Acer's Iconia A500 Tab: an exercise in optimism - TechCentral

Acer’s Iconia A500 Tab: an exercise in optimism

Just about every computer and phone manufacturer now makes tablets in the hope of grabbing some of the scraps of market share Apple doesn’t hold with the iPad. Acer has a couple of tablet offerings, but its headline act is the Iconia Tab A500, a 10,1-inch Android-powered monster with innards that compare well to rival offerings.

Some of the A500’s vital statistics include a 10,1-inch capacitive LCD touch screen with a resolution of 1280×800 that supports multi-touch gestures with up to ten fingers, a light sensor for auto-brightness adjustments, and a 2-megapixel front-facing camera for video calling or checking for spinach in your teeth.

Behind its not-unattractive visage — albeit one more prone to fingerprints than its competitors and less than great in sunlight — is a dual-core 1GHz Tegra processor and 1GB of RAM, meaning lag is no problem even when running a range of applications simultaneously.

There are all the usual bells and whistles we’ve come to expect from tablets, like a microphone, surprisingly good speaker, accelerometer, GPS, multi-tab browsing and Bluetooth, but it’s the unexpected additions that are the A500’s strongest selling point.

Though the mini-HDMI port isn’t unheard of and neither is the microUSB port — which unfortunately is only for data transfer, not charging, purposes — Acer has included a full-sized USB 2.0 port, making it a far more flexible device than any of its competitors’ products.

Not only can you plug in an external hard drive, but card readers and other USB devices suddenly become tablet friendly. Naturally, there are limitations to what will work with the A500, but it is nevertheless a great differentiating feature.

Another of these differentiators is the LED flash that accompanies the rear-facing, 5-megapixel camera, which also includes autofocus and the ability to shoot video at 720p at 29 frames per second. There’s also a microSD slot that allows for expansion of the default 16GB or 32GB of onboard storage.

The rear of the Iconia A500 (click image to enlarge)

The A500 is Wi-Fi only, while the A501 offers support for 3G. The A500 appears to include a crippled Sim slot under the same flap as the microSD slot, but it’s covered with a sticker that reads: “Warranty void if seal is broken.”

At R5 399 for the 32GB version, the A500 costs as much as the equivalent Wi-Fi-only iPad 2. However, it weighs slightly more than the Apple device and, despite the price, the A500’s build quality doesn’t feel as good as those of Samsung’s or Motorola’s tablets, let alone the iPad.

The seam running around the edge of the device is unsettling, and prompts visions of the device winding up in two parts if dropped accidentally. Also, although the rest of the buttons feel decent enough, the orientation lock/unlock button and volume rocker feel flimsy and cheap.

Then there’s the proprietary charger, something common to most tablets, but annoying nevertheless and a reminder of the days of proprietary cellphone chargers. The charger also seems bulkier than it should, and rather than incorporating a data cable with a power adaptor the A500 requires carrying both.

There are two big failings with the Iconia A500. The first is its size. Not only is it quite thick at 13,5mm, but tipping the scales at 730g it weighs more than the first-generation iPad and about the same as the Motorola Xoom.

There’s one another failing: poor battery life. Plugged in and fully charged on day one, with Wi-Fi left on and less than 30 minutes of use, the A500 was almost dead the by the morning of day two. Having charged it again, by the end of day two and having played around with it intermittently for no more than two hours and having had it on standby for another eight, the battery charge had fallen to 27%.

The Iconia A500 runs Android 3.1

The A500 gets around six hours of use to a charge, which is relatively poor next to the competition. What’s more troubling is the standby time. Perhaps Acer needs to refine how its tablets behave when they’re on, but idle.

In its defence, the A500 offers excellent functionality, a respectable display with superb viewing angles, a plain-and-simple Android interface atop Android 3.1, some great features other tablets don’t offer, and it has a respectable design.

However, the price, in conjunction with the build quality, brings to mind a (somewhat paraphrased) line from the cult Australian film The Castle: “Tell ’em they’re dreamin'”.  — Craig Wilson, TechCentral

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