There’s something about the tablet-plus-keyboard dock format that seems to appeal to manufacturers of Windows 8 tablets. Sure, it’s possible to buy the Dell XPS 10 or the Asus Vivo Tab RT as a pure tablet, but there’s something about both models that makes you suspect the keyboard isn’t just an optional extra. With the Iconia W510, Acer has dispensed with any such pretence. Billed by some retailers as a touchscreen convertible laptop, it’s a tablet plus keyboard dock bundle running full-fat Windows 8, and coming in at the £599 mark (though it is available for less online). With its 10.1in screen and Atom processor it’s actually closer to a convertible netbook than a laptop, though maybe that’s a case of splitting hairs.
Tackling the Transformer
After Lenovo’s extraordinary Yoga 11 there’s something a bit unimaginative about Acer’s take on the convertible, but the design looks classy and actually works very well. The tablet portion is surprisingly slim and light, weighing in at 580g and measuring just under 9mm in thickness, which means it’s lighter than many Android tablets, including the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 and the Asus Transformer Pad or Transformer Infinity. It’s easily light enough to hold in one hand.
It also feels very solid. Despite the shiny metallic finish on the rear it’s a mostly plastic construction with an attractive white bezel and gorilla glass-fronted screen, but everything fits together well and there’s only a little flex and creaking when you try to twist the corners.
The keyboard dock is fashioned from the same faux-metallic plastics as the rear, with a white textured hinge to match the bezel. It actually weighs more than the tablet at roughly 1.25kg, though this means that the screen isn’t forever tipping backwards when you’re using the W510 in netbook mode. The mechanism for clipping the two together is very robust, and makes the overall package feel as tough – if not more so – than many premium netbooks. There’s a sliding catch towards the bottom of the hinge, and you can easily detach or attach the keyboard dock in seconds. What’s more, the whole assembly twists around so that the keyboard, facing down, becomes the base of a useful stand; very handy if you’re trying to watch a movie.
Used simply as a tablet, the W510 feels great. It’s light and comfortable, with a responsive touchscreen and a nice balance. Our only complaint is that the unit gets a little hot when being pushed – it seems that the Atom N5700 processor puts out more heat than the Tegra CPUs we’re seeing in rival tablets.
Dock the keyboard, and the W510 is ready for some hardcore productivity. However, the slightly undersized touchpad is a reminder that we’re in netbook rather than Ultrabook territory here, and Acer has made the odd mistake in maximising the layout for the size. The enter key is crammed against the # key, the shift keys feel under-sized and the arrow and function keys are also very small. Furthermore, the travel is fairly shallow. (The keyboard of our review sample is different to that in the image above, indicating that there are a number of different layouts, so be sure to check before you buy). On the plus side, there’s not much irritating bounce under the keypad when you’re typing, and with time you can hit a decent typing speed, but the keyboard does slightly hinder the W510’s use as a serious business tool.
Screen and sound
Like most Windows 8 convertibles, the W510 has a 10.1in screen with a 1,366 x 768 resolution, giving it a pixel density that won’t exactly rival current iPads, the Nexus 10 or the Transformer Infinity. Given that, it’s still very sharp and very bright, with rich colours and plenty of oomph for viewing photos, games and video. The size is another reminder that the W510 is closer to a netbook than a slimline laptop or Ultrabook; 10.1in just isn’t as comfortable as 11.6in when you’re working in Word or Excel, so if work is of paramount importance then you might want to look at something bigger.
Sound from the side-firing speakers is predictably tinny, with a nasty tendency towards sibilance when you push the volume up. At low levels it’s not so bad, but you’ll want to plug in some headphones if you’re watching films or listening to music.
The W510 has reasonable connectivity on the tablet itself, with a micro-USB 2.0 socket (a full-size USB 2.0 adaptor is provided) and a micro HDMI output on the right-hand-side. That’s also where you’ll find a microSD card slot, enabling you to boost the 32 or 64GB of onboard flash memory – with less than 30GB available on our 64GB model with just a few apps installed, you’ll probably need to. Connectivity on the keyboard dock is a little light, with just a single USB 2.0 port on the right-hand side, plus a replica of the tablet’s proprietary power socket.
The W510 combines a front-facing 2-megapixel camera with a rear-facing 8-megapixel one. The first performs well in normal lighting, though there’s a fair bit of noise in low-light conditions, and makes the W510 a very viable video chat and conferencing platform. The latter has a higher-than-usual pixel count, but we’re not entirely sure of the point. Five megapixels is perfectly adequate for tablet applications, and who wants to use a tablet for more serious photography? There’s no visible improvement in captured detail and colours are slightly dull, though low-light performance is better than you might expect.
Unlike rivals like the Dell XPS 10, Asus Vivo Tab RT or Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 11, the W510 runs a full fat 32-bit version of Windows 8, meaning you have access to the same library of Windows 8 apps from the Windows 8 app store, but also the full range of Windows applications. On the downside, you don’t get the Windows RT versions of Word, Excel and PowerPoint bundled in, but it certainly makes the W510 a more versatile system. You get the modern UI, Internet Explorer 10 and tablet-friendly apps for when you’re in tablet mode, and the classic Windows desktop and proper Windows applications for when you’re in netbook mode. It’s very nearly the best of both worlds.
You need to bear some caveats in mind, however. Firstly, the Windows 8 desktop interface and many desktop-focused applications just don’t work that well with a touchscreen interface, though that’s not much of an issue when you’re using the tablet docked. Secondly, as we’ll see in a minute, the W510 doesn’t have the processing power for more demanding Windows applications.
The W510 relies on an Atom Z2760 ‘Clover Trail’ processor and 2GB of DDR2 RAM for its grunt. The Z2760 is an improvement on previous Atoms, with two cores handling four threads, a 1.8GHz clock speed and a built-in Power VR SGX 545 GPU. Think of the W510 as a tablet and this is more than enough power to run Windows 8 apps and Office apps and web apps too. Word, for example, shows none of the lag we’ve experienced on some Tegra-based Windows RT tablets, while 1080p HD video plays back without any issues.
Think of the W510 as a laptop replacement, and it’s a slightly different story. It’s still fine for your everyday productivity applications, but try anything more demanding and it starts to struggle. It’s both cruel and unfair to run Maxon’s Cinebench rendering test on a system with this spec, but a miserable score of 0.52 proves this processor is way behind the Core or even Celeron processors you’d find in proper laptops or ultraportables.
Gaming performance is another weakness. Hydro Thunder Hurricane, which runs quite smoothly on Tegra 3-based Windows 8 tablets, has a noticeably choppier frame rate on the W510, and we couldn’t persuade other light 3D games to run. If you want to game on your tablet then this probably is not the one for you.
If performance is slightly better than netbook levels, then battery life is a huge improvement. In tablet mode we’ve consistently squeezed nine to 10 hours of mixed use out of the W510, including two hours or so of iPlayer and Netflix video streaming. Hook up a fully charged keyboard dock and you can comfortably expect around 16 to 18 hours of use.
By running Windows 8 instead of Windows RT, the W510 instantly sidesteps one of the biggest issues of Windows tablets; the lack of compelling software in the app store. Yet it does so while still offering a decent performance and excellent battery life. Usability is affected by the compromises of the keyboard layout, but the W510 makes up for it with a fine screen and a comfortable weight. It’s not the best productivity tool or the best media tablet, but it’s a solid general-purpose choice.
The best thing about it, however, is that in a world where too many Windows tablets are hitting at the £599 price point, the Iconia W510 comes in at a more appealing £549 for the 64GB version, or less if you can bag a deal (at least two reputable stores are selling it for just under £500). That makes it one of the first Windows 8 tablets we can warmly recommend, even if it hasn’t got the biggest screen or the best keyboard. That puts it right up against the Asus Transformer Prime, currently selling at around the £500 mark, but if you’d rather have a Windows 8 experience than Android, then this is the most cost-effective convertible in town.
Manufacturer and model
Acer Iconia W510
1.8GHz Intel Atom Z2760
microSD memory card
10.1in 1,366 x 768
Micro USB, micro HDMI, headphone on tablet. USB 2.0 on dock
2 Cell Lithium Ion
Size and weight
167 x 258 x 8.8mm, 680g