When I was shopping for a new PC for Janelle for college, I asked her what her biggest concern was when looking for a PC. Her response was light weight over all else. This somewhat surprised me as she is very fashion conscious and quite tech-savvy. I thought about this long & looked at a lot of PC’s. I set an initial budget of $500 for her PC thinking it would be pretty easy. After all, there are always a lot of ads in the Sunday paper for laptops.
Boy was I surprised. We bought our last laptop, a Toshiba Satellite, from Best Buy for a grand total of $400, including the extended warranty. But despite having some nice specs for an entry level laptop, it certainly isn’t light weight. It’s just flat heavy. My girls complain about lugging it from one room to another, so there was no way I could see Janelle lugging it from class to class if she needed to.
First thing I did was return to Best Buy. Just as I thought, lots of laptops under $500… but none were what I considered portable. In researching online, I discovered the category was called “ultra-portable” for the weight class I wanted (under 5 pounds). I also discovered that class comes at quite a price premium. A typical laptop in this range was in the $700 to $1,000 range, which I wasn’t thrilled about.
To make a long story slightly less long, after a lot more searching I found a Windows 7 tablet on TigerDirect.com that looked like it might fit the bill. Comparatively speaking, it’s very similar to a netbook computer, except that it’s in a tablet form factor. The Acer Iconia W500 has a 10.1” capacitive touch screen, AMD dual core processor (operating at 1.0GHz), 2 GB RAM, 32GB SSD, SD expansion slot, 802.11b/g/n wireless, 2 USB slots, Bluetooth, front & rear facing cameras (3.0 MP front, 1.0 MP facing) and an HDMI output. Most netbooks now come with 200+ GB hard drives, so I was a bit concerned.
The biggest plus on this device is the included USB keyboard “dock”. TigerDirect listed it for $499. Hmm, nice price and a nice exchange policy meant this could be an option if it didn’t work out.
Ordered on a Wednesday, it arrived Saturday (good on ya, TigerDirect!). Initially unpacking the device (see pics below) I’m struck with how small 10.1” looks. But still, I’m completely geeked about the form factor and how slick the
overall design is. Turned it on (came with a decent charge on the battery) and Windows began prompting me for setup information a minute and a half later.
Well it’s not an iPad or a Galaxy Tab, so I guess I shouldn’t have expected an “instant on” experience? It is loaded with Windows 7 Home Premium, which likely means a lot of extra bloat to the operating system. Sure enough a
good look around the device showed Windows and all its pre-loaded sample
programs consuming fully half of the 32GB onboard SSD.
The first week I didn’t mess with installing any new software, deleting any OEM software, or registering anything beyond what I had to in order to try it out. We just used it. My initial uneasiness later turned to being quite impressed. After the first week I decided I was keeping it so I uninstalled all the bloatware and programs we had no intentions of using. Cleared of all the extras took the drive to less than 14 GB used. I added a cloud-based anti-virus/internet security package (small local install footprint), installed Office 2010 Home & Student, ordered a Bluetooth mouse, 32GB SD HC card, and an external USB 2.0 DVD-RW. I set up my daughter with a Windows Live account and linked her Office suite to save all files in the cloud instead of locally on the tablet. Oh, and I gave her an external 40GB hard drive too, just in case.
The real test came a few days later when Janelle started playing with it. Initially, she wasn’t impressed with the speed of the device. It took her some time to get used to the touch-screen operation of Windows 7. She has an iPod Touch and since it was “different” it frustrated her at first. She looked at it, used it, carried it around, and came back to me with her list of frustrations and pain points. We worked through the ones that were either setup or training issues, and then I took her to look at the other laptops in the size she wanted, tablet in hand.
Here was the eye opener. Compared to the other tablets we saw, this had many superior features: USB ports, SD card slot, and the USB keyboard. She loves the iPad, but it didn’t have the productivity software she was used to using (that is, MS Office). The Android tablets just didn’t interest her at all, mainly because of the lack of productivity software altogether. I know Apple & Android have a great marketplace, but you can’t beat the sheer volume of software available for the Windows platform. All you Apple/Android fans can banter all you want about the superiority of your platforms, but in terms of overall compatibility,
you can’t match the Windows platform. Don’t give me any lip about the Open Office platform, either. It sucks, and I don’t care what anyone says it is NOT MS Office compatible like they claim.
When comparing the Acer to the “real” laptops, Janelle wasn’t impressed with the features or the prices compared to her tablet (That’s my girl!!!). Granted, we could have picked up a netbook with 10 times the hard drive space for half the price… but in her words the netbooks felt like toys in comparison.
Performance is good. Battery life is surprisingly good – we clocked around 5 hours of constant use before it started warning us to plug it in. Streaming video over the web works well (from Netflix or Youtube), although web pages that are “busy” with multiple videos playing seemed to overtax the processor. It never felt like it got overly hot while using it, at least not compared to our Toshiba laptop. My biggest personal complaint is around accessories. There are no
sleeves made for this device. Acer makes an Android tablet with the same form factor, but yet none of the sleeves for that device (the A500, in case you’re wondering) fit. It appears the W500 is about an 1/8th of an inch too big in width and height to fit – and ports in the sleeve for things like the cooling slots, USB, HDMI, camera, power plug, and power button all are in different locations or missing from the A500 sleeves.
Janelle loves it now. She admits there are drawbacks, but when given the option to get a laptop and return the tablet, she chose the tablet (“it’s just cooler, Dad”). Her semester is over in December, so perhaps a follow-up post will be in order.