Acer C200 Series Tablet – A lifekludger review

May 26th, 2006 | by dnw |

I’d mentioned previously how while doing my first review of using a Tablet PC how I’d come across the AcerC200 series tablet notebook and how its’ layout really tweaked my interest. Well, as it happens, not long after I presented at a conference right here in Adelaide and one of the display booths was Vectra. And what did I see on the table but an AcerC200 notebook!

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During the show I sidled up to Robert Frost who was representing the company and managed to wangle a loan after the conference for review. Robert was true to his word and delivered the Acer after the conference for me to trial for a few days. I quickly tried it out, took some photos, screen shots and notes, returned the Acer and promptly left for a holiday where I had all intentions of writing this Acer review. As it happens, well it didn’t happen while away, so here I am home again putting it together.

The Acer site describes the C200 series as follows:

The Acer® TravelMate® C200 is an all-new series of convertible tablets with a patented sliding-track mechanism that allows you to move between notebook and tablet modes in one smooth motion.

The site shows the specifications as shown here (you might have to click on it to see the bigger version :

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The unit I had seemed to be to spec and had the standard 512Mb RAM

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[System properties of Acer I was loaned]

Now, none of that really concerns me directly and in no way was I remotely interested in reviewing the Acer for what it has under the hood. The sole reason I was so wanting to get hold of one of these was the form factor and the way everything was laid out. Particularly the fact that a) the keyboard was right at the front most edge of the unit and b) somewhat consequently, there was no touch-pad for navigation.

Now, if you’re reading this without seeing my review of the Sahara Tablet, please stop now and read that to see why these two things are so important to me.

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[Dave the Lifekludger in test mode on the AcerC204]

In short, for me, operating a computer with a disability, layout and positioning is everything – well the absolute first priority overriding all other considerations anyway. If I can’t reach it with my mouthstick, leave it in the box! So the Acer really grabbed my attention.

When I got hold of one I found the layout of keyboard, with the keys right at the front edge, the compact design and the ‘reachable-ness’ of everything brilliant. The Trackpoint ‘pointer’ device, although not my ultimate choice for pointing, worked for me and the little scroll-wheel, which was an added feature I hadn’t accounted for, I found handy and easy to use, despite the angle. The fact it has great specs, speed, all the connectivity you could want and Tablet functions to boot were pleasing benefits.

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[A view of layout]

I also liked the way it was put together and it seemed to have solid construction. I was pleased with the positioning of the buttons to turn the Bluetooth and Wireless networking on/off on the front edge too. Although it had the same Wacom style screen requiring a special pen, I found the Pen smaller and lighter which helped with stick manoeuvrability.

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[Showing pen attached to mouthstick and using scroll-wheel]

Not to say it was perfect. I found the F-keys too close to the bottom of the screen, especially with my mouthstick-pen combo – often the pointer would activate when typing top keys. This of course would be rectified with a resistive screen. Also, angles still prove to be critical for me and getting the angle of the keyboard right where I could reach the screen and have it operate correctly with the pen proved problematic. The fixed angle screen might be fine with a hand reaching out but again, like the slate review, I found using the top of the screen an issue.

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[While it may not look like it, stretching was needed to reach top of screen]

Given that I’d need assistance to move the screen between keyboard and tablet mode I found myself questioning if having a ‘touch’ screen actually added anything to my experience of user the Acer and if in fact it was just the compact and alternate design I liked. In fact would I be less frustrated if I just had a slate.

It was then I found something interesting in the way I was operating the Acer. The lack of trackball/easy way to move the cursor meant I often resorted to keyboard shortcuts that I normally wouldn’t do. Moving the cursor with the ‘Trackpoint’ device was possible but I found it a bit hard on my teeth and would, when possible (that is, in reach) drag stuff on the screen or ‘tap’ the screen rather than stretch back to click the mouse button.

Double-click was difficult for the same reasons. So I often found myself doing strange combinations between screen/keyboard, like ‘tap screen’-‘hit enter key’ to open things. And ‘drag screen’-‘scroll wheel’ to move up-down a page. Odd combinations as a work around for not being able to reach everywhere easily – I was Lifekludging on the Acer.

So the experience reminded me of a definition of accessibility I read years ago by Joe Clark which has driven much of what I do – it goes something like “Accessibility is about accommodating characteristics a person cannot change by providing options”. And so I found myself using the options a ‘touch’ screen provides to get around accessing the Acer. The screen adds another option for input.

On the subject of input, and turning my focus to Tablet mode, I was unable to get another feature working that is important for me – audio feedback of the onscreen keyboard. It was one of the first things I found I needed when using the Sahara Tablet previously and so I went looking in the Control Panel for it….but couldn’t find it anywhere.

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[No click sound on Onscreen keyboard. Lots of other settings]

While I couldn’t find a click sound, the Acer tablet settings has many other customisable options. ‘Double-tapping’ proved hard for me to get right using my stick as the fine control is not as good as with a hand. I tried tweaking the settings for area to be seen as a double-tap and other various settings but never managed to get a experience that worked as good as the Sahara did. Why this is I don’t know, maybe it was the speed of the system or something, it all felt very finicky.

One aspect of the settings I thought was good and complemented the design and button layout well was the way you could program the buttons around the screen and system to perform different functions in different modes – like with screen in portrait or landscape. This provided more customisable options for input and the control panel was easy to understand.

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[Control panel for button functions]

I never seem to get these loan computers long enough to see what living with one would be like

I managed to have a quick try of some other Tablet applications I hadn’t before. One was the snipping tool which seemed very handy in the time I had to use it.

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[Snipping tool]

Another application was the Ink Art tool. This was used to draw the picture you see at the top of this article. I only had a very short time to use this and it looks a powerful creative tool. I found the interface easy to understand and its basics.

Not being able to use my hands for over 20 years this seemed something I’d love to get into to express my lost creative side. Not being tied into some fixed mode of input is to be empowered to go beyond what is accepted as the ‘norm’. ‘Digital ink’ gives me the impression of ‘depth’ – that there’s more to it than ‘cuteness’, or even options – that it has the potential to ‘free’ us from the technological ‘boxes’ we’ve fit ourselves in to use technology.

I haven’t commented on input of text using the input bar as this was covered in my previous review and I was able to work it in much the same way. I did find though that, like the ‘double-tap’, input seemed very sensitive and a little ‘unforgiving’.

I have found in my short jaunts with Tablet that I love being able to drag things around the screen with the pen. If nothing else it saves me having to do many actions with trackball and locking mouse buttons. But really it is just feels so natural.

I really do need time to explore write anywhere though. As I use a PDA a lot I am not stuck in an input bar. Also on my PDA I use the onscreen keyboard that uses gestures for shifted characters and space et al. On the Acer in tablet mode I kept doing gestures for Backspace, Caps and Enter (tap drag-up; tap drag-left; tap drag-down-left, respectively) on the onscreen keyboard, which, of course, didn’t work. So I’d like to see this kind of onscreen keyboard layout as an option on a Tablet (If it isn’t already, like I say, I don’t get chance to research these things while I have the pc, so if it is there, all well and good).

Summary:

If had to get a laptop tomorrow that runs windows, I’d buy this Acer, no question, on layout alone. There is no other notebook (with a keyboard) on the market that gives an alternative layout from the common ‘big palm rest with keyboard at back’ and ‘touch-pad’ design. Alternatively I’d seriously consider a Slate option with no keyboard, provided it had built-in CD.

It’s not my ideal though. That would be the same machine with a Resistive ‘touch’ screen with adjustable angle, Tablet features and OSX – dream on.

Acer C200 product page:, Specs page:


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