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Acer Iconia Tab 8 review: Stylish and simple, but skippable

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The Good The Acer Iconia Tab 8 has a slim build and stylish aluminum back. It has a microSD card slot and a micro-HDMI port. Performance is smooth when switching between apps.

The Bad Large games and apps are sluggish to load. You can't uninstall most of the pre-loaded software.

The Bottom Line The Acer Iconia Tab 8 has the design edge for budget slates, but you can find a faster performing tablet in the same price range.

5.7 Overall
  • Design 6
  • Features 5
  • Performance 6

Budget tablets are known for their modest features and bargain prices, not their au courant designs. The Acer Iconia Tab 8 bucks the trend as a snazzy and slim slate with a starting retail price of $199. Availability outside of North America hasn't been announced, but international prices come out to £127 or about AU$227 converted.

Remarkably, the fashionable 8-inch tablet houses a Micro-HDMI port -- a rare find on a tablet today -- and a sharp 1,920x1,200-pixel-resolution display -- higher than most budget buys. It also has an expandable storage option for loading your media onto it, making it a less cloud-centric option. Unfortunately, its HD connection and a la mode design don't overshadow its moderate performance.

To be fair, mediocre performance plagues most bargain tablets, and the Iconia Tab 8's limitations should be expected. Though it's competitively priced, it's not cheap enough for you to pass on considering other better performing models. If you don't mind spending a little extra, you can find a tablet with a sharper screen, faster performance, and better gaming capabilities. The Dell Venue 8 is a comparable tablet in both price and performance, while the Nexus 7 is a nice upgrade in specs that can currently be found online in the same price range.

Design

The Iconia Tab 8 continues Acer's tradition of chic cheap tablets. The 8-incher dons an aluminum back panel that curves to the white bezels on the front of the tablet. The smooth texture feels nice against my fingertips and its rounded corners are comfortable when sitting in my palms.

Dimensions compared

Acer Iconia Tab 8 Dell Venue 8 Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 8.0 Asus MeMo Pad 8
Weight 0.79 pound (360g) 0.74 pound (336g) 0.70 pound (317g) 0.72 pound (326g)
Width (landscape) 8.5 inches (216mm) 8.5 inches (216mm) 8.3 inches (211mm) 8.3 inches (211mm)
Height 5.5 inches (140mm) 5.1 inches (130mm) 4.5 inches (114mm) 4.9 inches (124mm)
Depth 0.33 inch (8.5mm) 0.35 inch (8.9mm) 0.31 inch (7.9mm) 0.33 inch (8.5mm)
Side bezel width (landscape) 0.8 inch (20mm) 0.8 inch (20mm) 0.5 inch (13mm) 0.7 inch (18mm)

The rounded edges are also comfortable when grasping it in one hand -- an easy task for small and large hands. Though it's slightly heavier than comparable tablets, it's not tiring to hold for long periods of time. Its design is sleek, but its construction lacks the solid feel premium tablets have.

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The fully loaded top edge includes a Micro-HDMI port. James Martin/CNET

Standing at its native portrait orientation, the top edge is home to the headphone jack, micro-USB port, and Micro-HDMI port. The HD connection is a rare sight on a tablet, and one of the few features that help the Iconia Tab 8 stand out in the crowd. On the left edge you'll find a flap-less microSD card slot, expandable up to 32GB, and located on the right is the power and volume buttons.

Features

The Acer Iconia Tab 8 runs a mostly pure version of Android 4.2.2 and comes preloaded with some software. Acer adds its own apps, including its cloud service, as well as the WildTangent Games app store and Zinio.

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The Iconia Tab 8 runs a mostly pure version of Android 4.2.2. James Martin/CNET

Though a novice might appreciate the long list of preloaded apps, those who prefer more internal storage over bloatware will be disappointed. You can't uninstall these apps and have to settle for disabling them. An upgrade to Lollipop 5.0 has yet to be announced.

The closest thing to a high-end feature on the Iconia Tab 8 is the Touch WakeApp function. The feature allows you to awaken and unlock the tablet by either placing five fingers or two thumbs on the screen. It usually worked well, but if updates were downloading, the response usually lagged.

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The microSD card slot doesn't have a flap to protect it from dust. James Martin/CNET

Performance

For a budget tablet, the Iconia Tab 8's 1,920x1,200-pixel-resolution display is a bonus treat. Most make due with a 1,280x800-pixel resolution, so the 8-inch Acer's higher resolution helps it stand out in the crowd.

HD content looks sharp and colors look true to to life. The Dell Venue 8 slightly edges out the Iconia Tab 8 in color range, but the difference isn't noticeable unless doing a careful side-by-side comparison. The screen isn't incredibly bright and it lacks an ambient light sensor for automatic adjustments, but indoor viewing was never a problem. It's not an outstanding display, but it's pretty good for its low-end rank.

Screen specs compared

Tested spec Acer Iconia Tab 8 Dell Venue 8 Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 8.0 Asus MeMo Pad 8
Maximum brightness 326 cd/m2 368 cd/m2 337 cd/m2 389 cd/m2
Maximum black level .24 cd/m2 .34 cd/m2 0.34 cd/m2 .16 cd/m2
Contrast ratio 1,358:1 1,082:1 991:1 2431:1
Pixels-per-inch 283ppi 283ppi 189 ppi 189ppi
Screen resolution 1,920x1,200 1,920x1,200 1,280x800 1,280x800

Since the Iconia Tab 8 houses 2GB of memory, its swift ability to switch between apps was expected. I was able to smoothly browse the Web while many apps were open in the background and didn't encounter functionality issues until I started dealing with larger apps.

The Acer tablet garnered better gaming benchmarks than the Dell Venue 8, but the Venue 8 slightly outperformed it with better graphics. The similarly priced Asus Memo Pad 8 didn't measure up as well with its gaming benchmarks, and Samsung's latest midrange 8-inch tablet performed pathetically.

Device CPU GPU RAM OS tested
Acer Iconia Tab 8 1.33GHz quad-core Intel Atom Z3745 Intel HD Graphics for BayTrail 2GB Android 4.4.2
Dell Venue 8 2.1GHz dual-core Intel Atom Z3480 PowerVR G6400 1GB Android 4.4.2
Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 8.0 1.2 GHz Snapdragon S5 Adreno 330 1.5GB Android 4.2.2
Asus MeMo Pad 8 1.33GHz quad-core Intel Atom Z3745 Intel HD Graphics for BayTrail 1GB Android 4.4.2

3DMark Ice Storm (Unlimited)

Acer Iconia Tab 8
16831
Dell Venue 8
14958
Asus MeMo Pad 8
14025
Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 8.0
4614

Note:

Longer bars indicated better performance

Graphics Score

Dell Venue 8
16933
Acer Iconia Tab 8
16389
Asus MeMo Pad 8
13309
Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 8.0
4136

Note:

Longer bars indicated better performance

Physics Score

Acer Iconia Tab 8
18584
Asus MeMo Pad 8
17280
Dell Venue 8
10621
Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 8.0
7749

Note:

Longer bars indicated better performance

In addition to slowly loading -- if loading at all -- large games and apps were problematic in performance. The tablet is sluggish when either are running and I often encountered touchscreen lag or random crashes when launching them. Closing all open apps somewhat helped, especially for smoother gameplay. Due to its limitations, I found the tablet best for general use, like surfing the Web or casual gaming, instead of more involved activities, like heavy-gaming or editing documents.

Audio quality from the rear speaker is weak and tinny. When holding the tablet in portrait orientation, the speaker on the rear side poses no problem. However, switch to landscape and you're left blocking the speaker with one hand. You can get crafty and cup your hand around the speaker for a (slightly) fuller sound...or choose a tablet with better speaker placement. The good news is that the volume rocker conveniently switches function accordingly when shifting from portrait to landscape orientation.

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The rear speaker is easy to block in landscape orientation. James Martin/CNET

On the rear side of the tablet you'll find a 5-megapixel camera that produces in-focus photos -- with a steady hand. Photo quality isn't very detailed at full resolution, but the camera does a good job at automatically adjusting the exposure and color balance. There are a few settings you can tweak for a better photo and a few fun filters, as well as a panoramic mode. The front-facing 2-megapixel camera is also hit or miss. Selfies are rather sharp, yet suffer from a lot of graininess.

img20141112150402.jpg
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The burst mode aptly captured this action shot. Xiomara Blanco/CNET

During my time with the tablet, I was disappointed with its battery life. On a full charge, with heavy use it only lasted about five hours. Check back when we're done testing it in the official CNET Labs for an official battery life result.

Conclusion

The Acer Iconia Tab 8 is sleek for a budget tablet, but good looks only get you so far. The tablet performed fine, but didn't excel in anything in particular enough for it to stand out in the crowded budget tablet scene. If you have no use for an HDMI connection and are willing to settle for a slate that doesn't resemble an iPad, I suggest the similarly priced Dell Venue 8, which runs pure Android, or spending a little more for an upgraded model.

Offering faster performance and a sharper screen, the Amazon Fire HDX is a viable alternative. The lightweight and slim 7-inch is also preloaded software, but it's more user- and family-friendly. The Nexus 7 is another alternative and, though the Google Play store no longer carries it, you can find it online for as little as $180. Additionally, the Google-branded tablet will be one of the first to update to latest Android Lollipop 5.0 OS.

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