Performance and battery life
When it comes to things tablets are supposed to be good at, the W510 shines.
For the most part, when we compare the W510 to netbooks, we're making a dig at its cheap build quality. But there's something else the two have in common: internals. Like netbooks of yore, the W510 packs an Intel Atom processor -- a 1.8GHz dual-core Z2760 CPU from the Clover Trail series, to be exact. Also like a netbook, it comes with 2GB of RAM. For storage, you'll get a 32GB SSD if you choose the lowest-end $500 model; every other configuration has 64GB of on-board storage. Either way, an SSD isn't something we would have taken for granted back in the netbook era; most minis at the time had spinning hard drives.
As you'd expect, the Atom's performance has improved since it debuted in 2008, with the latest-gen Clover Trail chips promising 10 hours of use and three weeks on standby. We'd wager, too, that consumer expectations might have changed: when PC makers were stuffing Atom processors inside netbooks -- essentially, miniature laptops -- they had a heck of a time explaining to consumers what they could and couldn't do with these machines. In the case of tablets, though, we suspect no one is expecting laptop-grade performance.
And when it comes to things tablets are supposed to be good at -- email, web browsing and video streaming -- the W510 shines. That Z2760 chip is also more than sufficient for handling the overhead of Windows 8. Not only was the touchscreen responsive, but we also didn't notice any lag when we launched programs, swiped right to expose the Charms Bar or swiped in from the left to rotate through open apps.
All of which is to say, the W510's performance is totally normal for an Atom-powered tablet. In fact, its synthetic benchmark scores closely match what we got from the HP Envy x2, which has the same processor and 2GB of RAM. In the disk benchmark ATTO, for instance, the W510 notched peak read speeds of 81 MB/s and max writes of 28 MB/s. That's only slightly lower than the x2's scores, which came to read speeds of 83 MB/s and writes of 34 MB/s. Booting into the start screen takes 13 seconds, compared with 15 for the x2. The only area where the two diverged in a significant way was in the general performance benchmark PCMark 7: the W510 scored 1,297, whereas the x2 got up to 1,425.
Again, battery life is rated at up to nine hours on the tablet, and the keyboard dock promises to double that. We'd say that's about right: our test unit lasted through eight hours and 19 minutes of video playback, with a movie looping off the local drive, WiFi on and display brightness fixed at 50 percent. Admittedly, that's a pretty grueling test, so we're not at all surprised that we didn't get all the way to the nine-hour mark. With the keyboard dock attached, the W510 managed 14 hours and 17 minutes -- almost two hours longer than you'd get with the HP Envy x2 and its accompanying dock.
Software and warranty
As we've seen on other Acer systems, the W510 comes with a good deal of pre-installed software, including Amazon.com's Windows 8 app, the Kindle reader, Netflix, Skype, Spotify, iCookBook, ChaCha, StumbleUpon, Skitch, eBay, Evernote, Hulu Plus, newsXpresso, the radio service TuneIn and the music / e-book seller 7digital. Additionally, Acer included its own Social Jogger hub, as well as Acer Explorer, which helps you, uh, get to know all those-pre-installed apps.
Additionally, similar to other Acer PCs, the W510 is tied into Acer's free AcerCloud service, which allows you to remotely access stored items through an iOS or Android app. As a of a software update that went live in January 2013 (after the first draft of this review was published), you can now back up things on your mobile devices too.
Like most other consumer electronics, particularly those in this price range, the W510 is covered by a one-year warranty.
The nice thing about shopping around for Windows 8 hybrids is that all of the Atom-powered models, at least, have the same key specs: a 1.8GHz Atom processor, 2GB of RAM and 64GB of built-in storage. With that squared away, then, you're free to choose based on differences in the actual user experience -- you know, things like battery life or how comfortable the keyboard is.
We already mentioned the HP Envy x2 as an obvious competitor. With an 11.6-inch display, it's slightly bigger, but just enough that the keyboard is noticeably more spacious. Don't get too excited, though: the keys themselves feel a little mushy. The battery life is also shorter, both on the tablet itself and with the accompanying keyboard dock. All told, the main reasons to get the x2 over the W510 are that it's more attractively designed, with pen support, NFC, slightly faster performance and, of course, that larger keyboard. Good reasons indeed -- in fact, this is probably an all-around better system. But here's the catch: the x2 starts at $850 with the keyboard, compared to $750 for the W510 and dock. So, it's a great option for people who want pen support (or who have a lax budget), but we're otherwise not too keen on spending the extra hundred bucks; the x2 is better in some ways, but it's still a flawed product.
Other models cost more and don't actually perform much better, if at all.
We also don't have great things to say about the Samsung ATIV Smart PC, which you can buy with WiFi only or with an AT&T LTE radio inside. First of all, avoid the AT&T version. Stay far, far, far away. The price is $700 with a two-year contract, and that doesn't even include the keyboard. Not that the keyboard is such a great addition, though: the keys are cramped, and the tablet doesn't sit snugly enough inside the cradle. Plus, this is one of the rare keyboard docks that doesn't have a built-in battery, which means you've got just the main tablet battery to rely on. If you do decide to give it a shot, go with the WiFi-only version: not only is it contract-free, but it also has pen support, which the LTE version doesn't.
Finally, Lenovo has a pair of Atom-powered hybrids: the IdeaTab Lynx, for consumers, and the ThinkPad Tablet 2 for business users. A little quid pro quo: we haven't reviewed either yet, so we can't vouch for things like performance, stability or battery life. Here are some basic specs, though, so you have a general idea of what you'd be getting. Starting with the higher-end of the two, the ThinkPad Tablet, it starts at $679 with a 1.8GHz processor, 2GB of RAM and 64GB of internal storage. The keyboard (which looks fairly comfy) is sold as an accessory for $120. While that might seem a bit pricey for a mere Atom tablet, this one at least has pen support, and comes with a pressure-sensitive pen. (It also has NFC, not you can do much with it.) If you can do without the NFC and pen input, the Lynx starts at a lower price of $649.
Having met with Acer's product team in person (and having read its executives quoted in the press), it's obvious the company is eager to shed its reputation for cheap products and be taken more seriously as an OEM capable of building premium PCs. You can even see glimmers of that in the Iconia W510, with its lovely IPS display and optional accessories. Ultimately, though, the W510 does a disservice to Acer: with a chintzy build and a cramped, netbook-like keyboard, it confirms whatever pre-conceived notions shoppers may have about the brand. And with so many Windows 8 hybrids either out there or on the way, Acer can't afford to have its products get lost in the mix.
If there's one thing that saves the W510, though, it's this: it delivers best-in-class battery life, and at $550, it's attractively priced for a device running full Windows 8. We're still not wild about it, but if you are going to get a low-powered Windows 8 hybrid, we'd sooner steer you toward this than some others on the market. No, it's not even close to perfect, but some of those other models cost more and don't actually perform much better, if at all. We also have yet to find a keyboard dock we're happy with (hopefully one of Lenovo's two hybrids proves better in this regard). For now, the W510 is okay for shoppers sticking to a budget, but if you've got more money to spend it might be a good idea to hold off for something that offers the full package.