The Acer Iconia Tab A500 is the third Android Honeycomb tablet we’ve got to grips with here in Blighty. Currently our fave is Asus’ Eee Pad Transformer, thanks to its low price, ace screen and sensible software, but can its Taiwanese arch-rival outdo it? Read our Acer Iconia Tab A500 review and find out.
We’re sorry to come out with a dealbreaker right off the bat, but you should know: the 10.1-inch Acer Iconia Tab is absolutely enormous. It seems thicker than its 13.3mm depth, and the total weight (765g) makes it feel vastly more bloated than an iPad 2 (601g). It’s so massive in fact, that using it in portrait mode without placing it down on a table is almost impossible: it feels like it’s about to topple out of your hands at any second.
It’s a shame because we quite like the brushed metallic back case of the Acer Iconia Tab A500, there’s a micro HDMI socket to mirror output on your telly (No cable though. to our chagrin), sensibly placed 3.5mm audio port and power buttons on the side, and even a screen orientation switch. On the other side, you’ll find a reset hole that can be triggered with a pin, a micro USB port for sideloading, and a full on USB port for plugging in keyboards and storage: we checked, USB mice don’t work.
As thoughtful as most of these touches are, we can’t beat around the bush here: this is the ugliest high end tablet we’ve ever tested. Admittedly that beefiness does provide for some superb speakers combined with Acer’s typical Dolby Mobile skills, but it’s not worth the trade off. Call us vain, but we’ll stick with the waif-like wonder chassis of the iPad 2 anyway.
On the plus side, the Acer Iconia Tab A500′s screen is superb, vastly outperforming the Motorola Xoom’s panel of equal 1280×800 resolution with wider viewing angles and excellent brightness. At a push, we’d say that it doesn’t match the exceptional IPS panel on the Asus Eee Pad Transformer (And the iPad 2, of course), but we think most people would be hard pressed to notice.
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Perhaps more of an issue to consider is the screen ratio. As with most Android tablets, the widescreen 16:9 ratio lends itself well to videos and web browsing, but not apps which involve text input. We’d like to see a bit more choice in future, with 4:3 ratio Honeycomb tablets to choose from also.
One curious note: about once an hour or so when the Iconia Tab was powered off, the screen would glow on again for a second. We’ve no idea why, and it was a bit creepy. Maybe we watched
We’ll keep this short since for the most part we’ve been here before: Android 3.0 is almost identical to what you get on the Motorola Xoom. That’s a powerful OS with impressive multitasking and notifications, let down by a lack of tablet optimised Android apps still, and some frustrating browser crashes.
Acer hasn’t tweaked the keyboard, as Asus did with great results on the Eee Pad Transformer by adding in an extra numerical character row, but it has bunged in a few extras of its own. Some, such as the Media Server, work flawlessly, while others, such as Social Jogger, which shows your Facebook updates in a really laggy app with a rotating scroll mechanism, aren’t worth a look in.
In other words then, our concerns about Honeycomb stand. If you’re a die hard Gmail fan and know you don’t want an iPad, you’ll love it. But for everyone else, slate-sized iOS still delivers a far better experience for the timbering.
Performance and battery life
The good news is that there’s another hidden trick on the Acer Iconia Tab A500. It’s not the front and back cameras, which are still afterthoughts, as they really should be on a huge tablet. It’s the choice of using 1GB DDR3 memory instead of DDR2 paired with the dual-core Nvidia Tegra 2 chip. Whether that’s the sole cause we can’t be certain, but it’s the most responsive Honeycomb tablet we’ve tried so far, easing well ahead in benchmark scores with an impressive 1,990 in Quadrant Standard.
We’re also not sure if this causes a trade off in battery life, but for what it’s worth, the Iconia Tab drops juice in standby at a much swifter rate than the Xoom or the Eee Pad Transformer, lasting four days of standby time. It’s not so noticeable in usage, clearing a good six hours of use with the screen on and Wi-Fi in use, but if you want a tablet you can leave on for weeks and know it’ll still be alive, the iPad is the way to go.
At more than fifty quid over the Asus Eee Pad Transformer, we can’t help but feel that the Acer Iconia Tab A500 is something of a raw deal. It’s far too heavy and lacks the killer keyboard integration. Of course Asus’ slate is selling out everywhere right now so it might seem a bit more tempting, but don’t be fooled: it’s far too heavy for a modern tablet. That’s a crying shame, because as ever, we see big things for Honeycomb. Your turn next Samsung!
Review unit kindly supplied by Save On Laptops