The Novelty Wears Off
Sounds like I really dig Acer's W510, right? Well, the novelty of a fast, functional, x86-based tablet quickly wore off. The device's fit and finish just isn't up to the iPad's standard. There is some creaking and flexing that goes on, and yet Acer asks a premium price. Build quality simply doesn't match.
The Atom's PowerVR SGX545 is great for Web browsing and most Windows 8 applications. Games like Armed (a great turn-based strategy title), Pinball FX, and Angry Birds Star Wars also run well. You can even run classic PC games like Sam & Max. Unfortunately, more graphics-intensive titles, such as Violet Storm (a game inspired by Geometry Wars) don't run properly. The SGX545 is incompatible with XCOM: Enemy Unknown, resulting in a crash. There is always this jarring sensation going from a very fast tablet under the Windows 8 UI to unusably-slow 3D apps. This breaks the "it just works" paradigm tied to Apple's products.
Windows 8 also proved to be disappointing. Now, I have Windows 8 installed on my primary laptop, my home desktop, and my primary workstation, none of which have a touchscreen. Although there's a rough learning curve tied to the new UI, Windows 8 is a faster and more responsive operating system, given the same hardware I was using to drive Windows 7. But even though Windows 8 was envisioned as a desktop and tablet OS, you can tell it's still a desktop environment with touch optimizations.
You can live in the new Windows 8 UI until you can't. For a power user like myself, bouncing back and forth between the Windows 8 interface and the Desktop app is tolerable. And if you're a mainstream consumer using a tablet to check email, surf the Web, and play games like Angry Birds, you can live exclusively in the Windows 8 world. It’s the middle ground that becomes annoying. All of the sudden, instead of using the great IE interface, you're faced with a conventional desktop browser. And when you're forced to the Desktop on a tablet, control is far less elegant.
The more I tried to use the W510 as a tablet, the more problems surfaced. Traditional smartphone/tablet apps are missing in Windows 8. There's no alarm clock. While you can download alarm clock apps, none of them are as effective as what comes bundled in iOS. I’m not sure how this oversight made it past Microsoft. Free third-party alarm clock apps do not reliably wake up the tablet, and an unreliable alarm clock is a useless one.
During my time with the W510, I experienced a few crashes that required a power cycle. They weren't hard locks because Windows' animations were still moving. But the device was completely unresponsive to user input. I suspected an issue with Wi-Fi, since I also had trouble with Windows re-detecting the same access point as new. Even though the crashes only plagued me once a week or so, this is a flaw. During the same time, my Core i7-3770K-based desktop and Core i7-3930K-based workstation never crashed under Windows 8.
Originally, we wanted to publish this piece last December. Just before that, Acer released a BIOS update package that also included upgraded Intel drivers. This process went smoothly; there are not boot drives or firmware utilities to deal with. The update was as uneventful as what you'd expect from Apple. The new drivers were supposed to improve battery life, while maintaining performance. Gladly, I stopped encountering crashes after the software package was installed. Unfortunately, Wi-Fi remains spotty with my Linksys E4200 v1 router, and I have to reconnect to the AP manually after every restart.