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
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  • MonkeyPaw - Friday, December 21, 2012 - link

    I sampled the 32GB version not long ago.There was no recovery partition (they give you 4 DVDs), but when it's all said and done, about half the space is consumed by the base install. Once you add a modest selection of media and a few MS apps (which can be rather large), you are looking at a few GB of free space remaining. Reply
  • skiboysteve - Friday, December 21, 2012 - link

    Do people really need the installed paid for versions of office? The free online web apps are completely amazing. Way way better than google docs... They are just about full versions of office. Only thing I could think of is for airplane trips Reply
  • zeo - Monday, December 31, 2012 - link

    Only the RT version has Office included by default, and it's the more basic Home and Student 2013 RT version, regular W8 depends on the system maker as to whether a copy of Office will be included or not... Like, I believe, Lenovo offers full Office with the Lenovo Thinkpad Tablet 2 for example.

    RT though is a bit stripped down from W8 and so is a bit smaller install than regular W8/Pro, even with Office included.

    Regular W8 tablets though are suppose to start with 64GB drives, they just offer 32GB for lower entry price point and it's only the RT tablets that are suppose to start with 32GB.

    This is mainly due to the pricing structure used by most tablet makers, most charge for capacity even though the actual capacity doesn't cost the price difference. Like the $249 Nexus 7 doesn't cost $50 more than the $199 Nexus 7 to add that extra capacity, but this is how they improve their profit margins when offering higher specs and can afford to lower profit margins for the lower spec versions.

    All Windows tablets though should offer Micro/SD, though for now you can't install apps anywhere but the main drive but you can put just about everything else on the memory card for extra capacity.

    While higher end tablets should offer drives up to 128GB and some will offer hard drives in the docks, like the Asus Vivo Book has a 500GB HDD in the keyboard dock.
    Reply
  • CaptchaIsEvil - Friday, December 21, 2012 - link

    So this is what it's like to depend on far flung "OEMs" to build a product that will attract an audience.

    MS is depending on OEMs who use weak drivers resulting in poor user experience and that build substandard hardware.

    Just like with Android, Samsung will be the only OEM to step up to the plate and dedicate the resources to compete in the big leagues. It won't be Acer and it won't be the commoditizers at HP or DELL (parts bin assemblers).

    MS better hope it happens soon.
    Reply
  • zeo - Monday, December 31, 2012 - link

    Weak drivers are a issue, but Intel will be moving back to a GMA based on their own technology instead of Imagination's with the 22nm ATOM updates.

    There may still be some driver issues but support for their own hardware is much better and we'll see a return of full 64bit and Linux support.

    The actual GMA is suppose to be based on the Ivy Bridge HD4000, just scaled down from 16 execution units to 4, and that should mean better developed drivers from the start as well.

    It'll just be either late Q3 or around Q4 2013 until we see products based on the update start to come out.
    Reply
  • nofumble62 - Friday, December 21, 2012 - link

    fast, run everything, and have lot of storage.

    Tablet is a fad, and will fade away.
    Reply
  • kyuu - Friday, December 21, 2012 - link

    How's the weather over there in Denial Land? Reply
  • nofumble62 - Friday, December 21, 2012 - link

    Great- warm and toasty over my i7-3770.
    In the drawer, there is an iPad3 and a Kindle Fire. They are nice to play with for a short while, but I am now back to my 24" IPS and keyboards.
    Reply
  • aliasfox - Sunday, December 23, 2012 - link

    And here's the alternate scenario: I'm on my iPad1 At my parents' house, and after the second day of regular use I'm still at 42% battery life, and I'm doing the same thing as you, commenting on a forum.

    Is it slow as heck? Yes. Is it useful for a whole lot besides for web surfing, videos, and short writing like this? No, not really. Is web surfing, videos, and short writing like this a significant portion of my daily web life? Yes. Do I appreciate the fact that I can get two and a half days of usable battery life in a package about half the weight of an ultrabook? Absolutely. Have regretted I buying and using this for the past two and a half years? Aside from abysmal resale value, not at all.

    My Mac Pro doesn't get much use besides for Netflix watching on my TV, so for my usage scenario, I'm cool with a tablet. I'll throw in shipping cost if you want to send me your iPad3 though, I'll give it a good home.
    Reply
  • Death666Angel - Saturday, December 22, 2012 - link

    Hey!
    Good article. Just wanted to say that the charger connector is pretty much similar (the same?) my Travelmate 8172 has (just in white whereas mine is in black). On that charger, I can use it to set the orientation of the charger, it helps in crowded sockets. And guess it might save Acer a few cents of cost. Anyway, I like it a lot. :D
    Reply

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