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Acer Iconia Tab A500 review: Acer Iconia Tab A500

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The Good The Acer Iconia Tab offers Android Honeycomb (upgradable to Android 4.0) on a 10.1-inch screen along with GPS, front and rear cameras, Adobe Flash compatibility, full-size USB host port, HDMI output, and a reasonable price.

The Bad The Iconia Tab is thick, and one of the heaviest consumer tablets we've seen. Some locally stored HD video files wouldn't play properly.

The Bottom Line Acer's Iconia Tab offers the features of the Motorola Xoom at iPad-beating prices but weighs in as the heftiest Android tablet yet.

Visit manufacturer site for details.

7.3 Overall
  • Design 7
  • Features 8
  • Performance 7

Review Sections

Editor's note: As of April 2012, the Acer Iconia Tab A500 is upgradable to Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich). For details on the advantages ANdroid 4.0 offers over Honeycomb, check the Ice Cream Sandwich section of the Asus Transformer Prime TF201 review.

Motorola made a splash in early 2011 when it released the first tablet to run Google's tablet-optimized Android 3.0 operating system (aka Honeycomb). But enthusiasm for Google's tablet OS didn't translate into Apple iPad-level success for Motorola's Xoom tablet, which was hampered by a high price and thick design. At the time, though, Motorola's exclusive agreement with Google made it the only game in town when it came to Android 3.0. Fortunately for tablet fans, those days are over.

The Acer Iconia Tab A500 doesn't stray far from the Motorola Xoom's formula. Spec-for-spec, the two tablets are nearly indistinguishable. The most important distinction is price, with the Iconia Tab coming in at an iPad-besting $449.

Design
In spite of the $50 savings over an iPad 2, Apple doesn't have much to worry about when it comes to the Iconia Tab. Like the Motorola Xoom, the Iconia Tab is nearly twice as thick as the iPad 2, making it less comfortable to hold and less sexy in general. Acer's tablet also has the unfortunate distinction of being the heaviest Android tablet we've tested, weighing in at a beefy 1.69 pounds.

As with any decent tablet, the centerpiece of Iconia Tab'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. And because Honeycomb moves the Android navigation controls off the hardware and into the touch screen, a crisp, accurate screen is more critical than ever.

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 oddly, it had no effect on the sound quality. Sound seemed to project through the screen more so than the speaker grilles, which is ultimately fine, if a little illogical.

A camera is also located on the front, near the upper left corner of the screen. Meant to be used for video chatting (using the included Google Talk app) or impromptu self-portraits, this camera uses a lower 2-megapixel sensor, but can still be used to record standard-definition video.

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. 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 thumb drives. A dock connection on the bottom sticks out like a wart on an otherwise attractive design. Unless you feel like shelling out an extra $79 for a charging cradle that doesn't even offer an HDMI connection, the dock port is a waste of space.

Hardware features
Like we mentioned at the start of this review, the Acer Iconia Tab is nearly a spec-for-spec clone of the Motorola Xoom (Wi-Fi). 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 HDMI output, support for Bluetooth 2.1, an accelerometer, a gyroscope, GPS, a digital compass, and memory expansion via MicroSD.

But, for all their similarities, there are some differences between the Xoom and Iconia Tab. One notable difference is the amount of onboard storage. The Xoom includes an integrated 32GB whereas the Iconia Tab offers only 16GB. In Acer's defense, the Iconia Tab offers a useful full-size USB host port, while the Xoom (not to mention the iPad) does not. 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.

Android 3.0
As we noted in our original assessment of Android 3.0 on the Motorola Xoom, the tablet-optimized Android Honeycomb OS represents Google's commitment to tablets. With the exception of legacy support for existing Android apps, Honeycomb is a dramatic departure from the Android of smartphones.

Even experienced Android users will need some time to get accustomed to Honeycomb's navigation. Gone is the familiar four-button navigation across the bottom of the screen. Contextual menus and options are accessed through the top of the screen; notifications pop out from the lower right; and the trusty old back arrow will occasionally morph into a down arrow when the keyboard is engaged, allowing you to conceal or reveal the keyboard.

Compared against the Apple iPad's iOS, one of the key differences between the two systems is the amount of information conveyed on the home screen. Through the use of Android widgets, you can glance your inbox, Twitter stream, Facebook news, and YouTube channels, all in one view. The whole metaphor feels more like a deck of cards on a playing table than the grid of apps we're accustomed to in iOS or an Android phone app drawer. It's not quite the clumsy mess of a conventional desktop, but not as rigid and size-constrained as a mobile OS. It's a thoughtful compromise.

That said, Honeycomb's added complexity and sophistication is a double-edged sword. To Google's credit, Android 3.0 in many ways pushes tablets in an exciting new direction by blurring the line between a mobile OS and a conventional desktop. But as much as iOS gets push back from users who find it insultingly simple, Android Honeycomb is at times needlessly secretive. A task as simple as opening the lock screen plays out like an IQ puzzle. Home screen customization is broken down into separate categories for widgets, app shortcuts, and app-specific shortcuts, such as browser bookmarks and Gmail labels. There will be people who are going to rejoice in the flexibility and options on offer by Honeycomb, but there are bound to be just as many who are turned off by the complexity. We're just thankful that people now have more options when it comes to tablets.

Performance
In terms of general system performance, the Acer Iconia Tab performs just as ably as any of our top-rated Android tablets, including the LG G-Slate and Motorola Xoom. Apps launch with identical speed and Web sites load with neck and neck results.

In terms of photo and video quality, again, we just do not see a difference between the Xoom's camera sensors and the Iconia Tab's. We will say, though, that the camera lens on the back of the Iconia Tab is more 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.

Our one notable performance disappointment is that some of our larger HD resolution videos played with no problem on the Motorola Xoom, ASUS Eee Pad Transformer, and LG G-Slate, but failed to load on the Iconia Tab. With so many of the Iconia Tab's specs identical to the Xoom's, our theory about the HD video discrepancy is the difference in integrated storage and how the two devices grapple with file size. Specifically, we found that MPEG-4 (h.264) videos less than 100MB played with no problem, whereas files stretching over 10GB (easily into the gigabytes when you're dealing with movie-length content) failed to load. It's disappointing, especially given the Iconia Tab's HD-worthy screen and HDMI output capability. Hopefully, Acer will be able to patch the problem with an update.

In terms of battery life, Acer rates the Iconia Tab at 8 hours of HD video playback or 10 hours of Internet browsing. Here are our official CNET Labs tested results. More tablet testing results can be found here.

Video battery life (in hours) Maximum brightness (in cd/m2) Default brightness (in cd/m2) Contrast ratio
Acer Iconia A500 7.8 337 67 1,340:1

Final thoughts
The Acer Iconia Tab A500 is the first of many Android Honeycomb tablets to break the sub-$500 price floor. It is arguably the tablet Android has needed from the beginning--affordable, powerful, fluid, and free from contracts. To really compete with Apple's iPad 2, however, tablets like these will need to need to get thinner and lighter to match consumer's shifting expectations.

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