Reconsidering The W510
In my original draft of this story, I thought the W510 was two steps away from our highest honor. The company needed to adjust pricing to $500 instead of $600, and it needed to fix the keyboard. At that lower price point, there was an argument to be made for trading off 3D performance in favor of full x86 compatibility. Many folks, including myself, who have a system for gaming and don't need 3D on the road, would find that reasonable.
But as I waited for Acer to fix the tablet's trackpad, and then went back and forth with customer service, my opinion changed. As much as I was willing to acclimate to Windows 8's idiosyncrasies, poor customer service and not-quite-polished hardware made Acer's Iconia W510 more of a technology demonstration than a real-world winner. Most frustrating is that Acer's engineers in Taiwan and its customer service folks in America aren't the ones to blame. The whole system was broken. Nobody tested the track pad to make sure it worked as well as the touch screen. The individual customer service folks were very kind and rationally understood how silly sending the whole tablet back for a broken dock, but were powerless to help. And the retail box, which Acer spent so much time crafting for a grand reveal, was discarded without any consideration. Somewhere along the line, someone just didn't care.
I don't know that Apple truly cares about its customers. In the end, it's a business, and its employees are only doing what they think will be profitable. Where Apple succeeds is that it knows a good business needs good customer service. With Apple, you can bring in a broken iPad and walk out with a refurbished one the same day. Your 12-month warranty is really a 13-month warranty; if you're just out of the coverage period, they'll still cover your product, suggesting that they actually care. None of those perks are free. They're part of the Apple Tax. The problem is that companies trying to compete against Apple forget that its premium is more than just hardware, an operating system, and arbitrary mark-up. It also involves service. So, even though companies like Acer are in hot pursuit of Apple when it comes to hardware, they are generations behind everywhere else.
Of course, my purpose here wasn't just to unload on Acer. I originally wanted to evaluate the technology in the W510, and discuss Intel's challenge to ARM. Can x86 CPUs compete in the tablet space? The answer is a resounding yes. Today's Atom offers performance that's competitive with the fastest platforms powering Android- and iOS-based devices, yielding comparable battery life. The SoC itself appears even faster and more responsive thanks to a custom set of drivers. As the next generation of ARM CPUs emerges, so too will we see the next iteration of Atoms.
Intel currently employs 32 nm high-K lithography to manufacture Atom. But it has the ability to improve performance and efficiency even more as it transitions to 22 nm FinFET. If the company can introduce similar gains as what we saw shifting from the desktop Sandy Bridge to Ivy Bridge architectures, with more speed and lower power, it's going to change the low-power CPU marketplace. Intel just needs to find the right team to build the best hardware. Now, is it really any surprise that the company shut down its desktop motherboard division and tasked those engineers with creating boards for new devices?