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Is the Acer A200's utter dullness justified by its $330 price? (First Take)

The Acer Iconia Tab A200 is a tablet. It does some things. None of them particularly exciting.

Before you access your already easily accessible apps, you see the ring. Josh Miller/CNET
Editors' note: The Acer Iconia Tab A200 ships with Honeycomb, but, according to Acer, will receive an over-the-air update to Ice Cream Sandwich within the next few days. We'll post a full review of the tablet after Ice Cream Sandwich hits, but in the meantime, check out this exhaustive first take.

There's really nothing special about the Acer Iconia Tab A200. Sure, it's ICS-upgradable, but both the Motorola Xoom and Asus Transformer Prime have already beat it to the punch.

Also, while it features the bare minimum capabilities of all other post-Honeycomb Android tablets, it actually loses two features many Android tablet owners take for granted: a rear camera and an HDMI port.

Still, it can be yours for only $330 (for 8GB; $350 for 16GB), making it the cheapest non-contract buy-in to Honeycomb/ICS yet.

Whether that distinction actually makes it special enough to buy is up to you and your needs.

Now playing: Watch this: Acer Iconia Tab A200
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Design
The Iconia Tab A200 marks Acer's third major tablet design after the A500/A501 and A100 releases. Compared with the A500/A501, the A200 is both slightly thinner and lighter than its predecessors, with a sleeker, less boxy look.

Acer Iconia Tab A200 Acer Iconia Tab A501 Asus Transformer Prime Samsung Galaxy 10.1
Weight in pounds 1.56 1.7 1.32 1.24
Width in inches (landscape) 10.2 10.2 10.3 10.1
Height in inches 6.9 6.9 7.1 6.9
Depth in inches 0.48 0.49 0.32 0.34
Side bezel width in inches (landscape) 0.69 0.77 0.8 0.8

The tablet has a 10.1-inch capacitive touch screen, with a 2-megapixel camera on the front. Unfortunately, there's no back camera, a fact sure to disappoint those accustomed to dual camera tablets. And by "those," I mean pretty much everyone.

The A200 sports what's probably the most adhesive backside I've seen or rather felt on a tablet, doing an effective job of keeping the tablet firmly in my hands. Two differently colored models of the tablet are available; a gray-backed version and one with a strawberry red back.

Dat grippy back! Josh Miller/CNET

Tablets with corners that don't dig into your hands as you hold them always earn points on the comfort scale. The A200 with its smooth, rounded corners is comfortable to hold over extended periods and likely won't earn you blisters after use.

For connections, the A200 has Micro-USB and full USB, and has a small door concealing a microSD card (up to 32GB) slot. There's also a headphone jack, a volume rocker, a rotation lock switch, the power/lock button, and a small pinhole-style AC adapter input hole. Unlike the A500, there's no Micro-HDMI port, unfortunately.

I like expandable memory as much as the next guy, but does it really deserve its own special little door? Pfft! Josh Miller/CNET

Software features
Acer is known for including its own unique software touches in its tablets, and this one is no exception. From the lock screen, Acer adds the option of swiping to one of four customizable app shortcuts--useful for getting to those much-used apps quickly.

The A200 also sees the debut of Acer Ring, an app shortcut and carousel-like bookmark hub that appears after you tap the green ring symbol at the bottom of the screen. Each bookmark or app is completely customizable, allowing you to include up to four apps and as many bookmarks as you like.

While this would seem useful, accessing apps the normal way is already so quick and easy that adding an extra step puts you that much further from your goal. To be fair, we're talking about mere seconds here, but it does add up.

The tablet comes preinstalled with Honeycomb 3.2.1 and is upgradable to Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS). We'll have the full ICS-based, rated review soon, but in the meantime, check out our review of ICS on the Transformer Prime in this video feature for more information. Lastly, Clear.fi and Media Server work in tandem to aggregate media on your network and stream media from and to the A200.

Hardware features
The A200 houses the usual Android tablet suspects, including Nvidia's dual-core Tegra 2 CPU and 1GB of RAM, and comes in 16GB and 8GB varieties. Also, it has 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi support, Bluetooth 2.1+EDR, a gyroscope, and GPS.

The speakers, located on the back in the bottom corners of the right and left sides, deliver high-volume sound that remains so even with the tablet placed on a flat surface. Still, don't expect to use the A200 as a dedicated music player. At high volume the sound is quite shrill at times and doesn't deliver that deep bass you'd want in such a device.

Performance
The A200's 10.1-inch capacitive touch screen sports a fairly high luminance with low black levels, but doesn't feature that high-contrast, glossy look of the Transformer Prime's display. As a result, colors just don't pop as well as they do on the Prime and look somewhat bland in comparison.

Tested spec Acer Iconia Tab A200 Acer Iconia Tab A501 Asus Transformer Prime Samsung Galaxy 10.1
Maximum brightness IPS mode (Super IPS) 318 cd/m2 322 cd/m2 358 cd/m2 (570 cd/m2) 336 cd/m2
Default brightness 120 cd/m2 62.7 cd/m2 183 cd/m2 336 cd/m2
Maximum black level, IPS mode (Super IPS) 0.18 cd/m2 0.2 cd/m2 0.27 cd/m2 (0.45 cd/m2) 0.3 cd/m2
Default black level 0.08 cd/m2 0.04 cd/m2 0.15 cd/m2 0.30 cd/m2
Default contrast ratio 1,500:1 1,568:1 1,220:1 1,120:1
Maximum contrast ratio, IPS mode (Super IPS) 1,766:1 1,610:1 1,325:1 1,120:1
The A200's screen gets the job done, but I prefer glossy screens on my tablets, thank you very much. Josh Miller/CNET

Web speeds matched most other Android tablets when within 5 feet of our test router. However, when running in Honeycomb, performance dropped dramatically the farther away we got from the router, more so than other tablets like the Motorola Xyboard, which retains much of its speed even at long distances.

Indoor GPS performance was sound, capturing up to 8 satellites in our tests and increasing in performance the closer we got to a window. When outside, the A200 found up to 11 satellites and saw better satellite connections.

I'm including this seemingly random shot of the volume rocker in the Performance section for two reasons. One, it's a well-composed shot that shows off the rocker in great detail. And two, it really makes makes what's a pretty boring First Take blog feel more exciting and interesting, doesn't it? Cheap? Yes, but also effective. Josh Miller/CNET

While the Acer Ring is integrated seamlessly into the OS, its performance lacks the immediacy necessary to make it something worth using most of the time. The carousel sometimes takes up to 2 seconds to appear after you tap the ring. This interval may sound small, but the value of this shortcut is diminished when I can launch an app through conventional means in about the same time as it takes using a shortcut.

Thanks to its hardware scalability, I used Riptide GP as a games performance benchmark. Depending on the speed of the CPU, Riptide GP will deliver a noticeable increase or decrease in frame rate. The A200 offered performance typical of a Tegra 2-based tablet by delivering a consistent, playable frame rate that unfortunately can't match the Prime's silky-smooth 60-frames-per-second Tegra 3-induced fluidity.

As I mentioned previously, the A200 includes a single, front-facing 2-megapixel camera. Images and video recorded with the camera looked washed-out and lacked detail. The A200 likely won't be your first camera choice when a picture opportunity presents itself.

Playback of 1080p and 720p video from external sources ran smoothly and looked sharp on the A200's 1,280x800-pixel-resolution screen. However, color depth and contrast just aren't as accurate as on the Transformer Prime, and video on the A200 looks drab and washed-out in comparison.

Under normal use, battery life drained at fairly moderate clip, matching the Prime's battery drain rate. Stay tuned for official battery life results soon.

Look for the full, rated review (with my final recommendation) of the Acer Iconia Tab A500 next week.