Acer’s Aspire R7: a pad too far

While nearly all of its PC rivals with the exception of Toshiba had been experimenting with all kinds of clamshells that contort  and break apart in both Windows 8 and RT flavors, Acer has been playing it pretty close to traditional clamshell form factor. That all changed when the company released its Aspire R7 and P3. The P3 takes a page from any number of Bluetooth keyboard cases for iOS and Android tablets; both the keyboard and the tablet can be removed from its rubbery encasing.

The Aspire R7, is more of a unique offering. In some ways, it is similar to other devices with novel hinges such as the Dell XPS Duo 12 (carrying on the tradition of the Inspiron Duo, a 10″ netbook that itself took some cues from the old Windows CE-based Vadem Clio). However, unlike the Clio, which lacked a trackpad, and the Duo, which has it where you’d expect it, the Aspire R7 puts the trackpad behind the keyboard.

Now, its not unheard of for pointing devices, particularly on a space-constrained notebook, to be in odd locations, but there’s ample room for a full-sized trackpad on the R7. Acer claims that it did this so you could move the touchscreen closer to the keyboard for a more intimate experience, but that blocks the touchpad entirely. Perhaps using the distant trackpad isn’t as awkward as it looks, but it’s surprising that Acer didn’t put in a trackstick or some kind of bundled Bluetooth trackpad like the ones that come with Vizio all-in-ones or a pop-out one reminiscent of the pop-out mouse on the HP OmniBook 300.

The design of the Aspire R7 highlights the conflict between touchscreen and pointing device that we’ve seen played out in smartphones. Several BlackBerrys and the T-Mobile G1 as well as other Android phones had separate trackballs and later trackpads to add complementary precision to the touchscreen. I was personally a fan of the BlackBerry thumb trackpad (probably the best UI feature of tortured early touchscreen BlackBerrys). However, perhaps due in part to higher resolution displays that allow easier selection, they have faded away like smartphone keyboards.  It is but one more way in which the value of Windows 8’s legacy support must be questioned.

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