What's hot: Innovative design, decent price, excellent design and build.
What's not: Paltry battery life, heavy, not a product for those who do lots of data entry.
Reviewed April 12, 2011 by Lisa Gade, Editor
Are two screens better than one? This isn’t the first time a product has begged that question: the first was the Toshiba Libretto W100 7” dual screen Windows 7 portable, and the second was the Kycoera Echo dual screen Android smartphone that’s due out soon. While the Libretto was a limited run anniversary concept piece whose product run totaled a few thousand, Acer intends their Iconia 6120 to be a mass market notebook. In fact, the price is almost mass-market friendly, and at $1,199 for a well-equiped laptop, it costs just a little bit more than did the fascinating but not very useful Libretto.
The Acer Iconia is a mid-range 14” notebook by the specs. It has a 2.66GHz Intel Core i5 CPU with 4 gigs of DDR3 RAM, Intel HD integrated graphics, a 640 gig hard drive, WiFi 802.11n, a webcam and two LED backlit 1366 x 768 displays. It has two USB 2.0 ports and one USB 3.0 port, HDMI, VGA, Gigabit Ethernet and an external USB SD/MMC card reader.
From the outside, the Acer Iconia 6120 looks like a fairly classy high end notebook with a metal champagne lid and underside cover, polished gloss black plastics and a 14” laptop footprint. Open it up, and the Iconia looks like something out of a sci-fi flick: both planes are dominated by 14” multi-touch displays. There’s no hardware keyboard or trackpad. Instead you’ll roll with virtual versions, and how well you like them largely depends on how much prior experience you have with touchscreen keyboards and whether you mind keeping an eye on your fingers, lest they wander as you type.
The Acer Iconia 6120's virtual keyboard deck.
If you’re a geek, to see the Iconia 6120 open is to say “I want one now!” It looks simply too, too cool. And it’s also a well-made machine that speaks of class and attention to detail. But the practical and data-entry mavens among us will say “weird and maybe cool, but what could I possibly do with that thing?” This is not a notebook for those of you who do lots and lots of typing. Sure, you could bring a USB keyboard along for the ride (Bluetooth is oddly missing from this otherwise well-spec’d touch book), but the Iconia weighs just over 6 pounds. You probably won’t want to add even more weight and bulk on the go. As a consolation, the charger is absolutely tiny since it only has to charge a low capacity 2900 mAh battery.
Deals and Shopping:
But if you’re a creative type who wishes for a second monitor on the go, this machine is heaven. You’ve got two AU Optronics capacitive LED backlit CineCrystal displays with 10 points of touch each, running at 1366 x 768. For those who need windows open side-by-side, a separate screen for Photoshop palettes, multi-finger music control on more than one console and video editing with clip bins in separate windows this is a dream portable machine. But it’s not the ideal tablet for artists who rely on digital pens. The Acer’s displays lack active digitizers and that means no Wacom technology or EMR pen. You could dabble with a capacitive stylus for much less control and no pressure sensitivity when drawing, but we found that the Iconia 6120 didn’t respond well to the capacitive styli we had in-house for the iPhone and iPad 2. Likewise, if you’re a digital note-taker who likes to write ink notes, this isn’t your machine. Writing with your fingers just ain’t all that.
Here's our 20 minute Acer Iconia 6120 video review. We take a look at the design, virtual keyboard, custom software and how to open up the Iconia for upgrades.
Design and Eronomics
The Iconia wins the award as one of the easiest notebooks to upgrade. Simply slide the front two rubber feet to unlock the metal bottom cover, then slide the cover off to reveal the laptop’s internals. You’ll have easy access to the 2 standard SODIMM RAM slots, hard drive, wireless card and available mini-PCIe slot. The bottom panel matches the top panel in materials and color, and is unusually attractive for part of a notebook that generally gets little cosmetic design attention. There are two rows of vents on the bottom and the underside doesn’t get terribly hot despite metal’s tendency to transfer heat and get uncomfortable on notebooks like the MacBook Pro and first generation HP Envy 15. In our tests, the bottom never rose above 95 F when taxing the CPU with streaming 720p video playback.
The Acer has two USB 2.0 ports, HDMI, a large vent and the power port on the left. A single USB 3.0 port, VGA, Ethernet, 3.5mm stereo out (SPDIF) and mic ports are on the right. The battery comprises the barrel of the hinge and is removable, though you must first remove the bottom panel to access the battery unlock latches. The power button lives on the right hinge barrel end, and the on-screen keyboard trigger button is on the left end.
The Acer 6120 looks and is well made. It’s understated looking and professional, with excellent fit and finish. Every element shows attention to detail and ergonomics, from the buttons integrated into the hinge ends (OK, Sony did think of that first) to the rubber that lines the lid’s front edge so the laptop doesn’t damag tables when opened flat.
The Iconia 6120’s two 14” panels are identical, and PC Wizard identifies them as AU Optronics panels. Both support 10 points of touch, and Acer makes use of this with their custom software (see our video review). The displays are sharp and colorful, but viewing angles aren’t huge since these aren’t IPS or AFFS displays like those found in the iPad 2 and Asus Eee Slate. At certain angles, the displays can reflect each other since they’re gloss, but this didn’t cause too much of a problem. Though we’d by no means call viewing angles terrible if this were a normal notebook, we take some issue because you’ll end up with one display or the other at less than an ideal angle for viewing at all times unless you open the machine flat with both displays laying flat on a table. Lower panel glare rarely bothered us in office lighting, but the upper panel’s did (as do all gloss displays).
Acer intends the Iconia 6120 to be used in landscape mode only. When we used the Windows control panel to rotate the displays to portrait orientation, the Acer automatically switched right back to landscape mode. Though some might fancy using the laptop as a giant ebook reader with portrait facing pages, we found the Acer too large and heavy to use in portrait mode (were the software to allow it). The upper display panel’s edges are beveled and are thus not steady in portrait orientation, so you’d have to support the machine. Likewise, the large bezels that separate the two displays and current Windows software design mean it’s hard to find an ebook app that will perfectly span both screens with facing pages.
Keyboard and Trackpad
Acer did an impressive job with their on-screen custom keyboard. It’s large, comes up reliably and is just as easily dismissed. We suggest you run through the initial setup that sets key pitch to suit your typing style; it helped us get better typing speeds. Like the Libretto W105, the Acer uses the entire bottom panel as a virtual notebook bottom panel, complete with keyboard, trackpad and wrist rest area. There’s even XT9, and a control to hide the trackpad. Acer’s software is pretty smart, and their initial training will tell you to rest your hands as you normally would, no need to hover until your arms shiver in spasms. It detects when you raise a finger then put it back down on screen, and then registers that key press. It works decently well, though it’s not infallible since most of us don’t tend to maintain 2 palms and 10 fingers on the keyboard deck at all times.
I have extensive experience with on-screen tablet keyboards like the iPad, Motorola Xoom and Windows' own on-screen keyboard, and I thus found I could touch type 45wpm. That’s not nearly as good as my speed on a hardware keyboard, but it’s good enough for posts, emails and 500 words of typing anywhere. You do have to watch your hands as you type to get decent accuracy, and that’s an alien feeling for touch typists. If you don’t keep an eye on your hands, your fingers will wander to the wrong keys in no time. The machine has an audible key click feature but no haptic feedback.
Acer put a lot of work into software for the Iconia, from the keyboard to the Acer Ring and gestures involved in bringing these up (lay both hands on the keyboard screen to bring up the keyboard and pinch inward with 5 fingers on the lower display to bring up the Ring). The Ring has several apps, the most useful of which is the touch web browser (skinned IE) that spans screens nicely, supports finger scrolling and pinch zooming. IE supports finger scrolling and zooming too, but the skin makes it easy to switch from 1 to dual display browsing, access the URL bar and more. We also like Acer’s Social Jogger social networking app that handles Facebook, YouTube and Flickr in one large screen that fills the bottom display—we just wish it included Twitter. Other apps include a scrapbook, digital journal and touch multimedia players (see our video review to learn more).
Windows 7 itself has solid tablet features, though some of these are geared toward those who use pens more than fingers since some UI elements are a bit small for finger control. The usual on-screen windows pop-up keyboard and handwriting console are here, but you probably won’t use either since there’s no stylus for handwriting and Acer’s keyboard is superior.
The Acer Ring centered over their scrapbook app.
Horsepower and Performance
No complaints here, other than the lack of Sandy Bridge, Intel’s latest generation Core CPU and graphics. We’re looking at a first generation Intel Core i5 480M CPU clocked at 2.66GHz with Turbo Boost, 2 cores and 4 threads. It’s no slouch and we take little issue with the CPU, but we do miss Intel HD 3000 graphics in Sandy Bridge. The newer graphics chip is much faster and actually makes some light 3D gaming possible, while the older Intel HD graphics used in the Acer fail for gaming. The Intel HD graphics are good enough for 1080p video playback, Photoshop CS5 work and video editing using Windows Movie Maker; but no recent Call of Duty titles or F.E.A.R. for you.
Slide the rubber feet to remove the metal bottom panel for hardware upgrades.
The machine ships with 4 gigs of DDR3 10600 RAM in two DIMM slots, with 8 gigs as max. It comes with a 640 gig, 5400RPM hard drive and both HDMI and VGA out. There is no dedicated graphics option, and given the already paltry battery life, we don’t see it as an option.
The Acer Iconia 6120 is a powerful mid-tier notebook that can handle any business and 2D graphics work you can throw at it. It plays Netflix, Hulu and locally stored videos just fine, and had no trouble with Blu-ray movies played via an external drive (the Acer has no internal optical drive). As we mentioned, the machine runs cool enough to keep on your lap, and the fans are audible but rarely get loud.
PCMark: 5539 PCMarks
TV and Movies: 3869
Not so good. In fact, the Iconia 6120 only ran for an average of 2.5 hours on a charge with moderate use (web, Office and Photoshop). If we lowered brightness and set power conservation methods aggressively, we still fell shy of 3 hours. When streaming Hulu video, the Acer didn’t make it to 2 hours at 50% brightness. Why? Because the Iconia has an absolutely tiny 2,900 mAh battery. That’s lower capacity than many of today’s mobile OS tablets, and it’s not going to run Windows 7 on a full Intel Core i5 for very long. On a positive note, the battery is swappable, and the charger is quite small, since it doesn’t have to charge a large battery.
Being a geek and a technologist, I love the innovation and quality of the Acer Iconia 6120. I also applaud Acer’s attempt at some custom software that makes the dual screen design more practical, enjoyable and useful. But as a practical pundit, I don’t think the Iconia is ready for the masses, nor are the masses going to see much use in this flashy bit of hardware. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with the Iconia, it’s just that there aren’t enough software titles that make good enough use of the dual screens. If you’re a web developer, graphics person who doesn’t need a digital pen (that rules out a lot of graphics folks), video editor or anyone else who’s dreamed of 2 screens on the road, then the Acer makes a heck of a lot of sense. And at $1,199, you’re not paying a super-hefty early adopter premium.
But for the rest of the world that depends on a keyboard for lots of typing on the road, the Iconia is a harder sell. The on-screen keyboard is very well done, but there’s no way it can compete with a hardware keyboard. And the 6120’s odd lack of Bluetooth mean you can’t even bring a portable folding Bluetooth keyboard with you on the road (unless you get a USB Bluetooth dongle too). Lastly, though some of you think the stylus is so last decade, active digitizers still sell a healthy number of Windows tablets because artists, note-takers, science types who use equations and vertical market workers rely on the pen. The Iconia could have had that market if they’d only included an active digitizer in the upper display.
Pro: Innovative design, decent price, excellent design and build. Serious geek and cool factor. A dream come true for those who need multiple monitors on the road.
Con: Paltry battery life, heavy, not a product for those who do lots of data entry.
Display:Dual 14", 1366 x 768 LED backlit displays with 10 points each capacitive multi-touch (Acer CineCrystal, Gorilla Glass). No active digitizer or stylus. Intel HD integrated graphics. HDMI and VGA ports.
Ion rechargeable, 2900 mAh. Battery is user replaceable. Compact world charger included.
Core i5 processor 480M CPU with 2 cores and 4 threads. Supports Turbo Boost, has 3 megs L2 cache. 4 gigs DDR3 10600 RAM (8 gigs max) and 640 gig, 5400 RPM hard drive.
x 9.7 x 1.2 inches. Weight: 6.18 pounds.
in stereo speakers, mic 3.5mm stereo headphone
jack/SPDIF and mic jack. Dolby Digital Audio software.
Gigabit Ethernet and WiFi 802.11b/g/n.
Ports:Two USB 2.0 ports, 1 USB 3.0 port, HDMI, VGA, Ethernet, 3.5mm stereo combo with SPDIF and mic jack.
7 Home Premium. MS Office 2010 Starter Edition, Acer custom software including Acer Ring, keyboard, Social Jogger, journal, touch music, photo and video players and scrapbook. Additional software: Barnes & Noble Desktop Reader, eSobi, Norton Online Backup, MyWinLocker, Netflix, clear.fi and Acer utilities and recovery (recovery partition is on hard drive, no discs included).
Expansion and Ports:1
SD/MMC/Memory Stick external USB reader included.