Ultrabooks aren’t merely ultra thin laptops these days. No, they can be so much more, and Acer is out to prove just that, with the P3, a tablet that’s classed like an Ultrabook thanks to similar innards and the addition of a keyboard case.
Sporting an 11.6 inch IPS screen, the P3 looks like it should be a tablet, and yet thanks to some design and hardware choices, Acer has somehow made this machine into an Ultrabook, complete with the sticker that tells everyone this fact.
As such, you’ll find an Intel Core i5 processor here, albeit one with the prior generation of Core processors from the third-generation, Ivy Bridge. Memory is set to 2GB in this model, with 120GB of storage inside and no microSD slot, as some other tablets support.
Connections are pretty standard here, with Bluetooth 4.0, WiFi 802.11 a/b/g/n, microHDMI, and a lone USB 3.0 port. Multimedia is catered for in the way we’re used to seeing on tablets, with a 720p HD front-facing camera, and a 5 megapixel camera on the back.
All of this technology sits under the 11.6 inch touchscreen, which runs the HD resolution of 1366×768, and sits inside a frame made of aluminium.
The Aspire P3 also comes with a Bluetooth keyboard case which hugs the tablet and provides a keyboard with a vinyl protective covering. The case also blocks the rear camera.
Upon first glance, the design of Acer’s P3 is familiar territory.
In some ways, we’re reminded of the W7, one of the first Windows 8 models the company revealed to us last year, which took an 11.6 inch tablet with Full HD resolution, and threw in power that made it like an Ultrabook, except obviously not one. It was first and foremost a tablet, and even though you could find a similar keyboard case, it was a tablet with a keyboard case.
The P3 Ultrabook is different to the W7, because even though the first glance makes the two look similar – damn near identical, in fact – they are ever so slightly different.
They both run on a third generation Intel Core i5 processor, both feature solid state storage, and both rely on Windows 8 to get them through the course of the day.
But there are differences, and quite noticeable ones if you know where to look. There’s less memory in the P3, with 2GB against the W7’s 4GB. The storage isn’t quite 128GB here, with only a 120GB module used. Oh, and the 11.6 inch screen seems less impressive on the P3, with merely a HD-capable resolution of 1366×768, less than the Full HD offered.
These are pretty serious differences, and in some ways, it makes you feel like Acer has packed in a mid-range Ultrabook from 2012 into the body of a tablet.
When you start playing with the P3, that feeling is confirmed relatively quickly.
We’ll start with the performance, and while it’s acceptable, we’re not hugely impressed here. Despite the decent Core i5 innards, the P3 does take its sweet time in choosing to run things.
Heavy applications – games, for instance – can take a full minute to run to their starting screen, not including the internal load time, and Notepad – yes, the basic writing tool that has come standard with Windows since, well, ever – managed around 20 seconds.
That’s not a good time, and is likely something we can attribute to Acer’s supplying of only 2GB memory to this system, which just doesn’t seem enough for a machine matched with an Intel Core processor.
An Atom maybe, and Acer’s W5 didn’t seem to have any problems with both the 2GB and Intel’s Atom system-on-a-chip working together, but here in the P3, it’s just not the same.
It’s a shame, too, as gestures on the touchscreen all work quickly, as does switching menus and using core Windows functionality.
Startup time is all about standard for an Ultrabook, basically confirming what we already know about how this machine was built. As such, it takes merely seconds to start up from cold and off, while on from standby is roughly two seconds.
The screen is also very nice, and even though it sports a resolution that was much better on last year’s W7, the text is clear, images are vibrant, and overall it’s easy to look at for long periods of time.
Usability is all relatively standard for a tablet, with ten point multitouch on the tablet, and of course the on-screen Windows 8 keyboard, which is decent for on the go touchscreen typing.
A Bluetooth keyboard case is included, which makes up the “book” part of the “Ultrabook” logic Acer is using, but it’s not the best replacement for a proper dedicated laptop keyboard.
It’s not the best tablet keyboard case we’ve tried, and the travel is so short and soft that your fingers will feel at points they’re hitting a hard surface quicker than on a traditional one, but at least it’s reasonably comfortable. You might find some characters go missing as you type, but generally it’s not a bad typing experience.
We found that the Bluetooth keyboard takes a few seconds to switch on when pulling the machine out of standby, with up to ten seconds of waiting possible from the keyboard switching on and connecting, but once it does, you’re free to type as often as you please and need to.
It’s also easy to charge, and like many an iPad tablet case, relies on a microUSB to USB charge mechanism, which means it can even be recharged from the USB port on the tablet. Nifty.
If you don’t want an Ultrabook experience, you can always take it out of the case and use it solely as a tablet, and that’s fine too. Or you can fold the tablet section down over the keyboard.
Missing in action is a mouse, however. While Acer displays the “Ultrabook” sticker proudly on the front, there is only one form of mouse interaction on this computer: the touchscreen.
It’s a fine touchscreen, and you can choose between keyboard and mouse, but you can’t help crave a secondary device. Even a small optical trackpad – often useless as they are – would have been something.
The battery isn’t an area where the P3 shines, either. Depending on what your usage is, you’ll find it generally pulls in around four and a half hours max, and if you decide to do a touch more than the usual web surfing and writing, this will drop to between two and three.
That’s less than stellar performance for a machine classed as an Ultrabook, and really means that you’re going to be forced to carry the power brick in case the P3 battery chooses to die on you.
Thankfully, Acer has slimmed the power supply, and is now opting for a brick that reminds us very much of the one Samsung uses with its Series 9 Ultrabooks.
It’s so close, it could be identical… except that Acer’s is white.
Physical stability is another thing. Try not to use the physical keyboard on a bus as the inertia will pull the tablet forward in its case. Thankfully, Acer’s design of keeping the tablet in a form hugging case seems to prevent it from falling to a floor-height death, but this Ultrabook branded machine isn’t public transport friendly.
On a desk or flat surface, it’s a completely different story, and is pretty much made to be used here, just don’t rely on your lap for the best experience.
With Intel’s fourth-generation chips on the way into new machines, the Acer P3 with third-gen Core processors inside kind of feels like a last ditch effort to move some of the older stock. It’s hard not to see this device as a tablet that’s being called an Ultrabook, and running last year’s tech for that matter.
It’s not a terrible machine by any stretch of the imagination, but this is just an ordinary tablet computer with mediocre performance, and honestly, there’s so much better out there, some of it even made by Acer.