Sam Holloway Avatar Posted on 9/12/2011 by Sam Holloway
Tech
Computers

Those looking for a high-quality and (relatively) inexpensive Android Honeycomb tablet can do a lot worse - and not much better - than Acerís fine Iconia Tab. Attractive, comfortable to hold, and fitted with the technological guts to get the job done - provided the right software is available. Movies look and sound great, and having the ability to plug in USB devices directly was phenomenally useful, especially if you're wanting to use stock keyboards, mice, and even storage devices. Like many of its competitors most of its problems seem more related to the Android Honeycomb operating system and not the hardware, which is in some way encouraging as software can improve and I have no doubt that's exactly what Google will do. As it stands, the Iconia Tab is one of the best Honeycomb tablets, despite its Honeycomb issues.
Manufacturer: Acer
Model Number: A500-10S16u
Price: $399
Written by Sam Holloway (editor-at-large)

If the world is ever going to accept the reality that a non-Apple tablet can be just as useful and (gasp) productive as the dominant iPad, two things are going to have to happen. First, and most critically, the pricing schemes are going to have to come down, and significantly. Second, there needs to be capable software to go along with capable hardware, and that means a quality operating system AND good selection of games/applications/whatever to keep users satisfied.

Low-cost, yet quality hardware is an area where a traditional PC manufacturer like Acer excels, and has helped make them one of the kings of budget-priced computers in a Windows world. With higher-profile companies like Samsung, Motorola, Asus, and even Sony all betting big on the Honeycomb tablet market, can Acer's (relatively) inexpensive new Iconia Tab compete with the bad boys of tablet computing?

The Iconia Tab is certainly attractive, thanks to its beautiful brushed aluminum back and tapered edges to that run smooth on all sides, making it extremely comfortable to hold. Unfortunately, it does feel a bit cheaper than its higher-priced counterparts due to its plastic sidings, but unless you plan on using one to hammer some nails or dice vegetables I wouldnít worry to much about it (though Iíd still invest in a padded carrying case to be safe). At 1.69 pounds its definitely got more heft than most tablets, but still lighter than most laptops. On top are volume rocker button and orientation-lock buttons, both which feel a little flimsy and cheap (the volume was especially sticky). Interestingly, the volume rocker was actually a contextual one; meaning it changed function depending on how you hold the tablet. Neat.

The rest of the tabletís siding came with standard power, headphone, mini-USB jacks, but I was especially happy to see that some of the Iconia Tabís most welcome features, and Honeycomb tablets in general, were the extra memory/connectivity expansion ports in the form of a micro-SD card and USB slots. Iím no fan of micro-SD (full-size, please) but being able to plug devices like pen drives, keyboards, mice, etc, without the need of extra cables was pretty awesome. Thereís also a mini-HDMI slot, but Acer didnít include a mini-HDMI cable in the box to let people take advantage of such a feature right away. Given the tabletís bulk (and wealth of ports) Iím surprised why they didnít just opt for a full-sized HDMI slot.

Under the hood youíll find a collection of familiar technology, especially if you follow the tablet scene with any regularity. Powering the Iconia Tab is a relatively powerful 1GHz Nvidia Tegra 250 dual-core processor and has 1GB of RAM, which helps keep both apps and Honeycomb hum along, while a built-in accelerometer, GPS, compass, gyroscope, as well as both Bluetooth 2.1 and WiFi support mean youíll have plenty of options for connecting. Again, nothing spectacular, but at least youíll be getting the same industry-standard tech that pretty much guarantees that the latest apps and games will run without (much) of a hitch.

Perhaps the most important feature of the Iconia Tab, its 10.1Ē touchscreen display, passes with flying colors. While its still a smudge magnet and donít bother trying to use the tablet in bright sunlight, practically everything displayed on its 1280x800 pixel display looked gorgeous, with colors and fine blacks that popped with expression. Text was razor-sharp and defined, a must for heavy readers like myself, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that viewing angles were better than I had expected. If youíre using the iPad 2ís screen as your basis for comparison youíve got little to worry about with Aceraís impressive display.

Unfortunately, the 16:10 aspect ratio issues from other tablets, especially the awkward rendering of some apps and even the stock Honeycomb display, crops up here. Holding the tablet is any other orientation than landscape isnít recommended, as things looked scrunched and uncomfortable when trying to run in such non-cinematic conditions. I could nitpick about the occasional wayward pixel and some issues with occasional blurriness with some apps, but I think both could be chalked up to my using non-native apps with Honeycomb and not the hardware itself.

The dual speakers do a decent job in reproducing quality sound by themselves, but youíll definitely want to enable to (included) Dolby enhancements to really get the most from them. Itís been said that most phone/tablet speakers are more superficial than functional, but I was more than happy to hear - literally - the better-than-average quality that Acer included here. Even when the tablet was lying flat or cradling it on my chest while to watch a movie the quality was more than acceptable.

Thereís also two cameras available for all your video-chatting and picture-taking pleasure, though neither is likely to replace equipment you may already own. The front-facing one is a puny 2MP, and it shows, with darker exposures and muted colors, but considering its primarily for chatting it probably wonít matter that much. The back-camera, a considerably better 5MP, still isnít going to help win you any photo contests but is definitely worlds better than most tablet cameras (cough, iPad 2). Still photos can look sharp and detailed, if you play with the settings, although the built-in flash tends to make everything look over-exposed and creepy. You can even record 720p video, but, alas, your masterpieces will still look smudged and colorless, and Iím curious why they would even promise a standard that doesnít look remotely close to it.

Setting up the Iconia Tab was a breeze, though I wasnít fond of having to wait a four hours for its initial charge to kick in. As this is primarily a review for the hardware I wonít get into my gripes with the Honeycomb operating system much, but for those thinking that snagging a cheaper Android tablet is an easy substitute for the iPad, thereís a few things you should keep in mind.

First, you may want to peruse the available apps to make sure that the software you want to use is actually available. As more and more developers start producing quality games, applications, and other useful solutions for Android users this is becoming less an issue all the time, but that doesnít mean finding what you want is a sure thing. Many of the most popular iOS games and productivity suites, like Angry Birds, QuickOffice, etc, are readily available and (depending on the app) free to download and enjoy, and those that arenít yet will probably be soon. Default apps like an internet browser (crappy, and strangely not Google's own Chrome), email, picture viewers, and what seems like a never-ending stream of media-ready players should keep you plenty busy if simple browsing and navigation is all you're looking to do. Oh, in case you're wondering, Adobe Flash is available after a quick download.

But youíll most likely have to wait a bit, as Android devices rarely get first-rate apps before their iOS counterparts do, though most eventually make the journey. Patience is a virtue when it comes to Android, for now, which is something youíll probably need in spades to overcome everything else.

The Marketplace, while still the best go-to place for the latest and greatest apps, is in desperate need of an overhaul, and fast. Native Honeycomb Apps are practically non-existent, and while clones and crapware are one thing, but I wasnít ready for the deluge of imitation apps, bootlegged art (Super Mario? Really?), softcore Chinese porn, and even console gaming emulators right out in the open. Android has quickly become the most malware-infected mobile OS on the market, so Iím not at all surprised to see so many anti-virus solutions available to keep your tablet protected. But whether you should trust any of them is another matter, and openness like this Iím wondering if thereís ANY quality assurance over there at Google to keep potentially harmful software out.

Those looking for a high-quality and (relatively) inexpensive Android Honeycomb tablet can do a lot worse - and not much better - than Acerís fine Iconia Tab. Attractive, comfortable to hold, and fitted with the technological guts to get the job done - provided the right software is available. Movies look and sound great, and having the ability to plug in USB devices directly was phenomenally useful, especially if you're wanting to use stock keyboards, mice, and even storage devices. Like many of its competitors most of its problems seem more related to the Android Honeycomb operating system and not the hardware, which is in some way encouraging as software can improve and I have no doubt that's exactly what Google will do. As it stands, the Iconia Tab is one of the best Honeycomb tablets, despite its Honeycomb issues.







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