Print 17 comment(s) - last by Manch.. on Mar 30 at 9:46 AM

  (Source: Computer Shopper)

  (Source: Acer)

The Acer Iconia  (Source: Acer)
Iconia offers innovative Win7 touch interface, but suffers from poor battery life and buggy keyboard

Is it a laptop?  Is it a dual-tablet?  

Looking at the dual-screen Acer Iconia, it's hard to tell exactly what it is, but it's clear that it's unique.  While it looks somewhat like a larger version of Microsoft's defunct Courier concept, the device offers you two 14-inch 720p (1,366x768 pixel) touch screens.  Some bloggers have taken to calling this type of devices "TouchBooks".  That's probably as good a term as any.

Acer just announced that the Iconia would begin shipping to customers in the U.S. in April, priced starting at $1,199 and available through Acer's retail partners.

I. Look, Feel, and Hardware

The device almost resembles something Apple would make.  It features a slick, thin anodized aluminum body.  The weight is a bit higher, though, at 6.2 pounds.  Another thing that gives away that this is no Apple product is that there's a sliding panel to allow for easy memory upgrades.

Compared to the only previous "touchbook" the Toshiba Libretto W100, this device will ship at much higher volumes and packs much more powerful hardware.

At its heart is powered by a second-generation Intel Core i5 processor, the 2.66 GHz Intel Core i5-480M.  This processor is a dual core design (Intel's i5 moniker is unfortunately applied to both dual- and quad-core chips).

The unit also packs 4 GB of DDR3 RAM and a 640 GB hard drive.  Connectivity options include 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi and an Ethernet port.  As a nice perk, the device includes the brand new USB 3.0 standard, which allows for super-fast file transfers to capable devices.  The device also features a HDMI port, a VGA port, and 2 additional USB 2.0 ports.

The biggest disappointment is the device's lack of a discrete mobile GPU.  Users will have to make due with Sandy Bridge's relatively anemic integrated graphics processing unit.  Relying on Sandy Bridge's iGPU to drive one screen is a fair proposition if you're not doing a lot of gaming or digital art.  But driving two screens off of such an underpowered processing unit seems a tenuous proposition.

As the device's centerpieces are the dual screens, Acer does a good job of trying to protect them, by applying a nice slab of Corning's Gorilla Glass.  Both screens support for multi-touch input.

II. Software

The device features an installed copy of Windows 7 Home Premium.  While an excellent operating system overall, Windows 7 interface wasn't fully optimized for multi-touch as competitors such as Android 3.0 Honeycomb or iOS were.

In order to close the gap between Windows 7 and touch-dedicated mobile OS's, Acer has written a lot of software that runs on the Iconia.

The first key piece is the virtual keyboard.  Pressing two palms to the bottom screen brings up the virtual keyboard.

The other key piece of software is a multi-layered control "Ring".  To gain access to this, you tap your fingertips from one hand on the screen.  The Ring allows you to launch touch-enhanced apps.  At its center is a black ball that you can draw gestures that will launch user-defined apps.  Included software allows users to make up their own gestures... for example, writing "f" with your finger might launch an instance of Firefox.

To top off the interface, additional icons have been added to windows.  One icon allows you to switch windows between the top and bottom screens.  The other is sort of like a "full screen" option in traditional PCs -- it lets you stretch a window across both screens.

III. Early Reviews -- Poor Battery, Poor Keyboard, Otherwise Fun

There are a fair number of "hands on" previews, but virtually all of these are just briefly tests that fail to examine multiple hours of use.  We did dig up one full review from Computer Shopper that was recently published.

The review criticized the virtual keyboard, writing:

We found touch-typing very difficult on the virtual keyboard; we had to watch our fingers the whole time. If we looked away, it wasn’t long before our fingers would drift a bit to the side and we’d be pressing, for example, Caps Lock instead of the A key. You can toggle on a predictive word-completion feature, which helps a bit, but over the course of a few days, we weren’t able to exceed about 30 words per minute (WPM) typing on the virtual keyboard, compared with our usual 100-plus WPM using even a mediocre traditional keyboard. Hunt-and-peck typists probably won’t mind this input method, but touch-typists are likely to find it frustrating.

Similarly, they're not fans of the battery life, which appears to be incredibly low, at just over an hour and a half.  They elaborate:

The screen on any laptop is one of its primary battery depleters, so the Iconia-6120, having two, made us especially wary of its runtime away from AC power. And indeed, in our tests, the dual screens showed that they exact a dear battery-life price. On our demanding battery-rundown test, in which we stream video from Hulu Plus over the Wi-Fi connection, the Iconia-6120 lasted a mere 1 hour and 32 minutes. That’s one of the shortest times we’ve seen for a mainstream notebook, and it means the Iconia-6120 is a poor choice for on-the-go entertainment away from a power socket.

As the reviewer states, this is no huge surprise -- screens are one of the hungriest components in a laptop power-wise.  Adding a second one might be viewed as a fatalistic design flaw.

Still the reviewers did offer the device some praise for its CPU power and innovative concept.  They write:

We enjoyed having the option, in a fully touch-centric device, to run any Windows application and make selections using touch. After sometimes struggling to use stripped-down tablet applications such as Keynote on the iPad, it was nice to harness the full power of PowerPoint, for instance...We give Acer kudos for bringing something daring to market.

So it sounds like if you want a dual-screen touchbook the Iconia is the device for you; if you are willing to put up with slow typing, the need to constantly be plugged in, and an at times quirky touch interface, that is. 

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14" screens, Really?
By Denigrate on 3/29/2011 9:49:13 AM , Rating: 2
This seems like a big loser to me. How are dual 14" screens going to be a good thing? Tilt the thing to landscape and use an external keyboard? That's the only way I could see using this on a consistent basis. Makes it real easy to carry a dual screen setup to job sites. Though battery life nearly kills that idea unless you have access to power.

RE: 14" screens, Really?
By cochy on 3/29/2011 9:52:47 AM , Rating: 4
It will sell on coolness factor. That's it's target market.

Other than that. Maybe taking notes in class could be interesting on this. Art.

But seriously if nothing else, it's pretty cool. Good to see Acer coming out with interesting designs.

RE: 14" screens, Really?
By GuinnessKMF on 3/29/2011 11:44:34 AM , Rating: 2
As a developer I am a huge fan of dual monitors, I think most professionals who work heavily with computers can benefit from having the extra screen real estate. There's also some sort of mental block where having a second monitor is better than just having that extra resolution in the same display (Win7 has made good strides to break that with things like WinKey-LeftArrow).

There are products that exist that serve this need better than this laptop does, Cinq is one example (It's a portable 10" monitor for use with laptops). Dual screens can be used for entertainment, but they shine in productivity, having a dual screen laptop that limits productivity due to poor user interface is counterintuitive. I think one of the best uses of this product will be in conjunction with a portable mouse and keyboard (or maybe a walcom) in a laptop bag, to create a portable workstation.

RE: 14" screens, Really?
By robinthakur on 3/29/2011 11:47:20 AM , Rating: 2
Apple devices don't sell purely on their coolness factor. If the iPad had a 1.5 hour battery life, nobody would have bought it, just like nobody in their right mind will buy this machine. Its certainly interesting, but I'd never call a heavy, poorly thought out proposition 'cool'...

RE: 14" screens, Really?
By GuinnessKMF on 3/29/2011 2:12:52 PM , Rating: 3
You underestimate the stupidity of the public.

RE: 14" screens, Really?
By spread on 3/29/2011 10:32:37 PM , Rating: 2
There's lots of cool and interesting designs, where most PC manufacturers screw up is the actual production.

Hey, let's give the user a plastic case, a cheap TN panel with terrible colors contrast, and viewing angles... but we're going to dress up this pig and make it look awesome!

RE: 14" screens, Really?
By theArchMichael on 3/29/2011 10:07:54 AM , Rating: 2
14 inch screen seems a little overkill for me. Two 12" or even 10" would have been nice (and may have saved power). I am interested to know what scribing capabilities this thing has, like is there a stylus? I would like something like this to take notes in classes and meeetings and on the metro.
In reference to the keyboard, a nice docking station would be pretty essential for me also.

By bug77 on 3/29/2011 10:24:08 AM , Rating: 2
We found touch-typing very difficult on the virtual keyboard; we had to watch our fingers the whole time.

What, no swype? Fail.

RE: Hmm
By wushuktl on 3/29/2011 10:55:04 AM , Rating: 3
it would be interesting if maybe after each space bar press it would move each half of the virtual keyboard around to where your fingers already are, that is assuming the typer prefers to reset the fingers after each individual word. or maybe after each sentence, either way, i have a hard enough time typing on the flat keys of a laptop keyboard, i hate the idea of typing on a screen

While it fails, someone else will succeed
By Subzero0000 on 3/29/2011 11:51:08 PM , Rating: 2
I'd think that dual screen laptop-size device will definitely be a hit in the future market.

Unfortunately Acer just doing it at the wrong time. Technology has not yet reach to a stage where the battery life for (big)dual screen is feasible.

I'd bet that when the time comes, Apple will produce a dual screen iPortable and succeed.
It's all about timing. It's not a matter of having the greatest+latest technology, all you need is delivering the best all around product to consumers at the time.

By Manch on 3/30/2011 9:46:21 AM , Rating: 2
I think they should have used brazos instead. i5 is overkill for something like this, and without batterylife, the device isnt as compelling. I was interested until I read 1.5 hrs. Now not so much.

By damianrobertjones on 3/29/11, Rating: 0
RE: Awesome
By amanojaku on 3/29/2011 10:15:46 AM , Rating: 2
Go to google and search for "Tablet pc review forum" for ALL the tablet news
That sounds like spam! :)

Bad Concept
By smokedturkey on 3/29/2011 11:02:19 AM , Rating: 2
but... if this were a MAC, they would fly off the shelves. lol

Not 2nd Generation Core i5
By JarredWalton on 3/29/2011 11:13:04 AM , Rating: 2
If the Iconia is indeed using an i5-480M, that's not Sandy Bridge or 2nd Gen Core; that's just the most recent Arrandale i5-4xxM.

Tablet mode
By Lanister on 3/29/2011 11:24:15 AM , Rating: 2
I would be sold on this if there was a way to fold around one screen that turns it off and switches this to a 1 screen tablet. I like the idea of a tablet but I want to be able to run my windows apps, at least MS Office.

By kake on 3/29/2011 9:13:49 PM , Rating: 2
We have an i3 in our living room PC and it runs a 22" (1680x1050) LCD and the 1080p plasma just fine. Just don't expect any gaming, but that's not really the realm of this device anyways.

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