User Experience – Using a Windows Tablet for Daily Work
In this section we will be going over the general user experience of these two tablets and how the hardware and software differences affected our daily use.
One odd thing that we noticed as we were powering on both tablets was that the power button on the W510 is on the top right hand corner, while the VivoTab has it on the top left hand corner. We found it very odd that they would pick opposite sides. The volume controls are similarly on the right side of the W510 and on the left side of the VivoTab RT.
The first thing we noticed was that in boot times, the Acer Iconia W510 running Win8 was noticeably faster than the ASUS VivoTab RT running Win8 RT. We measured this by completely powering off the tablet and then powering both of them on at the same time and measuring the boot times. Note, that the boot times we measured were averaged from a data set of 5 different boots and averaged into one boot time. Our average boot times were 8.46 seconds for the Acer Iconia W510 and a significantly slower 23.3 seconds on the ASUS VivoTab RT. Once you log in, however, the ‘Windows 8 Style’ UI loads at approximately the same speed.
Once you have gotten past the start screen, there are a few things that you notice when using this tablet. One of them is that the Acer Iconia W510 takes a bit longer to re-associate to wireless networks than the ASUS VivoTab RT. Before a recent update, the Acer tablet actually had a lot of issues with WiFi networks disconnecting mid-session and requiring us to disconnect from the current network and reconnect to regain connectivity. This issue has been fixed; however, it does show how Windows 8 tablets are still a work in progress.
The truth is that most Windows 8 tablets are getting weekly, if not daily, updates to applications and drivers. This is primarily due to the fact that Microsoft did not spend enough time working with hardware vendors on drivers and in many cases even with the added effort to platforms like RT, they still were not finished. A good example is Qualcomm, who is the latest to the Windows 8 game with only one tablet shipping. They had dozens of Microsoft engineers sent to them to help them fine tune their drivers and even with the added assistance they were not able to deliver a working tablet on the launch date of Windows 8. Furthermore, Qualcomm currently only has one shipping design win as opposed to quite a few for both Nvidia and Intel. AMD has yet to show up to the Windows 8 tablet game, but as they showed us earlier this year, they are planning on launching something soon.
Getting back to the experience, we began to play with the customization of the operating system and noticed a few stark differences between the full version of Windows 8 and Windows 8 RT. We make this distinction because simply put, certain features in Windows 8 are missing in RT. We believe that Microsoft, in the next generation, will iron out these differences for their RT partners, but in the current generation they are quite visible. The first thing that we had noted earlier was that we could not install Chrome on the ASUS VivoTab RT. Personally, Chrome is my favorite browser and enables cross-platform sharing of bookmarks and other personal data that makes my overall browsing experience better. Lots of people that like Chrome and prefer Chrome will consider this single setback a major one.
In addition to the lack of Chrome on Windows 8 RT, there is also the inability to do things like Google Hangouts, which more and more people are beginning to use instead of Skype when they want to video conference easily with more than one person. This may be considered a minor thing for most, but there are other little issues as well. One notable thing is printers; my network printer is not compatible with the Windows 8 RT VivoTab, but it is with Windows 8 Iconia W510. What this means is that a document that I wrote up on Word that Microsoft so happily bundles with Win8 RT effectively becomes a digital copy only, with no way to print it.
Moving past productivity, we decided to explore our entertainment options. These appeared to be very similar between the two tablets and operating systems, with one big exception. We were able to get applications like Netflix and Skype for both tablets as well as games like Flow Free. In fact, under Microsoft’s Top 100 Free Applications, almost all of the applications are identical. What is different is that with RT, these applications are the only choices you have. With the full version of Windows 8 we were able to get Spotify and run it as a desktop application. What this means is that we are actually able to play Spotify for free (with commercials), which likely will not be possible on Win8 RT since it will be considered a ‘mobile application’ and will require a subscription.
Similarly, we were able to find a uTorrent app for our Windows 8 tablet, but could not find one for Windows 8 RT.
Entertainment cannot be experienced without sound, and the difference between these two tablets is really night and day. While we cannot completely explain how or why, Acer’s Iconia W510 has the best damn speakers we have ever heard on any tablet, ever. Not only that, but the tablet is able to reproduce sound at such high quality and volume that it fills an entire room and people start asking where the speakers are located. When you point to the little slits in the side of the tablet, people look at you in disbelief. The sound on the Iconia W510 is without a doubt, amazing.
We also tried typing with both keyboards in general as well as for parts of this review. When looking at the two tablets, one will notice that the keyboard dock for the W510 is actually slightly larger than the dock for the VivoTab. This slight physical difference makes a huge difference for the keyboard because the Acer’s keyboard actually feels like a keyboard that one can type on for a long period of time and does not have as much of a netbook/nettop feel as the ASUS’ keyboard does. One slightly annoying thing about the Iconia W510 is that if the tablet is tilted a little too far back, the weight of the tablet lifts the front end of the keyboard off of the surface it is sitting on. The ASUS VivoTab RT at the same angle does not tip like the Acer Iconia W510 does, and you are forced to hold your palms on the keyboard if you have the tablet open past 100 or so degrees. Admittedly, both of these tablets do have a lot of netbook/nettop DNA, but Acer goes the extra mile to make it feel like a tablet that can double as a laptop.
Upon using these tablets with keyboards, you realize how incredibly awful the onscreen keyboard for Windows 8 is. Furthermore, you begin to really appreciate the ability to use a keyboard with the tablet since Microsoft clearly does not have a good keyboard for 10.1” displays. Additionally, the ASUS keyboard dock only opens a little more than 90 degrees, probably around 135 degrees. The Acer Iconia’s keyboard actually has 295 degrees of rotation and can be rotated around to become a stand for the tablet. While this feature probably does not have many use cases, it does make you wonder why ASUS did not do the same thing. The one saving grace of the Windows 8 keyboard, however, is the ability to write with a capacitive stylus/pen instead of having to type. Using the Windows keyboard in stylus mode is quite good, as the handwriting recognition is spot on.
We noticed that both companies spent quite a bit of time working on the touch part of the tablet, with both tablets responding very well to touch. We did not notice any major flaws on either tablet when it came to touch and we even tested both tablets’ displays with metal slugs to make sure we had the most precise touch and the least variation between our tests of the different tablets.
This brings us to the next step of our experience, the docking and undocking procedures. The location of the locks on the two tablets is very different in terms of function and placement. The lock on the Acer Iconia W510 is in the middle of the tablet and keyboard dock. The lock on the ASUS VivoTab RT is located on the left hand side of the tablet itself and requires you to pull down on the lock while pulling up on the tablet. What this does is that it makes the undocking process awkward. It does make the overall solution appear elegant, but in the process of undocking you will look anything but elegant. We also noticed that the ASUS VivoTab RT at times had issues connecting to the dock and we would have to re-dock in order to get keyboard functionality. It did not happen very often, but often enough to worth noting.
In terms of wireless connectivity, these two tablets are very similar as they both feature Broadcom wireless chips. The difference is that the Acer W510 has an A/B/G/N Wi-Fi chip while the VivoTab RT has just B/G/N. We did not encounter any situations where this presented an issue, since most networks are 802.11n or 802.11G. Both tablets also have NFC ability, which should theoretically allow for cross-platform NFC sharing, but for now there is no unified standard so functionality is sporadic. The most consistent functionality we were able to get was to share a webpage from our Android based HTC One X Global (Tegra 3) to both tablets. When we tried sharing pictures to both tablets, our phone indicated that the devices did not support sharing of large file sizes.
While we have not had an opportunity to accurately benchmark battery life, we can say with certainty that both tablets are capable of delivering full-day battery. In both cases, we were able to use the tablet freely throughout the day and not once worry about charging them up. The ability to have an always-on tablet that you do not have to worry about charging is a great feeling. One interesting note about the batteries is that these two tablets handle battery measurement very differently. The Acer Iconia W510 reports battery for both the keyboard and tablet separately, while the ASUS VivoTab RT reports the remaining battery capacity of both combined. This is in spite of the fact that both tablets drain power from the keyboard first before draining from the tablet. You can also charge both tablets through the keyboard dock and the tablet gets priority.
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