As we noted in our original assessment of Android 3.0 on the Motorola Xoom, the tablet-optimized Android Honeycomb OS represents Google's commitment to tablets. With the exception of legacy support for existing Android apps, Honeycomb is a dramatic departure from the Android of smartphones.
Even experienced Android users will need some time to get accustomed to Honeycomb's navigation. Gone is the familiar four-button navigation across the bottom of the screen. Contextual menus and options are accessed through the top of the screen; notifications pop out from the lower right; and the trusty old back arrow will occasionally morph into a down arrow when the keyboard is engaged, allowing you to conceal or reveal the keyboard.
Compared against the Apple iPad's iOS, one of the key differences between the two systems is the amount of information conveyed on the home screen. Through the use of Android widgets, you can glance your inbox, Twitter stream, Facebook news, and YouTube channels, all in one view. The whole metaphor feels more like a deck of cards on a playing table than the grid of apps we're accustomed to in iOS or an Android phone app drawer. It's not quite the clumsy mess of a conventional desktop, but not as rigid and size-constrained as a mobile OS. It's a thoughtful compromise.
That said, Honeycomb's added complexity and sophistication is a double-edged sword. To Google's credit, Android 3.0 in many ways pushes tablets in an exciting new direction by blurring the line between a mobile OS and a conventional desktop. But as much as iOS gets push back from users who find it insultingly simple, Android Honeycomb is at times needlessly secretive. A task as simple as opening the lock screen plays out like an IQ puzzle. Home screen customization is broken down into separate categories for widgets, app shortcuts, and app-specific shortcuts, such as browser bookmarks and Gmail labels. There will be people who are going to rejoice in the flexibility and options on offer by Honeycomb, but there are bound to be just as many who are turned off by the complexity. We're just thankful that people now have more options when it comes to tablets.
In terms of general system performance, the Acer Iconia Tab performs just as ably as any of our top-rated Android tablets, including the and Motorola Xoom. Apps launch with identical speed and Web sites load with neck and neck results.
In terms of photo and video quality, again, we just do not see a difference between the Xoom's camera sensors and the Iconia Tab's. We will say, though, that the camera lens on the back of the Iconia Tab is more prone to finger smudges due to its placement. If you're shooting from the hip, taking that extra second to habitually clean the lens could make or break a great photo.
Our one notable performance disappointment is that some of our larger HD resolution videos played with no problem on the Motorola Xoom, ASUS Eee Pad Transformer, and LG G-Slate, but failed to load on the Iconia Tab. With so many of the Iconia Tab's specs identical to the Xoom's, our theory about the HD video discrepancy is the difference in integrated storage and how the two devices grapple with file size. Specifically, we found that MPEG-4 (h.264) videos less than 100MB played with no problem, whereas files stretching over 10GB (easily into the gigabytes when you're dealing with movie-length content) failed to load. It's disappointing, especially given the Iconia Tab's HD-worthy screen and HDMI output capability. Hopefully, Acer will be able to patch the problem with an update.
In terms of battery life, Acer rates the Iconia Tab at 8 hours of HD video playback or 10 hours of Internet browsing. Here are our official CNET Labs tested results. More tablet testing results can be found.
|Video battery life (in hours)||Maximum brightness (in cd/m2)||Default brightness (in cd/m2)||Contrast ratio|
|Acer Iconia A500||7.8||337||67||1,340:1|
The Acer Iconia Tab A500 is the first of many Android Honeycomb tablets to break the sub-$500 price floor. It is arguably the tablet Android has needed from the beginning--affordable, powerful, fluid, and free from contracts. To really compete with Apple's iPad 2, however, tablets like these will need to need to get thinner and lighter to match consumer's shifting expectations.