Acer's hybrid tablet-netbook seeks an uncertain market

Acer is hoping to snag buyers who can't decide whether they want a tablet or a laptop - and who are too nervous to move away from Microsoft Windows.

Its new hybrid portable device, called the Iconia Tab W500 and available from April 8th, is a £449 tablet with a 10-inch screen. It runs Windows 7 and can be bought with a relatively light £90 docking keyboard: when the two items are hooked up they resemble a netbook-type PC.

The result feels a little unfinished - the tablet and keyboard can also be clipped together for portability, but they don't fold together - you have to undock the tablet first. And the tablet itself is bulkier than similar 10 inch Android tablets.

It is, however, a genuine Windows-based tablet that offers extremely high performance compared to current netbooks. Acer claimed it can display full HD video from the Web at 25 frames per second, for instance.

An interesting feature is five-point multitouch, meaning the screen can register up to five touches at once, not just the two needed for pinch-to-zoom. More points allows chorded commands - five fingertips in a circle pulls up Acer's Ring media management program for example.

The W500 is built around AMD's latest Fusion C50 chip, which combines a 1GHz dual-core processor, a DirectX-11 graphics processor (GPU) and the northbridge interface circuitry in a single chip measuring just 75mm2 and consuming a maximum of 9W. This gives the device a battery run-time of between four and six hours, Acer said.

“We see the market as people who feel the pain of not being able to use their familiar applications and connect to their familiar networks [via a tablet],” said Bobby Watkins, Acer's UK country manager.

The company also announced new models in its Aspire One netbook family and showed pre-production examples of another 10-inch tablet called Iconia Tab A500, which will run the upcoming tablet edition of Android codenamed Honeycomb.

Acer will also offer a 7-inch tablet for Honeycomb and has even done development work on a 14-inch tablet, said Watkins. “None of us know how the consumer will react [to a 14-inch tablet] though,” he added. “But in market research there's definitely a gender difference between 7 and 10-inch - far more females said they'd like a 7-inch device.”

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