Acer was the first of its computer counterparts on the scene with an Android Honeycomb tablet, and it's first again to follow up, with a 7-inch alternative. The A100 is smaller and lighter than the, but is it small enough and light enough to make for a true alternative to a 10-inch tab?
Acer's 7-inch Iconia A100 stays true to the design profile we saw earlier in the year when we reviewed the 10-inch A500 Android tablet from Acer; the squareness of this slate is broken up by subtly tapered corners and rounded edges on its longer sides. Acer includes an external home button on the face of the A100, despite the Honeycomb OS being designed to be buttonless, but we quite like this.
On the shorter, flat edges of the A100, you'll find a large array of inputs. There's the standard micro-USB port for data transfers and headphone socket, but you'll also find a proprietary charging port, a large dock connection and a micro-HDMI port for connecting the tablet to an external display. There's also a plastic flap with space for a microSD card beneath, plus space in the design for a telco SIM card, even though ours is a Wi-Fi-only model.
At 470 grams, the A100 is heftier than most other tablets in this size, with Samsung's 7-inch efforts sitting around the mark of 380 grams. This is a considerable difference when the major trade off for the smaller screen size is supposed to be improved portability.
We are also disappointed with the quality of the LCD display used in the A100. While its 600x1024-pixel resolution is sufficient for this screen size, the off-axis viewing for this display is appalling, especially the vertical axis when holding the tablet in a landscape orientation. We suspect that Acer has designed the A100 to be held in portrait mode, like a large paperback, but this isn't the way we preferred to hold it, and our experience suffered as we lost clear visibility of the screen whenever we held the tablet at the wrong angle.
As with the A500, Acer improves on the stock Android Honeycomb user experience in only a few noticeable ways. There are a number of application hubs added to the default Android apps list, for example. These include Reading, Games, Social and Multimedia, and they give users a place to manually compile lists of apps based on function. While it would be great if these apps were smart enough to auto populate when you download new apps via the Market, it is a handy addition nonetheless. Acer also includes a third-party media player, called Nemo Player, although it is difficult to ascertain what this app offers over simply using the default music and video apps in Honeycomb.
Acer packs a 5-megapixel camera with an LED flash into the A100. This camera offers auto focus, and the overall size of the A100 means that you don't feel completely ridiculous holding it up to take a photo (only partially ridiculous). Sadly, the photos it takes do not match the specifications, with this shoddy image sensor washing the colour out of our test photos, and reminding us of how bad camera phone photos used to be.
The A100 is powered with the same Nvidia Tegra 2 dual-core chipset behind most of this year's Honeycomb tablets, and it doesn't let it down. The A100 offers a smooth user experience, with some truly impressive web-browsing performance (when connected to a decent network) and a great 3D gaming experience.
In fact, any performance-related issues that we've come across seem to be faults of the software, and not of the machine itself. The Market can be sluggish, for example, with requests timing out and downloads requiring a reminder before they begin to receive data. These are mild frustrations, but they do tarnish the impression of a seamless user experience.
While we're glad to see a 7-inch alternative in the Android Honeycomb landscape, we can only wish that the A100 was better. Although it gave us solid performance and sports a decent range of connectivity, the screen is a shocker, and its size and weight are more substantial than we'd like. These are hefty trade offs for an Android tablet that really doesn't offer anything extra on top of the stock Android experience.