Acer Iconia Tab A500 review

Full review: Is this Honeycomb tablet an Apple iPad 2 rival?

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Solid Android 3.0 tablet,with innovative touches, but outclassed in a competitive market

Acer has taken a different approach from most manufacturers to tablets. Instead of putting all it’s money behind one operating system like LG, Samsung and Motorola, it has created two tablets lines within its Iconia range.

As a company with a successful laptop and notebook range, it’s no surprise to see it continue to use Windows with the ‘W’ series of Windows 7 Tablet like Iconia W500. However the Taiwanese company is also introducing an Android Honeycomb tablet in the form of the A500, which we’re looking at here. Can it knock our current Honeycomb tablet of choice, the Asus Eee Pad Transformer, off the top spot?

Acer Iconia Tab A500: Tablet controls

At first glance the A500 looks very similar to the Asus Eee Pad Transformer, both share a wide style, making it a tablet you need to hold with two hands. It feels solid, but lacks the design finesse of the Apple iPad 2.

There’s a smart metal frame and the back is metal, so if feels well built and adjacent to the volume control, there’s a rotation lock, something we haven’t seen on many Android tablets.

Another useful connectivity option is a USB 2.0 port, for expanding the hard drive or adding mouse. Other ports include HDMI (no cable is supplied), micro USB (for connecting to a laptop) and a connection along the bottom for docking.

The A500 is N WiFi enabled, however for some reason it couldn’t detect our home WiFi network, although we managed to use the office one. The A500 has 32GB storage, which can be expanded via the MicroSD slot concealed by a cover on the top.

Acer Iconia Tab A500: Android Honeycomb

For those not familiar with Honeycomb, it’s revelation to the Android you’ve used previously on mobile phones. You get multiple homescreens, which you can flick through, but it’s much more suited to the tablet interface, with commands a few clicks away, rather than buried deep in menus.

At the bottom right is a status bar with the time, email and download notifications, as well as quick access to WiFi, screen brightness and settings. On the bottom left are Back and Home controls, along with a Recent application tab, which lets you swap between open applications, displayed as thumbnail views, although it’s not true multitasking like the Blackberry Playbook. These thee controls replace the hard Android keys of old and change position when you swap orientation, which is a neat trick.

At the top left is a Google search and Voice Command. At the top right are shortcuts to Apps and the Customise screen, the latter enabling you to drag and drop applications and features onto an overview of all the screens, as well as change the wallpaper.

We do feel that Honeycomb lacks the simplicity of Apple iOS. For example an extra menu command occasionally appears within some apps (but not all of them) and there are a couple of ways of doing things, which can be confusing. But with 3D graphics it’s visually the most slick tablet, and once you get use to where everything is it’s a joy to use.

Acer Iconia Tab A500: Screen

Acer has opted for the same screen size as the Motorola Xoom and Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1, at 10.1-inches with a 1280x800 resolution. Playing back our HD test clips, we felt the screen was good rather than amazing. Blacks could be inkier and fine detail certainly isn't as sharp as rivals and when we paused a video clip we noticed significant banding, although this isn’t something you notice unless you’re particularly eagle eyed. Off-angle viewing is ok, but on the whole we preferred the Asus Eee Pad Transformer and superior IPS screen.

Stereo speakers are located on either side of the tablet at the back, unfortunately they just aren’t very loud, we played back a selection of audio tracks and all sounded weak, with little bass definition. It’s not terrible, but surprisingly isn’t as loud or powerful as the iPad 2‘s mono speaker.

Acer Iconia Tab A500: Performance

Tablets might not be as portable as smartphones, but the larger screen size, makes them a natural format for gaming. Acer has pre-installed a selection of games onto the A500. Hero Of Spartan HD looks fantastic, with bright bold graphics, although we found touch controls aren’t quite as quick as the Apple iPad 2, it’s never slow, but the screen doesn’t feel quite as responsive.

Powered by a dual core 1Ghz Nvidia Tegra 2 processor with 1GB RAM, you can access games especially designed for the chip, choice is limited at the moment, but you can get the excellent Samurai II: Vengeance.

In common with the other tablets we’ve seen containing the Tegra chip, the Iconia A500 never feels slow. Web pages load quickly and the tabbed browser facility makes it easy to swap between pages. HD content from You Tube content streams smoothly over our work network,

It comes installed with some multimedia software, including Nemo Player for video and Acer lets you stream photos, videos (mp4) and movies from other devices over WiFi.

Acer Iconia Tab A500: Features

Pre-installed on the device are some very useful applications. Social Jogger syncs your Twitter and Facebook accounts. Updates are displayed in a list you scroll up and down, it’s quite restrictive though, clicking on a comment lets you click through can you update to Twitter or reply, but you can’t click through to the persons profile.

Documents To Go can read Word, Excel, PowerPoint and PDF documents (to edit you'll need to upgrade to the full version) and LumiRead is the Iconia’s ebook portal, an evolution of the dedicated LumiRead tablet.

Acer Iconia Tab A500: Camera

The tablet is equipped with two cameras. There's a 2-megapixel front-facing one for video calls via Google Talk and a primary 5-megapixel camera for stills and videos. The camera is passable, but certainly not as good as the LG Optimus Pad. On occasion, when taking still photos the screen didn’t seem to attain a sharp focus, which was disconcerting, although when played back on a computer they were actually OK, if not as sharp as we'd have liked. Results in bright light shots are pretty good, although it struggles a bit with high-contrast situations.

We are impressed by the selection of tweakable features though, including: Colours, Scene Modes, White Balance, Exposure and 12 scene modes where the tablet selects the optimum settings depending on the situation.

1280x720p video at 30fps is fairly blocky indoors, but passable outdoors. As we’ve said previously, we’re not really sure who would want to shoot video using a tablet, due to its unusual form factor. However, with a good video editing app to rival iMovie, things could change.

Acer Iconia Tab A500: Verdict

The main criticism of Honeycomb we had about all the Android tablets we’ve seen recently are the limited selection of apps - just over 460 Honeycomb apps - with some popular ones that haven’t been optimised such as Facebook and Twitter.
Otherwise it’s quick, responsive and by adding a USB port and extra features like, Acer has added some unique features. However at the moment, with a SRP of around £499, it’s hard to recommend this above the Asus Eee Pad Transformer and its superior screen.

Acer Iconia Tab A500 launch date: Out now, link Acer

Acer Iconia Tab price: £449-£499 online

Acer Iconia A500 specs:

  • OS: Android 3.0 Honeycomb
  • Screen: 10.1-inch, 1280x800 multi-touch
  • Processor: 1Ghz dual-core Nvidia Tegra 2
  • RAM: 1GB
  • Storage: 16GB 32GB, microSD
  • Camera: 5-mp, 2-mp
  • Video: 720p front 30fps
  • Battery: 10 hours web use
  • Connections: Bluetooth 2.1, N WiFi, 3.5mm jack, A-GPS, USB 2.0, microUSB
  • Dimensions/Weight: 260x177x13.3mm/765g