Two Minute Video: Acer’s Dual Screen, No Keyboard Laptop

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The $1,300 Acer Iconia laptop is certainly unique. The machine features two 14-inch touchscreens instead of the tried and true screen-and-keyboard combination, while retaining the same form factor as a standard laptop.

The bottom touchscreen is home to the Acer Ring, which is activated by touching all five fingers to the glass. Then you select from a handful of programs designed to take advantage of the two screens.

There’s a dual-screen Internet Explorer web browser with touch scrolling and the ability to crop and save snippets of web pages. There’s also a dual-screen video player: clips on the bottom, videos up top. The picture viewer is laid out similarly to the video player and includes the ability to rotate, pinch, zoom and navigate through photos using multi-touch gestures.

Acer’s SocialJogger software has a lot of promise but ultimately falls short in that it only shows updates from Facebook, YouTube and Flickr. I’d trade Twitter and RSS feeds or Twitter and Gmail for YouTube and Flickr in a heartbeat, but there’s no ability to customize the applications.

There’s also a digital scrapbooking app, which is nice for design ideas or other artsy projects.

All these cool features aren’t without drawbacks, however. The second screen makes the computer heavy, thick and expensive while still stripping out features relatively common to heavy, thick 14-inch laptops. There’s no optical drive, for instance, and there’s not even a memory card reader. It’s an external USB device.

The two screens affect the Iconia’s battery life tremendously, as well. You’ll be lucky to get anything more than a couple hours out of it before you need to recharge. And though it likely doesn’t need to be said, an onscreen keyboard is no substitute for a real keyboard. The Iconia’s touch keyboard works okay for simple typing but don’t expect to get any real work done unless you use an external keyboard and mouse.

So as a portable computer, the Iconia stumbles. It’s too big, the battery life is too short, and the keyboard can’t get any real work done. But as a desktop replacement that you leave plugged in all the time, the Iconia is actually kind of compelling. You’ve got a dual-screen setup with above-average internal hardware, and touch capabilities whenever you need them. Add a keyboard and a mouse, leave the thing plugged in on your desk, and you’ve got oodles of screen real estate in a six-pound package.

If you’re not going to use it for that, though, the Iconia can best be seen as a device for well-heeled early adopters with strong backs, long extension cords and stylus-like fingers.

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