Acer Iconia Tab A501 review: Acer Iconia Tab A501

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MSRP: $499.00
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3 stars

CNET Editors' Rating

4 stars 1 user review

The Good The Acer Iconia Tab A501 4G (AT&T) is the cheapest 4G Honeycomb tablet currently on the market. Also, it includes a full USB port and Micro-HDMI.

The Bad The tablet ships with Android 3.0.1, limiting its video compatibility, features, and performance. The A501's screen has a narrow viewing angle, and it fails to earn its hefty weight.

The Bottom Line The Acer Iconia Tab A501 4G (AT&T) is the A500 with HSPA+ connectivity at a very competitive price compared with other 4G tablets; however, its adherence to Android 3.0 limits its appeal.

6.3 Overall
  • Design 6.0
  • Features 7.0
  • Performance 6.0

Editors' note: You may experience a feeling of déjà vu reading the following review of the Acer Iconia Tab A501 4G. The basic design is virtually identical to the A500 released earlier this year, so we've taken much of the text of that review and reused it here where appropriate.

The Acer Iconia Tab A501 is the Acer Iconia Tab A500 with 4G and a no-commitment price of $480 (16GB) and $550 (32GB); about $100 or so more than the A500.

For the price of a two-year contract, AT&T offers the tablet for $350, the lowest initial cost of any 4G Honeycomb tablet yet. If two-year contracts for tablets scare you (and they should), AT&T also offers session plans at $15 per 250MB and $25 per 2GB, if you absolutely need that "anywhere" access. But, with its hefty build and Acer's strange decision to ship it with Android 3.0.1, instead of a later version of the OS, is the A501 already too far behind to even enter the race?

Design
The Acer Iconia Tab A501 is nearly twice as thick as the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 4G, making it less comfortable to hold and less sexy in general. Also, Acer's tablet is the heaviest Honeycomb tablet we've reviewed, weighing in at a beefy 1.7 pounds. Something to consider if portability is a priority for you.

Acer Iconia Tab A501 4G AT&T Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 4G Verizon T-Mobile G-Slate
Weight in pounds 1.7 1.24 1.38
Width in inches (landscape) 10.2 10.1 9.6
Height in inches 6.9 6.8 5.8
Depth in inches 0.49 0.3 0.5
Side bezel width in inches (landscape) 0.77 0.76 0.8

As with any decent tablet, the centerpiece of the Iconia Tab A501's design is the screen. Measuring 10.1 inches and boasting an LED-backlit 1,280x800-pixel resolution, the tablet's screen does the Android experience justice for the most part; however, since the A501 uses a Twisted Nematic (TN) panel, its viewing angles, especially from the bottom, are narrower than those of other tablets like the Galaxy Tab 10.1 4G, which uses Samsung's proprietary PLS technology to excellent effect. As a result, the contrast on the A501 dips, as does the overall screen quality, if viewed from an off angle.

Tested spec Acer Iconia Tab A501 4G (AT&T) Sony Tablet S Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 4G (Verizon) T-Mobile G-Slate
Maximum brightness 322 cd/m2 393 cd/m2 336 cd/m2 424 cd/m2
Default brightness 62.7 cd/m2 160 cd/m2 336 cd/m2 143 cd/m2
Maximum black level 0.20 cd/m2 0.47 cd/m2 0.30 cd/m2 0.52 cd/m2
Default black level 0.04 cd/m2 0.19 cd/m2 0.30 cd/m2 0.18 cd/m2
Default contrast ratio 1,568:1 842:1 1,120:1 794:1
Contrast ratio (max brightness) 1,610:1 836:1 1,120:1 815:1

Flip it over, and you'll find a 5-megapixel camera on the back with an integrated LED flash. The back is covered with gunmetal-finished aluminum, with the exception of two strips of plastic that meet your hands at the edges. Near the bottom you'll see a pair of stereo speaker grilles cut out from the aluminum. We worried that our hands would naturally cover up the speaker--and they did--but not to the point that it adversely affected sound quality. Speaking of which, we would have preferred more volume and deeper bass from the speakers.


The Acer Iconia Tab A501's 5-megapixel back camera

Another camera is located on the front, near the upper left corner of the screen. Meant to be used for video chatting or impromptu self-portraits, this camera uses a lower 2-megapixel sensor, but can still be used to record standard-definition video.


The Acer Iconia Tab A501's 2-megapixel front camera

On the sides of the Iconia Tab you'll find a number of logically placed ports and buttons. A volume rocker and orientation lock switch are available on the top edge; however, the volume rocker is embedded a bit too deeply in the tablet, making it sometimes difficult to properly click it. On the left you'll find the power button, headphone jack, and Micro-HDMI. The right side supports the included power adapter, and offers Micro-USB sync, and a full-size USB host port for connecting keyboards or thumbdrives. A dock connection on the bottom sticks out like a wart on an otherwise attractive design. Unless you feel like shelling out an extra $60 or so for a charging cradle that doesn't even offer an HDMI connection, the dock port is a waste of space.

Overall, tablet design has moved on from the chunky mold of the Xoom and Iconia A500 of just a few months ago. With devices as well-designed as the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 and Sony Tablet S in the wild, a heavy and slightly oversize tablet has a hard time competing on the design front. The Toshiba Thrive justifies its size by including several full-size ports and a swappable battery. Still, the amount of functionality Acer included is welcome.

Hardware features
As we mentioned at the start of this review, aside from the inclusion of 4G, the Acer Iconia Tab A501 is nearly a spec-for-spec clone of the A500 as well as nearly every other Honeycomb tablet. Inside, both devices take advantage of a dual-core Nvidia Tegra 2 processor and 1GB of RAM, and each boasts 802.11 n Wi-Fi, an integrated Micro-HDMI output, support for Bluetooth 2.1, an accelerometer, a gyroscope, GPS, a digital compass, memory expansion via microSD, and a SIM card slot, although no SIM card is actually included with the A500.

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