So, what do I want out of my next laptop and what must it include?
Acer Aspire P3 Ultrabook
Acer's Aspire P3 Ultrabook is an 11.6in tablet with a folio-style keyboard case
- Solid tablet
- Vibrant screen
- Good performance
- Feels a little clumsy with keyboard case attached
- Keyboard case lacks a hole for the rear-facing camera
Acer's Aspire P3 makes for a very good Windows 8 tablet on its own, but the keyboard case that turns it into an Ultrabook could use some refinement.
Price$ 1,199.00 (AUD)
The Acer Aspire P3 Windows 8 Ultrabook is predominantly a tablet that is slim, sturdy and feels good to hold. It's got a potent configuration packed in behind its screen, which includes an Intel Core i5 CPU and fast solid state storage. Basically, you can use this tablet for more than just basic content consumption tasks; you can use it as a content creation tool.
A solid tablet
The Aspire P3 is an 800-gram tablet with an 11.6in screen that supports a native resolution of 1366x768. This resolution, coupled with the default setting of 125 per cent magnification in Windows' Display Properties, makes icons and other features of the Windows Desktop look large and easy to tap on. The disadvantage of the default magnification is that it makes some application windows run off the bottom edge of the screen. Using 100 per cent magnification fixes this and it still keeps the screen touch-friendly, in our opinion.
We found the screen's touch-sensing capability to be accurate and responsive (it supports 10 simultaneous inputs), and we had no problems navigating around the Start screen or the Windows desktop with it. We were able to use the screen at any orientation without any issues; it has suitable brightness and contrast, and also wide viewing angles, making it a good screen for viewing photos.
Around the edges of the tablet, you don't get much, and this is perhaps understandable considering the tablet's slender 10mm thickness and small frame. You get one USB 3.0 port on the left side, in addition to a micro-HDMI port, and there is a headset port on the right side. Buttons include power, volume and screen rotation lock, and the power button is sometimes too easy to inadvertently press when manoeuvring the tablet. The build of the tablet is strong, and it's a unit that feels good to hold in the hand, mainly because it's not very thick.
The folio-style keyboard case
Acer actually calls this tablet an Ultrabook, and that's because it ships with a keyboard case that still keeps within the thickness specification for Ultrabooks when it's closed. Indeed, with the keyboard case attached and closed over the tablet screen, the thickness is only 14mm. It's not the best keyboard solution though. For starters, the tablet has both front and rear-facing cameras, yet the case, which clips onto the tablet, doesn't have a hole for the rear camera.
As far as the design of the keyboard case is concerned, it works in a similar fashion to the Kensington Keyboard Folio for the iPad. It folds in the same way to hide the keyboard behind the screen when you want to use the device purely as a tablet, and the tablet just rests in an upright position on the keyboard when you want to use it as a makeshift notebook. The keyboard feels good to type on thanks to large keys and adequate spacing, and it's much better to type on than devices such as LG's Tab-Book, for example, but it feels a lot more flimsy than that type of solution, which has the screen and keyboard parts attaches permanently.
Because the tablet just rests on the keyboard base and can't be secured to it when upright, you have to remember that you can't just pick up the Aspire P3 from the keyboard base when you want to move it. If you do, the whole tablet has the potential to just drop back or forward. We tried this a couple of times, and the case did manage to hold the tablet secure, even when we left it dangling upside-down, but it's not something you should willingly do.
What holds the tablet in the keyboard folio case is a rigid frame that has no easy-release mechanism, but a series of clips instead. It makes the case very hard to remove. Basically, it's a case that you need to put on and leave on. It's not designed to be attached and removed on a regular basis, and you'll find this out if you ever try to remove it. It's very difficult to do so and will most likely require the services of a strong, flat implement — don't use your fingers as you might get injured.
You can fold the tablet down over the keyboard when you want to use it as purely as a tablet, but the keyboard is not removable from the rest of the folio case and it's still active when used this way. If you press down on the screen too much, it can press a key and cause an inadvertent action to occur. It's a Bluetooth keyboard, and there is a power button for it, so you'll need to remember to switch it off when you want to use the Aspire P3 as a tablet. It has a USB port for charging.
When the case is attached, the tablet feels very clumsy and thick (and it's noticeably heavier at about 1.4kg), mainly because of the way it folds down over it and creates more space between the tablet and keyboard. It's not as elegant a solution as the Microsoft Surface, for example, which as a thinner keyboard that folds all the way around and a built-in kick-stand when you want to use it as a notebook, nor some of the other hybrid solutions we've seen, such as Lenovo's ThinkPad Helix, which has a removable keyboard base. Nevertheless, you get used to it; it just doesn't feel as agile as it should for a lightweight tablet.
The real stand-out feature of the Aspire P3 is its performance. The 1.5GHz Intel Core i5-3339Y CPU (third generation), 4GB of DDR3 SDRAM, integrated Intel HD 4000 graphics and a 128GB solid state drive (SSD), ensure that the system is zippy and responsive. This was noticeable during our prolonged testing period. Web browsers and other applications launched quickly, especially regularly-used applications, and we were only sometimes left feeling frustrated when seldom-used applications took a few seconds to launch.
You can use this tablet effectively as a content creation tool, and its performance in our benchmarks backs this up. It recorded 1min 8sec in our Blender 3D rendering task, 1min 18sec in our iTunes MP3 encoding test, and 33min 16sec our Handbrake DVD-to-MP4 file conversion test. All of these times are a little slow compared to most conventional Ultrabooks, but they are still very good for such a mobile device.
In 3DMark06 it got 3219, while in the latest 3DMark it recorded 21595 for the Ice Storm test, 2390 for the Cloud Gate test and 317 for the Fire Strike test. While it can't be used to crunch 3D graphics in many modern desktop games, it will do just fine with many games downloaded from the Windows Store.
Storage is handled by a 128GB Toshiba SSD, which has a formatted capacity of 118GB. It produced good results in CrystalDiskMark: 501 megabytes per second (MBps) for reading data, and 315MBps for writing. This drive was a major contributor to the overall zippiness of the tablet during our everyday usage.
Battery life is a mixed bag. In our usual test, in which we disable power management, enable Wi-Fi, maximise screen brightness and loop an Xvid-encoded video, the tablet recorded 4hr 17min. For a tablet device, it seems like a short time. However, you have to take into account that it's basically a tablet with a notebook-like configuration that can be used for real work; comparatively speaking, it's a good time. You can always get more from it if you employ a power management plan and a lower screen brightness, but it will depend on what tasks you're running and how much of the CPU they consume, too.
Other features of the Acer Aspire P3 include dual-band Wi-Fi (an Atheros AR5BMD222 adapter is installed, which produced very fast results with our TP-Link N600 test router), and it also has Bluetooth.
Purely as a Windows 8 tablet, the Aspire P3 is a very good one. It felt comfortable to use, it was responsive to our touch inputs and its performance was swift. With the keyboard folio case attached, it can feel a little bit too heavy and clumsy to use as a tablet, but it does supply a more-than-decent typing experience when you rest it on a desk. We just wish the design of this folio case was a little different in order to make the P3 feel better when used as a tablet, and also that it had a hole to allow the main camera to be used.
Related Windows 8 laptop reviews:
• HP Envy 17 notebook
• Sony VAIO Pro Ultrabook
• Sony VAIO S Series Ultrabook
• Toshiba KIRA Ultrabook
• Gigabyte U2442F Extreme Ultrabook
• Toshiba Satellite P870 notebook
• Medion Akoya E6232 (MD 99222) notebook
• Dell Inspiron 17R notebook
• Acer Aspire V5 touchscreen laptop
• Toshiba Satellite P840 touchscreen notebook
• MSI GT70 Dragon Edition gaming notebook
• ASUS VivoBook S400C touchscreen Ultrabook
• Samsung Ativ Smart PC 500T hybrid tablet
• Venom Blackbook Windows 8 gaming notebook
• Sony VAIO Duo 11 Windows 8 tablet
• ASUS VivoTab 810 Windows 8 tablet
• Lenovo ThinkPad Twist (3347-3EM)
• Samsung Ativ Smart PC Pro 700T (XE700T1C-A02AU)
• HP Envy X2 hybrid PC
• HP Envy Touchsmart 4 Ultrabook
• Toshiba Satellite L850 Windows 8 laptop
• ASUS Taichi 21 Windows 8 hybrid Ultrabook
• Medion Akoya S4216 (MD 99081) Windows 8 Ultrabook
• Toshiba Satellite U920T hybrid Ultrabook
• Dell XPS 12 convertible Ultrabook
• ASUS Vivo Book F202 touchscreen notebook
• Acer Aspire S7 touchscreen Ultrabook
Alternative Windows tablet product reviews
• LG Tab-Book Z160 hybrid tablet
• Lenovo ThinkPad Helix convertible Ultrabook
• Acer Iconia W700 Windows 8 tablet
• Microsoft Surface Pro tablet
• ASUS Vivo Tab RT Windows Tablet
• Microsoft Surface RT
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