Microsoft’s ham-fisted approach to combining touch with the desktop in Windows 8 has caused plenty of grief in the computing industry. Consumers are wary of the operating system, sales are down, and the press is enamored with mobile devices.
This is a problem for which PC manufacturers have no clear solution, yet they still have to try. So Acer has built the TA272HUL, a 27-inch all-in-one desktop that looks like a Windows system, but actually runs Android.
At the heart of the system is the Tegra 4, Nvidia’s latest and most powerful mobile processor. Acer also serves up a 2560×1440 touchscreen, 16GB of internal storage, and 802.11 abgn Wi-Fi. The system runs Android 4.2 which, though it’s not the most recent release, it is the next best thing.
You might expect the mobile processor and operating system to translate to a reduced price, but you would be wrong. Acer has slapped on a lofty $1,099 MSRP. That’s a lot for anything running Android, regardless of the screen size. Does this AIO have more surprises in store?
Barebones at a high price
The Acer TA272HUL uses a “floating” glass design which consists of a thin, transparent base, and a skinny stand. Minimalist elegance is the intended effect, but the system doesn’t quite manage to pull that off for several reasons. The most obvious is the large, glossy black bezel which surrounds the display, and banishes any hope of a true edge-to-edge look. There are other offenders as well, like the gaudy chrome speakers, and the matte plastic rear.
It’s clear that Android is not ready to power a desktop.
In all other respects, the TA272HUL can be described as basic. It’s not particularly thick or thin, has no notable features or flourishes, and doesn’t make a strong first impression. Even connectivity is mundane, as the system provides two USB 3.0 ports, HDMI, DisplayPort, Ethernet and a memory card reader. The only extra port is HDMI-in, which makes the AIO usable as a Windows 8 touchscreen monitor.
Big but…not so beautiful
The Acer TA272HUL’s glossy 2560×1440 touchscreen is undoubtedly its standout feature. Plenty of AIOs offer the same, but most are much more expensive. Dell’s fabulous 27-inch XPS One, for example, starts at $1,599.
Unfortunately, quality isn’t so great. There are plenty of pixels available to deliver a sharp, clear picture, but video looks dull, and games seem to lack contrast. We can’t test the system with our normal tools because the TA272HUL does not run Windows, but our admittedly fallible eyes came away underwhelmed.
This may not entirely be the fault of the display. The extremely high resolution reveals scaling issues in a number of apps. YouTube, for example, is marred by big, blurry thumbnails, and webpages viewed with the Chrome browser often displayed fuzzy up-scaled text.
Such problems may seem counter-intuitive given that Android already runs well on high resolution displays. However, those same screens are much smaller. Displaying content at 2560×1440 on a 27-inch panel is entirely different from 1080p on a 5-inch smartphone.
While movies won’t look their best, they’ll at least sound decent thanks to a pair of solid built-in speakers. Though lacking in lows, they provide a vibrant mid-range, with minimal distortion at maximum volume. The system’s stereo sound staging is better than average as well, which means audio is reproduced with more depth than is typical in an AIO.
A tango with Tegra 4
The Acer TA272HUL is powered by a Tegra 4 quad-core processor which, though it’s undoubtedly less capable than an Intel Core i5 CPU, is more than a match for the Android operating system. We encountered nary a hitch while loading apps and multi-tasking. YouTube videos played smoothly at their highest resolution settings, and the games we tried, like Zen Pinball HD and Bard’s Tale, were handled in stride.
Yes, an Intel Core i processor is quicker, but it’s also saddled with a more demanding operating system.
Yes, an Intel Core i processor is quicker, but it’s also saddled with a more demanding operating system, and can run far more demanding apps. The Android apps that run on this system are designed for smartphones and tablets, so they feel plenty quick on this quad-core desktop.
You can Android your desktop, but should you?
While the hardware is willing, the operating system is another matter. In the past, Android hasn’t proven itself to be a great replacement for Windows, and though there have been some changes since we last encountered Google’s OS alongside a mouse, our verdict hasn’t changed. Android still isn’t a good desktop operating system.
Some of our complaints mirror the criticisms we’ve levied at the touch-focused Metro interface in Windows 8. A screen full of big icons makes sense on a tablet, but it’s a waste of space on a desktop PC. The Android home screen is a poor replacement for a “real” desktop interface, as it lacks important features like right-click context menus, multiple windows, and a task bar.
Our disappointment didn’t relent when we loaded the Chrome browser. We repeatedly encountered issues with websites loading their mobile version automatically, which forces the site to appear in a vertical orientation, with gray bars to each side. While it’s almost always possible to switch to the desktop version, finding and clicking the appropriate link is an extra, and annoying step.
There are problems in the Settings menu as well, because it’s arranged with mobile devices in mind. Data usage is one of the first categories listed, while keyboard settings are buried under “Language & input.” If you’re curious as to why Google bothered with Chrome OS, you ought to use a Chromebook side-by-side with an Android desktop or laptop. The difference is night and day.
The sole compliment we can offer is that Android remains easy to use. Apps install and un-install quickly, the home screen is intuitive to navigate, and even multi-tasking makes up for what it lacks in functionality with plain controls. This goes double for when you lean forward to use the touchscreen, but users who value their spine will relax and rely on the mouse.
Two extras ship with the TA272HUL; a keyboard and a mouse. The keyboard is a strange, compacted unit that lacks a number pad. While some users may miss it, we actually appreciated the desk space that its absence freed. In all other respects though, it’s just a set of cheap keys. Tactile feel can be best described as spongy, and the plastics used are basic.
The same can be said of the mouse, which offers just two buttons in a scroll wheel, and relies on an infrared sensor. Basic makes sense however, because Android isn’t set up to handle anything more. We found the mouse to be accurate and quick in everyday use.
Both peripherals are wireless, and connect via a common USB hub. As stated earlier, the TA272HUL has only two USB ports. Once you connect the keyboard and mouse, you’re down to just one.
You might expect an Android AIO to deliver low power draw, but you’d only be half right. According to our wattmeter, the system sucks up 45 watts when at idle. A Dell XPS One 27 with discrete graphics and a 4th-gen Intel Core I processor needs 70 watts, but the 24-inch Vizio CA24T and HP Spectre One both required fewer than 40 watts at idle. The power savings delivered by Android and Tegra 4 is there, but at idle, it’s barely worth mentioning.
Consumers who hate fan noise will find the TA272HUL to be refreshingly quiet.
So where’s the power going when the system is idle? To the display! A large, 2560×1440 panel needs a beefy backlight to produce acceptable luminance.
The system’s silent cooling is further proof of the processor’s efficiency. Fan noise simply doesn’t exist, yet the system barely warms above room temperature. Consumers who hate fan noise will find the TA272HUL to be refreshingly quiet.
The Acer TA272HUL bravely asks and answers one question. Can Android be used to make a competent desktop?
The answer is no.
Though it’s easy to use, Android suffers from interface quirks that are similar to those found in Windows 8’s Metro interface, and then adds a layer of additional problems on top. Websites don’t always load properly, the Settings menu is a mess, and apps that are meant for use with smartphones look ridiculous on a 27-inch display. Even common apps, like YouTube, suffered from strange scaling issues. The woes introduced by Android only add to the AIO’s fundamental problems, like a lack of ergonomic adjustment, so-so display quality, and a limited selection of USB ports.
Then there’s the issue of price. At $1,099, the TA272HUL initially looks like a bargain because it undercuts competitors like the HP Envy Recline and Lenovo Horizon by at least $250. Once the features and performance are closely examined however, the MSRP seems like a bit of a rip off. Acer’s Android AIO is less functional and less powerful than any of the common alternatives.
We respect Acer for experimenting, but it’s clear that Android is not ready to power a desktop. Google did not design the operating system for a 27-inch device, and that fact is apparent as soon as you turn the TA272HUL on.
If want a premium AIO, do yourself a favor and save up for a XPS One 27 or a Lenovo IdeaCentre A730. You’ll get more for your money.
- Can be used as a Windows touchscreen monitor
- Solid audio quality
- Limited connectivity
- Design doesn’t match the price
- Unimpressive display quality
- Android isn’t ready for the desktop
- Poor value