Acer has released not one but two new tablets into the fray recently. One, the Iconia A500, is a standard Android 3.0 tablet, very similar to the Motorola Xoom and Asus Eee Pad in form and function. The unusual release is the W500, however, a tablet that runs Windows 7 rather than a mobile operating system like iOS or Android.
That has some pretty obvious advantages in terms of software availability. Everything is available for Windows. For home entertainment enthusiasts, that’s a smorgasbord of mature, well-designed apps. After wading through dozens of poor designed and barely functional apps on the iTunes App Store and Android Market, it was a relief to go back to Windows and know that I can install XBMC or VLC media players and they’ll work properly.
Of course, AV suppliers have also developed excellent hardware control software for the platform. Most devices with Ethernet ports are supported, and home automation equipment is also well supported.
There are downsides to running Windows on a tablet, however, and they’re not inconsiderable. While working with the OS itself isn’t too bad, most Windows apps just aren’t designed for touch screen use. Tiny, tiny menu bars and buttons made for mouse use can be nearly impossible to target with a finger. And when you use the onscreen keyboard, it obscures half the screen, which can be a problem on many apps as you won’t be able to see the field you’re typing into. Fortunately, a docking keyboard, much like that of the Asus Eee Pad Transformer, is available for the Acer, effectively turning it into a netbook PC.
It’s also big. The Iconia W500 weighs over one and a half kilograms, much of which is battery to power the hungry processor inside. That makes it near-impossible to hold in one hand and not much good as an eBook reader.
It has a lot of PC-like specs, including full-size USB ports (great for external hard drives) and a wired Ethernet networking port. There’s no Bluetooth, but a 3G model is available.