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Acer Reveals Windows 8 Hybrid Tablets

Acer's new Win8 hybrids exhibit design flair -- but with next-gen devices expected soon, will customers care?

8 Things Microsoft Could Do To Save Windows 8
8 Things Microsoft Could Do To Save Windows 8
(click image for slideshow)
When Windows 8 made nary a whimper during the holidays, commentators blamed both the OS's controversial Metro interface and also Microsoft's OEM partners, few of which had brought to market touch-oriented hardware suited to Win8's changes. Devices such as the Surface Pro have since reached interested customers, but attractive Windows 8 options are still limited, and the OS's overall adoption has remained stagnant.

With Friday's announcement of two new laptop-tablet hybrids, Acer hopes to shake things up. The devices could address some of the late-2012 OEM criticisms, but with potentially superior alternatives on the horizon, and with Win8's UI complaints still a factor, it's not clear if now is an ideal time for Microsoft's device partners to strike.

The Aspire R7, the less conventional of the new offerings, is a 15.6-inch laptop that converts into a plus-size tablet via what Acer calls an "ezel" hinge. When in laptop mode, the hinge vaguely resembles the monitor support on the back of an iMac. That said, the Aspire R7 is much more adjustable than Apple's all-in-one desktop, allowing the user to reposition the screen as needed. This feature could appeal to those frustrated by the Surface Pro's kickstand, whose fixed design can result in awkward viewing angles. In tablet mode, meanwhile, the R7's touchscreen, which boasts full-HD resolution, slides down over the keyboard. The R7 is a relatively hefty device, weighing 5.2 pounds and measuring 1.12 inches thick. The extra bulk helps accommodate three USB ports and an HDMI port, and the internals are run by either an i5 or i7 Intel processer. The hybrid will hit the market in mid-May at a price of $999.

[ What do you think about Windows 8 hardware? Is Microsoft Surface Pro Right For You? ]

Acer also unveiled the Aspire P3. Available immediately, the $799 device boasts an 11-inch touchscreen with 1366 x 768-pixel resolution, up to 4 GB of RAM, 60 or 120 GB of SSD storage, and either an i3 or i5 Intel processor. Acer calls the device a convertible ultrabook, but given that the P3 is a tablet that snaps into a keyboard case, it shares more DNA with the Surface Pro than with most of its ultrabook brethren. Indeed, its specs and features closely match those of Microsoft's much-hyped Win8 tablet, including an optional stylus.

Though most PC makers have taken a hit as tablets eat into sales of traditional PCs, Acer has sustained more damage than most; according to IDC, the company's Q1 shipments were down more than 30%, year-over-year. Given these struggles, Acer's decision to swing for the fences with new form factors is a bold move that could inject life into the company's sales.

Even so, Acer's new computers -- and, indeed, all current Win8 models -- face challenges. The R7 and P3 might boast modern designs, but they still run the same version of Windows 8 that has polarized users since its launch last fall. They also rely on Intel's aging Ivy Bridge Core technology, which is powerful, but limits both battery life and how thin and light a device can be.

Microsoft is currently readying Windows 8.1, an update that was previously codenamed Windows Blue and which is expected to address many of the OS's most maligned UI quirks. Acer's new products will be eligible to upgrade, but, given Windows 8's stalled sales, it's not clear if on-the-fence buyers will be persuaded until Win8.1's features, or some other new enticements, have been confirmed.

Intel, meanwhile, will soon release new Core and Atom chips. The former set of processors, codenamed Haswell, is expected to endow current ultrabooks, which generally get only four to six hours of battery life, with the tablet-like ability to run all day without a charge. The latter processor family, codenamed Bay Trail, will likely end up in both smartphones and also ultrathin, competitively priced 8-inch tablets. The lucrative mini-tablet market is growing fast, and Microsoft presumably hopes to make a splash by bringing a full OS experience to a market segment currently dominated by iOS and Android.

In short, Acer's new models are relatively attractive at present, and they could be attractive options for buyers who need to make an immediate purchase. They could also be outdated in only a few months, however. Given the R7 and P3's respective prices, it might be worthwhile to wait.

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User Rank: Apprentice
5/5/2013 | 3:22:27 AM
re: Acer Reveals Windows 8 Hybrid Tablets
Sigh. Yet ANOTHER rebirth of the netbook, only this time sans keyboard and mouse.
Terabyte Net
Terabyte Net,
User Rank: Apprentice
5/4/2013 | 11:10:02 AM
re: Acer Reveals Windows 8 Hybrid Tablets
@rpasea, I submit you are actually the PERFECT candidate for Metro. 8-10 apps and nothing more. If you'll give Metro a spin and adequate to acclimate I think you'll find it's very friendly for this type of use. Your apps are right there and easy to get to, easier than pinning an app to the Task Bar in Win7.

That being said, you need to be prepared for XP death in <1 year. Sure, you could continue to run it, but vendor support will dry up very quickly after April 2014 and then you become a menace to the Internet with an OS that no longer gets security updates (IMHO, discontinued OS's and browsers should be blocked by all ISPs and websites). The fact is Win8 is more stable, faster, and secure than Win7 (and there's no comparison to Win XP SP3) and if you simply must have the Start Button, ClassicShell is free and VERY good. I do tend to agree that a touch screen isn't essential for a business, however. I just ordered my first Win8 Pro tablet, we'll see how that goes, but I'm betting the touch screen will be good for the Internet but not much else, but I deliberately did not order a keyboard with it to force myself to use Win8 as it was "intended". Time will tell.
Michael Endler
Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
5/4/2013 | 8:22:19 AM
re: Acer Reveals Windows 8 Hybrid Tablets
Thanks for the comment, rpasea. You're right: Windows 7 and Windows XP are totally adequate for most business needs. Chances are, these desktop-centric operating systems and their legacy software will remain workplace institutions for a long time. Touch definitely has value in business/ work environments-- but it's value that's currently confined to specific verticals, rather than widely deployed across all enterprises. That will likely change, bit by bit-- we've got an article on the topic coming up, in fact.

But the point still remains: PCs are going to keep ruling the enterprise. That said, PCs' enterprise importance will never be quite what it was before. At one point, PCs were the center of the universe, with virtually 100% of the computing market among both consumers and businesses. That's no longer the case, and as next-gen tablets and other new devices work their way into business workflows and become endowed with new apps and capabilities, PCs will lose still more influence. To be clear, I'm talking about a drop from 100% share to something that's still insanely high. I'd be guessing if I tossed out a number-- but PCs will still be essential to businesses.

Nevertheless, if tablets and ultraportables own the consumer space and take over a small fraction of the enterprise, the result will still be a substantial shift in our computing culture. As our coverage has explored, the PC isn't dying, let alone dead. But it's also not the only big, strong kid on the block anymore.
User Rank: Apprentice
5/4/2013 | 1:03:35 AM
re: Acer Reveals Windows 8 Hybrid Tablets
Touch screens are essential for phones and tablets but I just don't see the value in a business/work environment. XP and Win 7 suit our needs and we have absolutely no interest in going with a so called metro interface. Our staff need Office, Outlook, AutoCAD and a browser, nothing more. In fact, we block FB, Netflix and discourage personal email activity. A PC at home has a much different need than one at work.
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