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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  • 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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