Hands-On Review of the Acer Iconia-6120: the World's First Dual Touch Notebook
What does the world’s most advanced dual touch-screen computer have in common with a plain old bicycle? You don’t just hop on a bike and zoom away the first time you try it. You’ve got to learn how to ride first. There’s a similar learning curve with the new Acer Iconia-6120 Dual-Screen Touchbook computer, and after the first day or two, the training wheels came off and I was zipping down the superhighway.
Why would someone want a dual touch-screen notebook computer? The beauty is that instead of being stuck with a built-in hardware QWERTY keyboard, you get a powerful array of touch controls. This is a computer that can morph its entire user interface to accommodate specific tasks on a whim. It also doesn’t hurt that it looks really cool.
The Acer Iconia-6120 is radically different from any other computer I'd ever used, and I quickly realized that in order to get the most out of it I needed to break away from some old computer habits. This was also the first time I had used a full-blown personal computer with a touch-screen interface. Putting the novelty of the Iconia-6120’s dual touch screens aside for a moment, I have to say that I was pleased with how the included Windows 7 Home Premium operating system handled touch commands.
Most computer users rely completely on using mice and trackpads to get things done. It's really strange at first to give both of them up, but if you train yourself to operate the Iconia-6120, it’s liberating to leave the mouse and trackpad behind. Why would you bother dragging the cursor all the way across numerous screens when you can simply point and touch where you need to be?
The strangest thing about the Iconia is that it doesn’t have a physical keyboard. A virtual keyboard can be pulled up at any time (either with a touch command or with its dedicated physical button). A virtual trackpad is supplied on the virtual keyboard as well. First timers tend to use the virtual trackpad to move the cursor around. What’s interesting is that after the first day I had accidentally turned off the virtual trackpad, and I didn't realize it was gone until I discovered the button that turned it back on again. I had fully weaned myself from the virtual trackpad without even realizing it. So much for old habits dying hard!
I don’t feel like I’ve effectively answered the 800-pound gorilla question yet: why do you need two touch screens? This question is pretty easy to answer. Forget for a moment that both screens are touch screens. Think of the Iconia-6120 as a portable laptop with not one, but two 14" LCD screens. Lots of people are accustomed to using two computer monitors on their desktop machines. Having two computer monitors is a wonderful thing. It's hard to go back to a single monitor once you’re used to having two. The Iconia-6120 gives you the luxury of dual monitors everywhere you go. They just happen to be touch screens.
If you’re in the market for a new portable computer, the presence of tablets makes the decision ever more difficult to make. I found that the Iconia-6120 acts as a good recreational touch-screen media consumption device and as a powerful laptop computer. It's a nice machine for kicking back on the sofa to surf YouTube videos and read Facebook posts. When it's time to get some real work done, the Iconia-6120 steps up to the plate with its dual core i5-580M processor, 4 gigs of RAM and a Windows 7 operating system, ready and willing to run any PC software you throw at it. There's no optical media drive (you’ll need an external DVD drive for physical discs), but it does have two USB 2.0 ports, an HDMI output, and a sweet high-speed USB 3.0 port.
The virtual keyboard takes a little getting used to. It's a lot more sensitive than a physical keyboard. You cannot rest your fingers on the keys. The slightest touch of a key will input a character. You've got to keep your fingers floating above the keys, and only strike when you're committed to inputting a character. That may sound like a lot to ask, but once you're used to it, it feels pretty natural. In fact, you can type pretty darn fast once you get the hang of it. This article was written almost entirely on the Iconia's virtual keyboard.
To tap into the power of the Iconia-6120, you need to explore the apps found in the included Acer Ring software. You call up the Acer Ring by placing all five fingers down on the lower touch screen. This triggers the ring to appear beneath your fingers. It contains a number of different apps that have been designed to take full advantage of the Iconia's unusual dual touch interface.
The first app you should check out is TouchBrowser. Again, this is a situation in which you need to let go of some of your old computer habits. Usually when you want to access the Internet, you double click on a Web browser and click away. The trouble is that traditional Web browsers are designed for mice and trackpads. Regular browsers work well on the Iconia, but you're not fully maximizing the dual touch experience by using them. That's where TouchBrowser comes into play.
Unlike a traditional browser, TouchBrowser moves the URL box and other key navigation tools like the Forward and Back buttons to the bottom of the lower touch screen. This way they're close to your hands and easier to tap. At every turn, TouchBowser takes full advantage of the dual touch screens. Web pages fill up both screens without fuss. You quickly get used to the convenience of being able to see more of a website without having to click and scroll. However, when you need to scroll, a simple swipe of a finger gets it done. If computers had been using touch screens like this from the beginning, you would never be able convince anyone to switch to a mouse.
TouchPhoto, TouchVideo and TouchMusic are also handy apps to have around. I really appreciated their simplicity. In each app you have either your photo, video or music library on the lower screen. You simply tap on the thumbnail of the file that you want to check out, and it appears full-screen on the upper display. You can swipe with your finger to move to the next image, video or song, or play them in a slideshow.
SocialJogger is an interesting little social media app which is also included in the Acer Ring. It splits the lower screen into three sections. On the left you get a mini Facebook interface, in the middle you get a mini YouTube interface, and on the right is mini Flickr. When you click on a link or a photo in someone's Facebook post, SocialJogger displays it on the upper screen. This enables you to use all three Web applications at the same time. You can watch a full-screen HD YouTube video in the upper display while keeping up with the latest posts in your Facebook News Feed below. I found myself using SocialJogger quite a bit.
Another interesting feature on the Acer Ring is its gesture command area. You can program the Iconia-6120 to carry out specific tasks based on a single finger swipe. In a matter of minutes I had programmed the Gesture Editor to power off the computer when I swiped a “Z,” and to take me to the B&H website when I swiped a “B.” Setting this up was simple as pie.
Not every imagined piece of technology makes the transition from dream to the marketplace, but the Acer Iconia-6120 Dual-Screen Touchbook is one futuristic device that has. In this age of flashy tablet iDevices, it’s easy to write off the Iconia-6120 as an impractical novelty. But if you stop and think about it, there are plenty of people who prefer computing with two screens, and there’s an entire generation that pretty much demands that their displays react to touch commands.
Before you dismiss a mobile device with dual screens as unnecessary, think of the Nintendo DS. Not only did the DS prove that multiple screens could be successful on a portable device, it trained a lot of people to appreciate using vertical dual interfaces. Don't just think of the Iconia-6120 as a laptop with two touch screens and a virtual keyboard; think of it as a totally unique way to use a computer. If you’re looking for a fresh approach to a Windows laptop, the Acer Iconia-6120 is the most original interpretation I’ve ever encountered to date. Plus it’s one of the coolest looking bicycles on the information superhighway.