Acer announces Iconia 14-inch dual screen notebook

Is this what we’ve been waiting for?

OVER THE PAST couple of years we’ve seen several dual-screen notebook mock-ups and the odd prototype here and there, but it wasn’t until earlier this year when Toshiba launched its limited edition Libretto W100 that the first dual screen notebook arrived. However, the Libretto W100 only had a pair of 10-inch screens and Acer has just announced its dual 14-inch screen touting Iconia Touchbook which not only offers larger screens, but also more potent hardware inside.

As much as we’d like to applaud Acer for daring to launch a product like the Iconia, we doubt that this will be a hot seller. For starters, not having a physical keyboard is under no circumstances going to make it easier to use a computer that runs Windows 7, despite Acer including a virtual keyboard that’s activated by putting two palms at the bottom of the lower screen. At least both screens support multi-touch and we can see the Iconia finding its home in some niche usage scenarios, despite Acer intending for it to be a consumer device. Both of the panels feature standard notebook 1366×768 resolution and have a layer of Gorilla Glass (R) protecting them from scratches.

On the hardware side of things the Iconia Touchbook will be offered with a choice of Intel Core i5 processors including the 480M, 560M and 580M. The chipset of choice is the HM55 which means that the Iconia relies on Intel’s integrated HD graphics. Standard configuration includes up to 4GB of DDR3 memory, but this can be upgraded to 8GB. Internal storage is hard drive based and ranges from 320 to 750GB. Other features include 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 3.0+HS, optional 3G module and a webcam.

On the left hand side the Iconia has two USB 2.0 ports and an HDMI port, while on the right hand side you’ll find a single USB 3.0 port, a pair of audio jacks with S/PDIF out support, a D-sub connector and a Gigabit Ethernet jack. The power button is integrated into the hinge and the speakers are certified by Dolby.

One inherent design problem you run into when you’re using a pair of displays in a notebook is weight and Acer hasn’t really managed to solve this problem with the Icona, as it weighs in at a heavy 2.8kg (6.18lbs), not exactly a feather light 14-inch notebook. Adding to this it only comes with a 44Wh 3000mAh 4-cell battery and you can forget about all day battery life, as two screens will suck the battery dry much faster than one.

The Iconia measures 347×248.5×19/31.9mm (13.53×9.69×0.74/1.24 inches)(WxDxH) which makes it a little bit thicker than your average 14-inch notebook, especially when you consider that it doesn’t have a built in optical drive. However, the size is somewhat less of an issue than the weight, as at least having two 14-inch screens should make it much easier to use than the Libretto W100 which ends up with a tiny virtual keyboard in comparison.

Acer has also developed its own application for the Iconia called Acer Ring which appears when you place five fingers on the screen and make a grabbing gesture. Acer Ring gives you quick access to varous applications and programs on the Iconia, as well as quick access to the virtual keyboard, gesture editor, window manager and device control console. The virtual keyboard supports predictive text input and it features international language support which suggests that it should be easy for the user to change between keyboard layouts, something that’s impossible on a standard notebook.

Is dual screen notebooks the way forward? Well, maybe, but we have a long way to go before we have touch screens with a sensible tacktile feedback that enables you to type on a touch screen in the same way as you would on a keyboard. Innovation is always a good thing, but the question is how popular a product such as this will actually be. We can see its merits for web browsing and a few other applictions, but to us, the downsides of not having a physical keyboard are just too big to be willing to swap it for a second display.S|A

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