In performance, the Iconia Tab W500 definitely feels like a step up from the mostly Intel Atom-based tablets. Programs launch faster than on Atom-based models, and switching among apps is faster. Web pages load more quickly and scroll more smoothly.
Video playback is better,too. With this tablet, I could just let the video run and enjoy watching it rather than enduring 30 seconds of glitchy performance just to see how well it played. All of the videos we tested, from 720p rips to Netflix to YouTube, played smoothly. And though you won't get a lot of bass from a tablet, the Iconia Tab W500 had the clearest and loudest speakers of any model we've tested recently. I could comfortably listen from across the room without having to ratchet up the volume to its maximum setting.
Windows 7 was not designed for touch, and navigating it by finger can be frustrating. Unlike Samsung, Acer didn't go for a full interface overlay; instead it includes several touch-friendly apps in a suite of software called Acer Ring—much like what you'd find on Acer's Iconia dual-display laptop, its all-in-one PCs, and its Iconia Tab series of Android tablets. Here, you pull up the ring by tapping five fingers on the screen. The apps then pop up around a central ring of shortcuts and utilities, and you can select your destination from there.
The central ring includes a link to Acer games, a calculator, a camera app, the Windows snipping tool, a disk-cleaning utility (useful on the tiny 32GB SSD), and a syncing tool.
Relatively full-featured apps in the ring include Touch Browser, Social Jogger, My Journal, and Clear.fi media player. Touch Browser is exactly what you'd expect--a touch-friendly browser that runs at full screen with large controls. Social Jogger is a three-paneled app with update streams from Facebook, YouTube, and Flickr. My Journal collects clippings of Web pages taken from the Touch Browser, and lets you scribble on them with a finger or a capacitive stylus.
The Clear.fi app, as on Acer's Android tablets, facilitates playing photos, music, and videos from shared or local libraries across a DLNA network. It also supports streaming video from YouTube or Facebook. Regrettably, none of the several YouTube videos I tried would play; instead, I got an error message saying that Clear.fi could not play the selected video.
It's nice to see a company recognize that Windows 7 could use some help in touch-friendliness department; but these apps didn't seem to add much to the experience.