Acer Iconia Tab A500
Acer has come out in force to tackle the fast-growing tablet market. The Iconia range consists of four tablet models, two of which boast the long-awaited tablet-specific Android version 3.0, codenamed Honeycomb. Our hands-on experience with the very stylish-looking 10inch model, called the A500, shows it has great potential.
The Iconia range includes the 7inch Android-based A100 ($499) and two Windows-based units – the 10inch W500 ($899) and the 14inch dual-screen Iconia Touch-book ($2499). All are intended to take advantage of portable social networking, email, instant messaging, photos, music, videos, chat and the web.
Bookseller Dymocks, has taken on the Iconia Tab A500 version as it's preferred eBook reader, selling the A500 with a Dymocks eBook app for Android to allow users to buy and read books from Dymocks 200,000-strong eBook range directly on the tablet.
Competition for iPad2?
Priced to compete with Apple’s iPad 2, the Iconia A500 is similar in its 16GB, Wi-Fi-only specs. It’s slightly bulkier and heavier than its Apple counterpart. Despite its dual-core 1GHz Tegra processor and 1GB of RAM, it’s also slower. In general use the Iconia A500 still feels a little sluggish compared to the zippy iPad 2. There is noticeable jerkiness in scrolling web pages. The iPad 2, with half the RAM, scrolls smoothly.
Look and feel
The 1280 x 800 pixel screen is both longer and narrower than the iPad. The 16:9 aspect ratio is fine for viewing widescreen 720p movies, but is a little narrow for portrait use when browsing. The capacitive touchscreen is very responsive but has a distinctly blue cast which is quite noticeable when put side-by-side with the iPad and leaves the A500’s colour looking a bit washed out.
Physically, the A500 feels very solid and the rounded edges and brushed aluminium rear make it pleasing to hold, but it still feels a little hefty. Even though it weighs only 700g (about 100g more than the iPad 2) you’ll probably still want a cushion behind it when laying down and reading in bed, which is true of most tablets. However, it’s still light enough to carry around constantly, which is an advantage that tablets have over most laptops.
The front panel of the A500 is minimalist, with no buttons at all – they’re all located at the sides. Holding it in landscape mode, the proprietary docking port is under the bottom edge; on the right side edge is a USB port and micro-USB, reset button and AC adapter port. On the left is the power button, headphone port and mini-HDMI port. The top-left edge holds the volume rocker and rotation lock switch, plus a panel hiding a microSD card slot that takes up to 32GB. The A500 comes with a microUSB-to-USB cable, but while the inclusion of a mini-HDMI port is welcome, for mirroring the screen to a HDTV, an adapter is not supplied.
The A500 includes Dolby Mobile support. The speakers produce reasonable volume but because they’re positioned on the back, facing away from you, laying the A500 down on a table or on your lap will, of course, muffle the sound.
Like the iPad, the battery isn’t user-replaceable. Battery is life is claimed to be up to 10 hours. Actual results will vary, of course, depending on the type of usage.
The front-facing camera, positioned in the top-left corner, is 2 megapixel (MP) and the rear is 5Mp and has an LED flash. We found using the Skype app over Wi-Fi was disappointing though. Voices sounded quite indistinct, making conversation difficult, and the recipient also had problems viewing our video. It’s difficult to tell if this is entirely the tablet’s fault or partly the Android version of the Skype app.
Early days for Android
Which brings us to another point, it’s early days yet for Android on tablets and especially for Honeycomb-specific apps. Honeycomb is the first tablet-specific version of Android and many improvements are slated for the next version, codenamed Ice-cream, later this year. As it is, Honeycomb needs work on being more intuitive. For example, it was difficult to find out how to close down apps running in the background. A Task Manager can be found under a Settings sub-menu but this mixes system services with user apps and can lead to accidentally closing a critical process.
The A500 is the best iPad alternative that we’ve seen yet, but has some very stiff competition looming in the wings. Look out for our upcoming test of more than a dozen tablets going head-to-head in the next issue of CHOICE Computer.