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Hands-on: Acer Iconia Tab A500 tablet

CNET's Donald Bell goes hands-on with the Acer Iconia A500 Android 3.0 Honeycomb tablet, offering his first impressions.

The Acer Iconia Tab delivers the specs of the Motorola Xoom tablet, but at a significant savings. Donald Bell/CNET

Update: CNET's full, rated review of the Acer Iconia Tab is now available.

Google's tablet-friendly Android 3.0 OS (aka Honeycomb) is arguably the biggest advancement for tablet computers since the introduction of the iPad. It delivers souped-up versions of Google's celebrated mobile apps (Gmail, Maps, Books, Talk, Navigation, and Market) to the big, multitouch-enabled screens of 10-inch tablets, and weaves Adobe Flash into a killer tabbed Web browser. There's only been one big problem: the OS has been trapped on a relatively hefty, high-priced tablet called the Motorola Xoom.

The Acer Iconia Tab A500 is one of the first Android Honeycomb tablets we've seen to compete against the Xoom, and ultimately, the Apple iPad 2. Its promise, essentially, is all of the features of the Wi-Fi Motorola Xoom, priced nearly $150 less at $450.

Is there a catch? In the few hours we've had to play with the Iconia Tab, there's nothing obvious that jumps out as a "gotcha." It's a little heavier than the already-heavy Xoom, weighing 1.66 lbs. The design feels a little more plastic around the edges where the tablet meets your hand. The photo and video quality don't seem to match up to that of the Xoom (and we weren't big fans of the Xoom's image quality to begin with). Acer's instinct to populate the home screen with its own app choices and bury Google's prime products in the app drawer seems like a needless makeover, but it's a move that's easily undone.

The big question is whether the Honeycomb experience itself is any different on the Acer Iconia Tab than on the pricier Motorola Xoom. From our perspective, the differences are too minor to notice. The touch screen is seemingly just as responsive, and sports the same 10.1-inch screen and 1,280x800-pixel resolution of the Xoom. All of Google's core apps, including Marketplace, are installed out of the box. You do have to take an extra step to download a free version of Adobe Flash 10.2, but it takes only a minute and a shortcut link for the download is included within the app menu.

Other specs include an Nvidia Tegra 2 dual-core processor, 1,024MB of DDR3 dual-channel memory, 16GB of built-in storage (4GB of which is taken up by the OS), HDMI output, microSD memory expansion, and a full-size USB host port.

The only obvious drawback to the Acer Iconia Tab A500 is that it's no lighter or slimmer than the Xoom. With the razor-thin iPad 2 out there shaping people's tablet expectations, the Iconia Tab is beefy by comparison (see our photo gallery for comparison shots). Still, we're happy to see some competition for the Xoom and we're elated that the price of Honeycomb tablets is racing toward affordability.

Read CNET's rated review of the Acer Iconia Tab A500.