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.
The A501 is available at 16GB and 32GB capacities, with a useful full-size USB host port. And though it's a small thing, we're glad to see that Acer included a dedicated screen-rotation lock instead of burying the feature in the system menu tray.
The A501 comes with Android 3.0.1 installed; disappointing, since Honeycomb users are currently enjoying version 3.2. Check out the original Acer Iconia Tab A500 review for more information about Android 3.0.
Acer preloaded a number of applications on the A501, including Clear.fi, Acer's media aggregator; Acer Sync, which allows you to sync contacts, calendar, and media across Acer devices; and a trial version of Docs to Go, as well as various games.
The most useful addition, however, especially if you're planning to take advantage of AT&T's per-session deal, is the AT&T Communication Manager app that tracks your current data usage and your international roaming data usage, and informs you of your next billing cycle date. The app sits on the home screen by default and updates in real time.
In terms of general system performance, the Acer Iconia Tab A501 performs as ably as any of the original Android 3.0 tablets did when they debuted. Since then, Google has made noticeable upgrades to the operating system's performance, resulting in smoother Web page scrolling and zooming, which the A501 currently doesn't take advantage of. Still, apps launch quickly and the Honeycomb interface felt responsive.
Unfortunately, high-bit-rate, 720p, MP4 videos wouldn't load on the A501. The HTC Flyer, which runs Android 2.3.3, had the same problem, but this wasn't a problem with any tablet running Android 3.1 or higher. We didn't have any additional Android 3.0 tablets lying around with which to check if this was an OS issue.
In terms of photo and video quality, the A501 matches most Honeycomb tablets in contrast, clarity, and video frame rate. We did find that pictures taken on the Galaxy Tab 10.1 4G had a higher level of color saturation and a higher perceived contrast ratio than the A501's pictures. Additionally, the A501's camera can't hold a candle to the Sony Tablet S' capable camera in terms of picture quality.
The camera lens on the back of the Iconia Tab is 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.
The A501 uses AT&T's HSPA+ 4G network and while Web site loading speeds on the network were only 1 to 2 seconds slower than with Wi-Fi, app download speed was a different, more disappointing story.
We downloaded Angry Birds Rio, a 17MB file, using both our Wi-Fi network and AT&T's HSPA+ 4G network. Depending on where in San Francisco we were, Wi-Fi download speeds of the game were up to 85 percent faster compared with HSPA+.
Anecdotal battery life feels typical for most Honeycomb tablets, lasting several hours under maximum brightness with frequent use and 4G turned on. Here are our official CNET Labs-tested battery life results. More tablet testing results can be found here.
|Tablet||Video battery life (in hours)||Video battery life (Wi-Fi on, 4G off)||Video battery life (Wi-Fi off, 4G on)|
|Acer Iconia Tab A501||6.4||6.4||6.3|
The Acer Iconia Tab A501 4G is the cheapest 4G Honeycomb tablet currently on the market, but its adherence to Android 3.0, relatively low-quality screen, and hefty design ultimately make it the least appealing of the 4G tablets. Still, it is cheapest, so if that's your deciding factor and you absolutely need a 4G tablet right now, it's not a bad deal. If you can wait, we'd recommend giving it some time to see how the 4G tablet landscape develops over the next few months.