The W510 is a fairly light device, at least for a 10-inch tablet. At 1.3 lbs it’s lighter than the big iPad, Surface and the Nexus 10. The weight (or lack thereof) is immediately noticeable, and makes carrying the W510 a pleasure. The 16:9 aspect ratio of the tablet isn’t the most natural unfortunately. Despite the light weight, the W510 ends up feeling a bit long as a result. There’s nothing that can be done about that unfortunately.

Optimizing around 16:9 delivers a much better video viewing and multitasking experience, at the expense of pretty much ruining portrait mode aspirations and making for a slightly awkward in-hand feel.

As the W510 is a Windows 8 tablet, it comes full of IO around the edges. On the right edge there are micro HDMI, micro USB and micro SD slots. The trio of micro IO ports are joined by a volume rocker. Up top there’s the usual 1/8” headphone jack, rotation lock slider and power/lock button. Acer’s proprietary dock/charging connector is at the bottom of the tablet.

Gallery: Acer W510

The Dock Experience, Software & Stability
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  • rburnham - Thursday, December 20, 2012 - link

    One thing about Windows 8 that continues to bug me is the way that settings are split into two areas. Some settings can be handled from the Start screen, while others take you to the desktop Control Panel. If Microsoft is so keen on this new UI, why not take the entire Control Panel and make it a Modern UI component? I get that they are trying to appeal to touchscreen and desktop users, but merging the settings into one area would help alleviate the schizophrenic feel of the OS a little bit.

    This is a great review, especially since I have this exact Acer tablet on the way from Newegg. My hope is that I will spend most of my time in the Modern UI, and occasionally fire up desktop software. I am hoping it will be fast to handle some older games, like Icewind Dale, and some non-CPU intense software, like the Zinio desktop app (where I can access publications that the mobile version cannot access). It's going to be an interesting experiment.

    My other concern with this tablet is that it is so new, there is a very limited selection of accessories. Specifically, I am having trouble finding some sort of "gel skin" case for this tablet. There are some generic fold out tablet cases, but those are bulky.

    By the way, I had hoped to get an AMD Windows 8 tablet, but where are they? I love AMD, but I have to buy based on my needs and what's available, and right now Intel has the only real x86 solution for Windows 8 tablets.
    Reply
  • name99 - Thursday, December 20, 2012 - link

    "The power adapter itself isn’t anything remarkable, however Acer did use a nifty removable plug that easily twists on/off. The W510 only ships with the plug for whatever region you purchased it in so I’m not sure how useful this feature is, but it’s nice to see design innovation from Acer here."

    Just for the record, this is not new. Apple's power supplies for MacBooks have done this for, I don't know, 8 years or so. The power supply has a core that is common, and a regional plug that can be slipped on or off. See here:
    http://eshop.macsales.com/images/Items/APLMA538LLB...

    iPad power adapters are the same. iPhone/iPod are not, I expect because they are so small that they are basically the size of the dongle that would plugin to the socket, so modularizing them this way would basically double their size.

    I've no idea if this is original to Apple or not, but it's certainly not original to Acer.
    Reply
  • secretmanofagent - Friday, December 21, 2012 - link

    I don't think you understand the mechanism. Apple uses a friction fit with a straight downward motion. The connector that Acer uses rotates on, which you can see in the picture the directions to operate. All of the other adapters I've seen (including miscellaneous ones over the years) have been similar to Apple's, usually with a mechanical clip. Acer's method is innovative, but I'm not sure what advantages are offered by it. Reply
  • lorribot - Thursday, December 20, 2012 - link

    It's things like that 11GB recovery partition that show how far MS have to go in the light weight sector. The 13 GB for Windows, which will bloat massively with patches and installs is another example of them playing the wrong game.
    My windows & folder is a typical 21GB add to that a 11 GB recovery partition and that leaves nothing for user docs or programs on a 32GB model.

    It would make more sense to stick the recovery partition on a 16GB USB stick or SD Card and use that to recover the system should the need arise and give back some of the expensive internal storage space to the user.

    Windows 8, good first attempt but wait for Windows 9 when they fix all the things they didn't have time for and realise two into one doesn't go.
    Reply
  • name99 - Thursday, December 20, 2012 - link

    Yeah, I was amazed by that 11GB figure.

    As a point of comparison, the OSX recovery partition is 650MB in size.

    Now it it possible that the Win8 recovery partition does more (as opposed to "has more to do [because there are more things that can go wrong]"; I'd be interested in an informed comparison of the two, and a dissection of just what is taking up all that space.

    Is it sheer incompetence (for example including 64 bit binaries on a 32bit system)?
    Is it including every human language on earth?
    Is it because no-one bothered to make an effort to include only the bare minimum OS+support frameworks (as opposed to including the AV subsystem, and .NET, and fifteen ways to talk to a database, and support for MS Office, etc etc etc)?
    Reply
  • kyuu - Thursday, December 20, 2012 - link

    They do need to do something about the humungous recovery partition, but... you can put the recovery partition on a thumb drive or other removable media and free up that 11GB, if I'm not mistaken. Reply
  • secretmanofagent - Friday, December 21, 2012 - link

    It's an incorrect comparison, as the restore for OS X requires an Internet connection.

    "In order to reinstall OS X Lion or OS X Mountain Lion, you will need to be connected to an Ethernet or Wi-Fi network."

    "The OS X download is about 4 GB large;"

    http://support.apple.com/kb/HT4718
    Reply
  • name99 - Friday, December 21, 2012 - link

    Yes and no for the Apple restore.

    The recovery partition has tools that can do a bunch of things, for example run a fsck on the boot drive. If your problem is the sort of thing that can be fixed by fsck, ie some localized damage to the file system, then you will not need the internet connection.

    You will need it (sortof) if you want to reinstall the OS.

    If MS have the entire OS in their recovery partition, the size makes more sense, but seems more than a little foolish --- wasting so much fast expensive flash when you could ship a cheap USB stick.

    In the case of Apple, it is fairly trivial when you first download/install Lion or Mountain Lion to burn a copy to a USB stick, and to use that copy if you don't have an internet connection (or have a slow connection, or pay per MB downloaded, or whatever).
    I do think it's less than ideal that they don't include a USB stick of the OS with new machines (they did with the first few iterations of MacBook Air), but it's possible that their numbers tell them that pretty much no-one ever needs to reinstall the OS --- the tools of the recovery partition are acceptable for pretty much all problems. Certainly in my experience that's been true, for both my and friend's machines. I have no comparable experience with Windows.
    Reply
  • MonkeyPaw - Thursday, December 20, 2012 - link

    Microcenter has the 32GB model on sale for $399, so I took a chance. Your review pretty much matches my conclusions as well. It's generally a nice device, CPU performance is good, etc. The major disappointment for me was terrible game performance. I had lag and choppiness playing Solitaire! In late 2012?! I want to like Windows 8, but to have a card game take up almost 100MB of precious eMMC capacity is just sad. Until storage default size balloons significantly, it's hard to get on board with MS right now.

    Another thing MS needs to work on is the keyboard auto-correct, or the lack of it. The onscreen keyboard offers no assistance, and text selection is a nightmare. In IE, I could never select text, as double tapping just kept zooming in and out. It was quite frustrating.

    I found the camera and its respective app to be horrible. Not just bad, unuseable bad.

    I really really wanted to like the W510, but I ended up exchanging it for a Transformer Infinity. I am much happier with it.
    Reply
  • kyuu - Thursday, December 20, 2012 - link

    As far as the text selection thing goes, if it's anything like Windows Phone, you don't double-tap to select things (as you noticed, that zooms). You long-press instead. It's a little odd if you're in the habit of double-tapping from iOS/Android, but it works just fine for me on my Windows Phone. Reply

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