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Saturday, April 13, 2013

Acer Iconia W511

We do know that hybrids with Windows 8 are pretty rare and new but it seams that a decent number of companies have these devices in their portfolio. Acer Iconia W511 is one of those tablet devices that can be very useful and could replace your laptop.
Being a tablet made of cheap matte plastic, the Acer Iconia W511 won’t make anyone go “wow” with its appearance. But the use of lightweight materials has helped with keeping its weight down to a satisfactory level. When it’s by itself, the device ranks among the lightest 10-inch tablets with a weight of 580 grams, which makes the tablet comfortable to hold and use.
All of the tablet’s physical keys are located in the upper right-hand corner – the volume rocker, the on/off button, and the key that locks the screen’s orientation in place. All of them are well exposed so finding them with a finger is no trouble at all. Underneath the screen we have a capacitive Windows button used for accessing the system’s Start screen. We’re left with mixed feelings about this solution – it works fine, but the key is prone to accidental presses if the device is being held single-handedly from underneath.
In addition to the mandatory 3.5-millimeter headphone jack, the Iconia W511 offers a Micro HDMI connector, a microSD card slot, and a SIM card slot for cellular data connectivity. However, Acer skipped the full-size USB port, presumably to keep the tablet’s thickness down. Instead, there’s a microUSB port that you plug a special adapter cable (included in the set) into, and then you can hook up USB devices to the Iconia 511. That’s not really a dealbreaker, especially since there’s a proper USB port present on the keyboard dock, but carrying the said cable around all the time isn’t convenient.
By the way, the two USB ports can be used simultaneously. You can connect all kinds of peripherals to them, such as thumb drives, a mouse, or a USB hub. You can even charge a smartphone in case you have its USB cable handy, which is neat.
Keyboard dock:
For an extra $100 or so one can buy an Acer Iconia W511 with a keyboard dock thrown in the set. That not only adds the convenience of having a physical keyboard for text input, but also increases the tablet’s longevity dramatically as the accessory has an internal battery cell. In fact, the Iconia W511 will last through at least a whole day of heavy usage when docked.
Typing on the physical keyboard reminds us of the days when netbooks were all the rage. At first, its keys feel tiny and cramped together, but our fingers got used to their arrangement eventually. All keys are springy and have decent travel. Of course, you can’t compare the experience to using a proper, desktop-sized keyboard, but in case we had a 25-page report to write for work or school, we’d much rather use what the dock keyboard has to offer instead of relying on any on-screen solution.
But while we’re content with the physical keyboard and its usability, the touchpad that’s also on the dock leaves a lot to be desired. At first it works just fine, yet after being used for 20 seconds or so, it goes bonkers, causing the cursor to move chaotically. Our quick online investigation shows that others have experienced the same issue with their units, so apparently we aren’t dealing with an isolated case of a misbehaving touchpad.
Another thing we’re bothered by is the docking mechanism that connects the Acer Iconia W511 and the keyboard dock. Connecting or disconnecting the two is easy-peasy, but the lock isn’t tight enough, causing the tablet to wobble back and forth when moved or when the touchscreen is used, which is worrying, to say the least.
Acer has designed the Iconia W511 dock in a way that allows its sturdy hinge to rotate at a nearly 300-degree angle. That’s referred to as “Presentation Mode” – the dock acts as a stand, with the keyboard facing downwards, which allows the touchscreen to be used comfortably while the device is placed on a flat surface. The dock is designed in a way that prevents accidental key presses when the tablet is used in such manner, in case you’re wondering. If you’ll be using the touchscreen interface to show off your sketches and designs to someone, taking advantage of this feature is recommended.
Although it is nothing out of the ordinary, the 10.1-inch IPS LCD display on the Acer Iconia W511 gets the job done. It has a relatively low resolution of 1366 by 768 pixels, which is typical for low-end Windows-based tablets, so small test can be a challenge to make out. On the other hand, its viewing angles and color accuracy are decent – likely superior to what you’d get out of a basic notebook/netbook, for that matter. Using the tablet outdoors is possible as its screen has a decent brightness output, but you’ll have to cover it with your hand when the sun is shining right at it.
The versatile Windows 8 Pro comes loaded on the Acer Iconia W511 – an operating system that’s built to run not only on tablets, but on laptops and desktop computers as well. The OS is compatible with a vast array of legacy Windows applications, which is a huge benefit.
When the Acer Iconia W511 is turned on for the first time, about 10 minutes are needed for it to get set up for use. It is nice to see that a tutorial is played after the OS’ first boot, explaining all the new touchscreen gestures implemented in Windows 8 – new users are advised to pay attention to it.
Once past that step, the user is introduced to the new Start screen and its Live Tile interface. This is where things get tricky for anyone who is not familiar with Windows 8 and its peculiarities. Closing apps, switching between windows, accessing the list of installed applications and the system settings – there are gestures assigned to each of these actions, so better get used to them. Even a tech-savvy user will need to spend an evening or two with their new device in order to get comfortable with its interface.
But the Start screen and its Live Tiles aren’t the only way of interacting with the Acer Iconia W511. Alternatively, the classic Windows desktop can be used as it is available at the touch of a button. That isn’t of much use, however, unless you’re also using the keyboard dock, or a mouse. The classic desktop is anything but comfortable to use on a touchscreen with its tiny icons and menus.
The on-screen keyboard is usable indeed, save for the annoying fact that it doesn’t always pop-up automatically when it’s needed. With its multiple key arrangements, it can be used as a typical virtual QWERTY, occupying the bottom half of the screen, or in split mode, which is comfortable for typing whilst holding the tablet with both hands. In addition, typos get corrected automatically.
Software and functionality:
There’s a long list of new features that are being introduced with Windows 8, and on it are the new hubs and apps accessible from the Start screen. The People hub, for example, is where you store information about your contacts. All of that data is synced with your Microsoft account, which is convenient since you’ll have it backed up indefinitely. Also, by adding your Facebook and Twitter credentials, you can connect with your social network buddies as well. Too bad that the experience is a far cry from what a dedicated social networking client would deliver as the hub’s functionality is limited only to some basic actions.
The stock Weather application is great as it provides detailed forecast information, not to mention that its interface is very pleasing to the eye. As one might expect, you can set it to pull weather data for multiple locations and its live tile updates automatically.
Keeping you up to date with the latest news from around the world is the Bing News app. There’s also Bing Sports bringing you news about, well, sports, and the dedicated Bing search app that tells you what search terms are currently trending.
We must also note that Acer has added its very practical “Always On” technology to the Iconia W511 feature set. In a nutshell, that allows the device to pull updates from the internet even when it’s on stand-by. That’s why all your new emails and messages are synced and waiting as soon as you press that “On” button.
Processor and memory:
What runs under the hood of the Acer Iconia W511 is a dual-core Intel Atom chip – the Z2760 with a maximum clock of 1.8GHz when Burst mode is enabled. That happens automatically, whenever an app requires additional processing power, but only if the processor is running within its thermal specifications. 2GB of DDR2 RAM are also on board – just as much as we’d expect seeing on a machine of this caliber.
Performance-wise, the tablet runs well, as long as it isn’t burdened with any heavy apps. Chances are that you’ll rarely encounter any major hiccups if you stick to the Start screen and its apps, while many legacy applications will be feeling right at home in Desktop mode. Just don’t expect any resource-hungry software like graphics or video editors to run smoothly. For that you’ll need something powered by a Core processor.
The Intel Graphics Media Accelerator is powerful enough to run some basic games. We tested several popular titles from the Windows Marketplace, including a 3D strategy game, and it ran at high frame rates. Graphic-intensive games, however, are a no-go.
The Acer Iconia W511 comes with 64GB of on-board storage, but since half of that is occupied by the operating system and its recovery files, there’s “only” about 32GB at the user’s disposal. For some people, that will do just fine, but storing music, movies, or other large files on the device might be a problem. Thankfully, there’s always the option to expand the tablet’s storage using a microSD card of up to 64GB. In addition, a free SkyDrive account will get you several gigabytes of cloud storage that can be used for storing photos, documents, and other files you don’t require having access to on a daily basis.
Web Browser and connectivity:
With the desktop-grade Internet Explorer 10 web browser, one can experience all that the web has to offer, including Adobe Flash content and Java applications. What’s more is that the application is touch-optimized, meaning that navigation gestures like pinch to zoom and the likes are supported and work well. Performance issues are rare, occurring only when browsing heavy web pages. Sadly, although alternatives can be installed in case you aren’t happy with the native solution, browsers like Chrome, Firefox and Opera don’t support touchscreen gestures, which makes them harder to use without a pointing device.
While you’ll probably connect to the internet over Wi-Fi most of the time, there’s a 3G module built into the Acer Iconia W511. Just pop in a SIM card in there (with a data plan, of course) and you’re good to browse the web wherever there’s network coverage. Just keep in mind that you’ll be limited to 3G speeds – those fancy 4G LTE networks are not supported. Another connectivity feature that’s missing is GPS. NFC and Bluetooth, on the other hand, are present. As a side note, the device’s cheaper, non-3G variant is known as the Acer Iconia W510.
Here’s why we often say that when it comes to digital cameras, megapixels aren’t all that matters. Although the Acer Iconia W511 comes with an 8MP auto-focus main shooter, the photos that it takes are of average quality at best, with little fine detail and rather low dynamics range. Digital noise may also be an issue, especially if shooting indoors. On top of it all, the camera is noticeably laggy unless you’re shooting at a low resolution setting. But since tablets in general aren’t known for their photographic skills, we don’t see the 8MP camera’s mediocre performance as too big of a deal. All in all, the tablet’s photos are good enough for sharing on social networks, and the quality of its 1080p videos is also acceptable.

 The front-facing camera is what you’ll be using for video chats. It offers 2MP of resolution and the quality of its images is okay, just don’t expect your self-portraits to look fabulous. In low-light conditions, the image quality deteriorates significantly due to the heavy presence of digital noise.
While the camera interface is simple and easy to use, it offers little settings to tweak and no special shooting modes. You only get sliders for brightness, contrast, and exposure adjustments, as well as a timer and a resolution setting. Nevertheless, that’s okay with us since when it comes to photography, the tablet probably won’t be used as anything more than a last-resort camera.
Xbox Music is your default destination for playing your tunes, but it’s less of a media player and much more of an audio store built-in. It allows one to browse for and purchase new music. Naturally, the software merges whatever audio files you have stored in the Music folder with your audio library. A neat feature is the integrated radio that streams music straight to your device, free of charge. Overall, the music player works, but we’re not too happy with it as it lacks in features. Also, we wish there was a simpler way of enjoying our tunes without being reminded that we should buy more of them.
The Xbox Video hub is designed in a similar manner and allows you to browse through its huge catalog of movies and TV shows. Top titles are priced at about $17, but some of them can be rented for about $5. And yes, you are free to add your video files to its database.
Whatever kind of video you throw at a Windows 8 device, chances are that it will play it, and even if a specific codec isn’t installed, the user is free to download it manually. That’s why we’re not surprised to see that all our video samples are playable on the Acer Iconia W511. The Video player that’s set by the Start screen, however, is unable to play back 1080p videos smoothly. For that you’ll need to use Windows Media Player, which also comes installed, or a third media player of your choice.
Battery life:
Users who value battery life should be satisfied with the Acer Iconia W511 and its 3540 mAh battery. It will last for about 9 hours on a single charge – almost as much as an iPad or a high-end Android slate. Sure, other Windows-based tablets can do even better, yet a figure like that is still more than acceptable. When docked, the W511's battery life doubles to 18 hours, so no matter how hard you’re pushing it, rest assured that the device will last you through at least a whole day of heavy usage.
The Acer Iconia W511 is clearly aimed at tablet buyers on a tight budget, or simply people who aren’t willing to spend too much on a Windows 8 hybrid device. It may look a bit uninspiring, but it’s light, affordable and offers an adequate set of features combined with a decent battery life. Moreover, with it you get the complete Windows 8 experience with legacy app support and all that good stuff, while the Atom processor delivers performance, which users that aren’t too picky will be fine with.
But while it is an okay Windows 8 tablet, we can’t really recommend it as a notebook/netbook replacement. Something in the back of our heads is telling us that its build quality isn’t as good as it should be, while the touchpad is downright pathetic. In case what you’re really looking for is a productivity device, you might want to look elsewhere, or better yet, get yourself a proper notebook.

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