Acer Iconia Tab A500 in-depth review -

Look and feel

Glossy and classy, the shiny metallic edges and black bezelled screen work well together. It’s not as light as it could be, but otherwise quite chic

Ease of use

The absence of real buttons in Android Honeycomb may put some off – it’s nice to have a physical home button, for instance. Nevertheless, this is Android at its smoothest and easiest to use

Features

The access to Android Market makes up a lot of the features with Android, though the Acer-own-brand apps are nothing to write home about. The cameras are similarly unspectacular

Performance

It’s speedy and responsive, with little dallying for the processor to catch up, whatever you’re doing

Battery life

Tablets have good battery life, as does this, but it’s not comparable to the iPad

 Acer Iconia Tab A500 Review -
3

Review by Sunetra Chakravati,12/12/2011 4:01:16 PM

8

out of 10

Performance

8

out of 5

Look and feel

6

out of 5

Ease of use

6

out of 5

Features

4

out of 5

Battery life

Pros:

Decent styling, fast processor

Cons:

Heavy, Honeycomb not to all tastes, battery life not the best

Tablets, we know, are the future. They may not do everything a laptop can, but their great video playback and gaming capabilities plus thousands of apps make them highly appealing.

This is the second tablet to run Android’s fully-fledged tablet OS, Honeycomb, following Motorola’s Xoom earlier in the year. Unlike some larger touch-screens like the original Samsung Galaxy Tab and the HTC Flyer that feature smartphone software, this is the real deal, designed to match the big screen with a better layout of icons and widgets, not to mention a different set of interface buttons, which we’ll get to in a moment.

Look and feel

The hardware first: the Iconia Tab A500 is a decent looking piece of kit. It’s a touch heavier than the rival Motorola Xoom but the black screen with metallic edging looks classier. Like the Xoom, it has a 10.1-inch screen, so it’s a little larger than the iPad. The screen resolution, 1,280 x 800 pixels, is also the same as Motorola’s tablet. It looks good: vivid, bright and hi-contrast in just the right places. Just don’t expect to be able to read the screen easily outdoors: if you really want an ebook reader, choose the Amazon Kindle. This is too heavy for long-term carrying comfort. It feels especially heavy in the hand, now the iPad 2 has arrived in all its airy lightness, though even that is no Kindle substitute. The Acer apps included LumiRead, but this is no iBooks: it simply moves you to the internet to read.

 

Tablets have big batteries, so the microUSB connector found on most phones won’t cut it here: all the current tablets have dedicated connectors to restore their batteries apart from the BlackBerry PlayBook, and even that requires its own more powerful unit (it won’t work with a regular BlackBerry charger even though it’s microUSB sized). So the Iconia Tab has a small round port for charging and its own charger to fit it.

Battery life, like most tablets, was pretty good, though nowhere near the 10 hours or so of use you can squeeze from an iPad 2 or BlackBerry PlayBook. It’ll easily last you through a full day. Overnight charging is required – and it takes a good couple of hours to refill from empty.

 

Ease of use

Buttons on the device are pleasingly few and include a volume rocker and an orientation lock switch in just the same place you’ll find them on the iPad, on the right-hand side. But the Iconia Tab has been designed primarily for use in landscape orientation – just look at the company’s logo on the back – so the placement seems a little odd here. That’s not to say you can’t use it portrait-stylee – of course you can, and the speedy accelerometer will adjust accordingly – but it just looks right when it’s wide rather than tall, perhaps because the aspect ratio is fully widescreen, unlike the iPad. Great for watching video, but strangely narrow in portrait orientation. 

There’s also a mini HDMI connector, so with the right cable and a compatible TV it’s a simple matter to play back video on the big screen.

If this were a smartphone, you’d now hear where the Android buttons are positioned – Back, Menu, Home and Search. With Honeycomb, Google has encouraged manufacturers to simplify things and the buttons are now virtual, appearing at the bottom of the screen. Well, some of them are. Home and Back are in the bottom left corner of the display. Next to them is a recent screens button. Search is nowhere to be seen and to get to the settings – a major use of the menu button – you tap on the clock in the bottom right corner, then on the Wi-Fi status point and then choose Settings. It’s a bit cumbersome, to be honest. At least when you’ve done all that there’s an easy to use Settings screen with sections on the left and sub-menus on the right, like on the iPad.

Incidentally, what is it about Google and clocks? Only HTC manages to have a usable selection of them and the Honeycomb default one is ugly. Acer's own, retro version is a little better, but even so. Weirdly, the Acer clock shown on the widget shortcut is completely different from the one you get if you drag it on screen. Go figure.

 

Android Honeycomb

Still, that's the joy of Android: there are lots of alternatives. Like the keyboard. SwiftKey is the best and it has its own Honeycomb version, which is highly recommended. The standard one isn't awful and is a good enough size to make hunt and peck bearable. Of course, a separate keyboard is preferable if you're typing at length.

And choosing items to plonk on the home screen is much simpler in Honeycomb than it is on Android’s smartphone versions. Honeycomb is well designed throughout, making the most of all that extra screen real estate. Though if you cram each homepage with icons, it does look pretty cramped.

Of course, for now at least, no one comes close to the Apple iPad for dedicated apps: there may be hundreds of thousands of apps for Android phones, but for their bigger-screened cousins, Android tablets, you have to largely rely on smartphone apps. Since many of these are only designed to fit smaller screens, there’s an element of disappointment when these apps are fired up. Some stay resolutely small, a small island in the large black screen. Others work erratically. Android’s open system means it may take longer for apps to catch up than on, say, Apple’s iOS.

Acer has included its own apps but none really standout. There’s the reader mentioned above, a so-so social aggregator called SocialJogger and a couple of others. You’ll be looking elsewhere if you have favourites or need extra features.

Honeycomb’s internet app includes simple tabbed browsing (before the iPad introduces a similar thing) which makes it easy to move between sites. Pages loaded quickly and neatly. Pinch-to-zoom was effectively implemented: zooming in and out was smooth and fast.

Camera

There are two cameras, including a five-megapixel sensor on the back. Like all tablets, the Iconia Tab isn’t the right shape and size to make video shooting easy, though stills pictures were of reasonable quality. Of course, the real point of these cameras is for Augmented Reality and gaming apps.

There’s one other difference between this tablet and the Motorola Xoom, by the way: like the Xoom, this is a 32GB Wi-Fi device, but there’s going to be a 16GB model released soon. If you’re on a budget, this is a neat additional option that Motorola doesn’t match.

Overall, the Acer has a lot going for it and as Android’s Honeycomb range of gadgets improve, the hardware will only get better. It’s a shame it’s not lighter and that the battery isn’t as strong as some rivals, but if you like the styling, there’s not much to hold you back.

The verdict

If you want an Android tablet with a large screen, the choice is still limited. But this model is a good addition to the range. Android is so software-driven that the main differences between tablets rest on hardware design, which is good here, and the extent to which Android’s operating system is dolled up by the manufacturer. This is a very gentle reworking of vanilla Android, but it works well.

David Phelan