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I'll warn you from the outset this isn't going to be the most technical of reviews - there are plenty of places to read about the specifications in great depth. Rather, I'm going to tell you what it's like to use, and whether you should think about buying one.
Tablet PCs are still very much an infant market, and usually I would have preferred to wait for a more stable technology and probably a clear market leader. However, the chance to have a bit of kit that retained all the practical things I needed in a laptop combined with the curiosity factor of a touchscreen made me take the plunge and go for this: the Acer Aspire 1825z, a Windows-driven tablet PC, which converts between a regular laptop and a touchscreen tablet.
That conversion happens by way of a swivel hinge centred under the screen. I can see this as being the future weak point: if it's going to break, it'll be here. So far - I've owned the machine for around 6 months - it's absolutely fine, although it took me a long time to brave removing the initial sticker making it very clear which way the whole thing pivots! ;) The joint is (still) firm and rigid, but if you have to put more than a little pressure to make it move then you're trying to force it the wrong way!
Once swivelled 180º, the screen will fold back flat against the keyboard, producing the 'tablet'. The LED screen loses about 2 inches from the whole size, but is still a reasonable 11.6 inches - one of the main reasons I chose the Acer was the slightly larger screen. The hinge also allows way more flexibility than I'd expected: it'll hold rigid at any angle you want. I've been known to use it as a touchscreen but set at an angle from the base - whatever seems most comfortable while in use.
So, how does the touchscreen perform? I'd suggest the de facto standard for these things is the iPad - and I'd have to say, if you're used to one of those then you're probably going to think this one is pretty rubbish - it's just not got the same degree of responsiveness. Personally, I've only ever picked up one of Apple's finest for a brief trial, so I'm not put off by the comparison. I'm still getting used the the flicks and gestures - movements you can make on screen to emulate what the mouse buttons would do, such as 'pinching' or sliding fingers apart for the zooms, or holding a tap for right click. You can customise some, too. It's a learning curve for me, but to be honest, the biggest issue with the concept is that Windows just isn't designed to be used with a touchscreen - so, the real loss is in the natural design of the interface, far more so than the responsiveness.
This is compounded by the size of the display: the preset is barely navigable with my fairly delicate fingers - and the screen won't detect my fingernail as input, only a full finger; most of the people I've offered this with - certainly the men - have just found it too tiny and can't hit the right line in a menu offering. It's that kind of interface that shows up the fact that Windows just wasn't designed to be used in this way. More, there is a fairly restricted angle to the touchscreen's pick up: after a little while I adjusted to this fine, but for the first ten minutes at least I was constantly hitting just below where I thought I was.
The other aspect to using this as a tablet is the weight. Again, this fails miserably in comparison to the iPad - again, unsurprisingly! At 1.7kg, I can easily lift this one-handed, but it's just too heavy to hold for more than a span of seconds with one hand in the way I see people wandering around with the iPad. I could see this being a major disadvantage to some people, but again, because I'm only used to a full laptop I just don't expect to use it hand-held like that. I tend to cradle it against myself with one hand, easily enough, or it's fine to balance on my knee and support at a good angle, and as I mentioned, you can use its own hinge to give you a good angle. It stays relatively cool, as well - far less heated than my normal laptops use, so I'm very happy with that.
I should mention, the touchscreen element kicks in automatically, even - although I didn't think to try this until this review! - when you've got the whole thing set up as a laptop! One annoyance is the auto-detect feature for the screen orientation: it tries to adapt to whether you're holding the tablet element portrait or landscape, but it's not the most responsive. Worse, just picking up or moving the computer can be enough to trigger it, and it's a very irritating few seconds of black screen when it does.
Another downside with the screen is that it's very, very shiny and reflective, and does become quite difficult to use in some lights. It also picks up fingerprints like nothing on earth - thankfully it wipes clear very easily, and there was indeed a screen cloth included in the bundle. I also got a power cable and adaptor. There is a built in webcam, microphone and speakers although I haven't really played with these, given I'm using it for work! The sound quality has been fine, though.
Okay, what else do I need to mention in my first ever techie review?! Battery life - the specs give this as 8 hours, but I think that's unrealistic - 6 seems more like it, and only if you're not running anything majorly draining. Again, this could be an issue for some people, but despite wanting a laptop I'm still happy enough to go plug in when I can, so it's not been a flaw. It charges pretty quickly, too, at least enough that I haven't been frustrated. If I really wanted to be on the go all the time, I'd be tempted to go for a spare battery.
I have already bought an external DVD drive, which made me thankful that there are three USB ports: compared to an iPad, it's rather nice being able to plug stuff in to extend the functionality ;) There are slots for headphones and microphone, HDMI cable (I love being able to hook this to the telly!), monitor cable, ethernet, and a built-in card reader. Again, I'll point out that I'm not here to give a full technical rundown - see the end for some listed specs.
So. As a laptop, I'm very happy with this. It's comfortable to sit on my knee - if anything almost too light and small! - and the screen tilts to any angle you find comfortable. The keyboard has fairly large keys that I find easy to (touch) type on, which is often a difficulty with devices not fully interested in the keyboard. The mouse trackpad is also perfectly responsive, although I do tend to confuse myself with the single, dual-use button under it - more me than a flaw, right enough.
When flipped to touchscreen you get one customisable shortcut button (preset to direct to the cntl-alt-del option screen) on the corner, and a choice of input panel: either the standard keyboard-on-screen, which I confess to finding fiddly, or the rather impressive - well, I'm impressed! - handwriting recogniser. It's not perfect, and a bit slow if I'm being honest, but the logic picks up far more of my scrawl than I'd ever expected - print AND cursive! - and I find it easy enough to correct mistakes when it doesn't quite get it. There's a simple 'insert' button to transfer to whatever program you want. Okay, more of a gimmick, but it does show (me) how the tablet/touchscreen can be a bit more useful - although, yes, I do tend to just flip it pack to keyboard if I have much to do, or something more important like passwords.
Of course, that is the huge plus with this: it IS that flexible that I have the choice, and can choose what works best - particularly useful for me, as I have RSI-type problems with my mouse hand, which the touch screen avoids. If I'm being honest, I still absolutely use this more as a laptop, about 75% of the time at least. However, it is nice to be able to have the option - and again, I'd say it's more that Windows and me as a Windows user (and the sort of programs I use that make that the case) rather than the functionality, per se: it's easier to type - reviews or programs! - with the keyboard, but then I can flip it all about and play games with the touchscreen :)
Overall, games and the internet are by far the more suitable for the touchscreen - and while yes I would readily admit that the iPad has this absolutely whipped when it comes to stuff like that, the Aspire has the bigger advantage: it actually lets me do all the stuff I need to do on a computer for work and study, not just entertainment!
Would I recommend it? Well... yes and no. If, like me, you want something more than just a straightforward laptop or netbook, then yes. If you do really want the tablet function, then choices for a Windows-based system are still very limited. I looked at a choice of three: the Dell Duo was cheaper, but otherwise didn't have any outstanding features; this Acer had a slightly better processor than the Packard Bell offering, but it does only have 3Gb of RAM.
For me, well: I should perhaps confess that it wasn't my own pocket I put my hand into in order to get this - I had a budget to spend, and the need for new kit! The Acer Aspire 1825z has met my requirements - portable but with full functionality - and given me something new to try in the touchscreen. Not perfect technology yet, no, but I haven't regretted spending someone else's money on it ;)
However, I'll be the first to admit that the touchscreen element is more a curiosity than necessity, and it does mean that both the price and weight go up, and the battery life goes down, compared to the more straightforward choice. If it'd been my own money I probably would have stuck to the more straightforward notebook; as it is, I'm glad I got to try something novel.
11.6" backlit LED TFT multi-touch screen (1366x768 WXGA max resolution)
Dimensions: 28.5 x 20.9 x 3.5cm
Processor: Intel Pentium SU1400/1.3GHz Dual-Core
Hard Drive: 250Gb (5400 rpm)
Operating System: Windows 7
Battery: 6 cell lithium; up to 8 hours life
Built in Wireless LAN, card reader, 0.3 megapixel camera
3 USBS ports
I spent £600 on mine; prices vary.