One of the great things about working for Microsoft is that there always seems to be things going on to increase the interest levels around products… or more precisely, chances to win prizes. Since I’ve been been here I’ve seen people winning phones, Xboxes, Kinects, armfuls of Xbox games and (most recently) tablets. And I’m happy to say that I was the lucky recipient of a Windows 7 tablet. I had to do a bit of work for it, but it was a welcome reward. The tablet in question was the Acer Iconia Tab W500.
I’ve said in the past that I’ve been unexcited by the iPad, and remember I said that before I joined Microsoft so it’s not a case of “oh, he would say that”. Would I have spent my own money on a Windows tablet? Before getting the W500 I would have said no… now I’m not so sure because it’s been incredibly useful since hitting the power-on button a couple of weeks before Christmas.
The W500 boasts Windows 7 Home Premium (which I could upgrade to Enterprise, but I haven’t yet), a dual-core processor, 2gb of RAM, a 32gb solid-state drive, a crystal-clear 1280 x 800 display and front and rear-facing cameras. Probably the one statistic in this list that stands out as a bit measly is the storage – after Windows and Office are installed there’s significantly less storage available – but there is an SD card slot and to be honest I won’t be storing loads of documents and content on the tablet. It also features a USB port (just the one) and an HDMI output.
The battery, according to Acer’s site, should last 6 hours – I’ve not tracked the battery time but it seems to last very well. The W500 is a little bit bigger than an iPad and just over 1.5 times the weight, but still light enough to travel with and not notice much difference.
Of course, if we’re comparing to an iPad the big difference is that this tablet runs Windows 7 (bit of an obvious statement). Running Windows is a big plus – I can run Outlook, Lync, Office, Skype and any choice of browser, play movies copied from the Archos 605 (yes, my beloved media player is alive and well and recording from Sky Plus) and print to our wireless HP Photosmart 5510. And I can access photos and files from other computers (e.g. my work ThinkPad and the iMac). Okay, I’m sure someone will point out that many of those things can be achieved with an iPad.
However, let’s be honest – Windows 7 was not designed with tablets in mind (come back later in the year and we’ll talk about Windows 8). The W500 uses some Acer modifications to Windows 7, including tweaks for finger-tip navigation and control, and an on-screen keyboard. Although some aspects of the finger-tip control take a bit of getting used to, the screen is extremely responsive and accurate. Using the tablet became much easier once I worked out that I could simply add an icon to the task bar to instantly open and hide the on-screen keyboard, and in most places where text entry is required the keyboard ‘prompter’ appears when you place your cursor (i.e. your finger) on the screen. Over the last couple of weeks my typing on the keyboard has improved considerably – the only real challenge is having to occasionally move the keyboard so that it’s not obscuring the part of the screen I’m typing into (that’s something the iPad has in its favour and is a major design consideration for Windows 8).
I’ve found the tablet very useful around the house – with the iMac and ThinkPad upstairs in my office it’s perfect for checking e-mail and browsing the web while downstairs. I also took it to New York before Christmas – its size is for perfect for hand luggage, and using Starbucks wi-fi I answered a few urgent e-mails and consulted our list of places to visit, and used it to offload some photos when my camera’s SD card filled up. On Christmas day the family were treated to the New York photos (all 316 of them) using the HDMI output, and I used the tablet to speak to the Florida branch of the Adams family via Skype.
I’ll let you know when I’ve upgraded the W500 to Windows 8…