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.