Acer submitted two tablets for our perusal. The Iconia Tab A500 is a fairly standard Android Honeycomb tablet with a better than average screen, while this Acer Iconia Tab W500 model sports the same chassis but runs Windows 7. There aren't many Windows 7 tablets around, so we were suitably intrigued. However, we soon discovered why Microsoft itself hasn't been especially proactive in punting Windows tablets our way.
The hardware line-up is decent enough: this is a 2GB AMD machine with dedicated graphics processing power too. This means it's actually a more powerful device than the Android Tegra 2 tablets we've looked at, but it suffers for having a full Windows desktop operating system to contend with.
This is the first time we've thought of Windows 7 as unwieldy, but it simply isn't designed for touchscreen only control. Corporate users will relish the familiarity of the interface, but not the way it behaves. The Windows Experience Index informed us we were working on a tablet with a score of just 2.7.
Rather than a Home button on the screen, there's a Windows button on the bottom left of the Iconia Tab W500's screen frame. This brings up the list of applications in much the same way as if you'd hovered over the Start menu button on a Windows PC. Unfortunately, it isn't very consistent about displaying this as a portrait or landscape list.
We tried to fire up iTunes. Having had no apparent response, we moved on to another feature, only to find iTunes and the other program's panes bisecting each other. Opening and closing items is also frustrating: you're stuck with the tiny maximise-minimise-close buttons at the top right.
It's not all Microsoft's fault. Acer preloads a number of apps, some of which such as Windows Live Photo Gallery are useful, but others such as eBay could just as well be optional shortcuts to follow on the desktop. Bloatware on top of a top-heavy OS doesn't help the W500's case.
Shortcuts to applications are scattered across the desktop - a far less appealing setup than the app groupings on the iPad or the linear array of apps along the lower portion of an Android tablet. As with the Froyo versions of Android, the net effect is a screen full of clutter.
The Iconia Tab W500's best element is probably the Acer Ring - a finger-friendly device that takes you to fun features including the camera and the music library. It's the one area that isn't like using Windows (though even this is proferred as a shortcut on the desktop, in a distinctly Windows fashion).
Unfortunately, tasks such as taking a still photo using the function built into the Acer Crystal Eye webcam app triggered many seconds after pressing the shutter button, resulting in a wasted shot of the desk.
The speakers are more successful, with a decent level of volume free of distortion. The inclusion of full-size USB ports means you can use this table with external speakers if you choose. Video playback was also nicely rendered. A further plus is that Acer fits a standard Secure Digital card, so you can take a card full of photos straight out your camera and view them on this device. Windows doesn't handle them in an intuitive manner, though. By default you can't simply view the contents of your card and choose items to import based on their thumbnails.
Using this tablet is akin to tapping away on a fairly slow Windows laptop. There are nods to touchscreen-only use, but the screen is not sufficiently sensitive nor the CPU sufficiently fast to keep pace with what you expect to be able to do.
Acer obviously realises the limitations of Windows for touchscreen use, so has designed a docking keyboard to turn the A500 into a laptop. Hook a fingernail under the plastic cover that conceals the two-prong connectors, latch it back and place the Iconia on top. It doesn't lock in place securely - when moving the docked tablet from one side of the desk to the other it began to come apart. As with the Asus Eee Pad Transformer, the docked tablet becomes an unbalanced laptop.
Our review model of the Acer Iconia Tab W500 was supplied by Laptops Direct. The firm sells the W500 for £436 (down from the RRP of £527), or £520 with the keyboard attached (RRP: £583).