|Acer Iconia 6120 Dual-Screen Laptop|
|Reviews - Featured Reviews: Notebook | Compact PC|
|Written by David Ramsey|
|Tuesday, 26 April 2011|
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The Acer Iconia 6120's signature feature is the second screen where a keyboard would be on a normal laptop. The virtual keyboard is very good, certainly one of the best I've ever used, but there's no getting away from the fact that you're typing on a piece of glass, with no tactile feedback at all. The meanest, cheapest $5 throw-away keyboard at your local office supply store is infinitely better. That being the case, Acer does their best to make a case for why you should put up with this. First, I'll cover the input system.
You have four ways to enter text on the Iconia 6120; each method has its advantages and disadvantages:
You invoke the Acer virtual keyboard either by pressing the keyboard button in the left hinge, or (and this is much cooler, especially if you're showing the computer to someone) by simply placing your hands on the lower screen in a typing position, letting all 10 fingers rest on the glass at the same time.
As you can see from the image above, the virtual keyboard and track pad occupy the entire lower screen. This means the key size and key spacing are the same as a "real" keyboard, which makes it easier to type on. Only the function keys are shrunk to make room for some extra controls at the top of the keyboard. At the upper left are controls for switching between the virtual keyboard and the handwriting input panel, enabling and disabling the track pad and the T9 predictive text feature, and opening the keyboard control panel. At the upper right are media playback controls and the keyboard close button (a large "X").
With a touch-sensitive keyboard, Acer had to deal with the problem of parts of your hand resting on the glass. You don't want this to enter characters you didn't type! Their solution is to only register a keystroke when you stop touching a key, and only if less than a certain amount of time has elapsed. If you touch a key too long, removing your finger doesn't cause a character to be typed. This works well but lends a certain, subtle cognitive dissonance to using the keyboard: the key click sound is played when you touch a key, but the character isn't entered until you stop touching a key. I found the disconnect between the time of the sound and the time when the character appeared to be slightly unnerving, but it's something you can get used to. After a few days' experience, I can type on the Iconia's virtual keyboard about 70 percent as fast, overall, as I can on a physical keyboard. In fact, much of this review was typed directly on the Iconia.
Note, though, that the virtual keyboard is useless for many games. For example, although Valve's "Portal" plays well enough, you can't move your character with the WASD keys, since holding down a key doesn't register as it does with a physical keyboard. And a physical keyboard is the only workaround for this.
The virtual trackpad below the keyboard works as you'd expect, with left and right buttons and a dedicated scroll area at its right edge. Although Acer claims that mouse motions started inside the touchpad area will be continued if your finger drags outside the touchpad area, this didn't work for me: the mouse cursor simply stopped after I hit the edge of the touch pad. This is harder to deal with since the lack of tactile feedback means that you have no idea where your finger is on the touchpad area. You can, of course, simply plug in an external pointing device, but the virtual trackpad has one significant advantage: it "knows" that when you're using it, the bottom screen's a keyboard rather than a general purpose display device, and it won't let you drag the cursor down off the upper screen. External pointing devices don't constrain the cursor and it's easy to "lose" the cursor on the keyboard screen.
The keyboard offers T9 predictive text input by touching a control at the upper left of its display. T9 will consult its internal dictionary on the fly, as you type, and offer both suggestions for completed words and auto-correct many common misspellings. It can significantly increase your typing speed on the virtual keyboard, but it also sometimes gets in the way. For example, it insists on trying to correct the word "Iconia" to "Icons". You can backspace and re-type the word, but that adds time and is frustrating, and there seems to be no way to add news words like "Iconia" to the dictionary. I went back and forth and wound up turning it off.
An external keyboard provides the best input speed and accuracy, but somewhat obviates the point of the Iconia. Still, I found this setup to be a workable one:
Using a stand designed for the Apple iPad, I was able to use the Iconia as a dual-screen system with an external mouse and keyboard.
If the virtual keyboard isn't to your taste, touching the little keyboard icon at the upper left of the screen will invoke a very capable handwriting recognition input system.
You can write with your finger or a capacitive stylus in the yellow area, and use editing and other keys on the right. The handwriting feature supports a number of useful editing gestures that you can use to split or join groups of letters, erase text, and pop up a menu of word suggestions. And the handwriting recognition itself is brilliant, about the best I've ever seen on any device.
But the handwriting panel isn't really very useful. In my opinion, handwriting input only really makes sense when you can write anywhere on the screen. Since the handwriting input panel occupies the entire lower screen, there's no space advantage over using the virtual keyboard, which will provide much faster text entry for most applications.