After a pretty successful attempt at a tablet in the shape of the Iconia Tab A500, Acer is back with a smaller seven-inch version, still running Android Honeycomb 3.2: the Iconia Tab A100. It's billed as a more portable version of the ten-inch A500, but in reality, the A100 isn't much different to its big brother.
It has the same 1 GHz Nvidia Tegra 2 processor and 1 GB of RAM, along with a 5 Megapixel camera and LED flash at the back and a 1.3 Megapixel webcam at the front.
It seems 'micro' is the watchword for Acer's engineers, who have fitted a micro-HDMI output, a micro USB port and a microSD card slot to provide extra memory. There's also a proprietary connector for the dock that Acer supplies, but no USB 2.0 Host on this smaller tablet.
The model we tested had 8 GB of internal memory, but a 16 GB version is also available.
Design & Handling
The new tablet has the same basic design as the HTC Flyer and the Samsung Galaxy Tab 7, but with so much plastic, it looks more like the former. The good news is that the plastic doesn't feel cheap and nasty. The bad news is that it feels very flimsy at the top and bottom in portrait mode. The A100's widescreen format means holding it in portrait mode is easier if you only have one hand to spare, and using it this way is more comfortable than with some of the other tablets we mentioned.
From the front, the Iconia A100 seems to be designed for portrait orientation, with both the main power button and the webcam lined up that way. On the other side, however, the main camera works more naturally in landscape mode. That reverse side has a glossy finish which soon ends up covered with greasy fingerprints.
The build quality is good, and this tablet feels tough and solid. The flaps protecting the microSD card slot and the other connectors are kept well away from the outside edge.
There were, however, two rather irritating details. Firstly, the proprietary dock connector is located on the right hand side with all of the other inputs and outputs. If you decide to opt for the dock, you won't be able to use the other ports at the same time. Unless, of course, Acer is planning a pass-through system with external connectors on its dock, but that will it make it more expensive than traditional charging stations.
Secondly, the speakers are in the same place, and it doesn't take a genius to work out how they sound when you're covering them with your hands.
ScreenWe were more than happy with the PVA display that Acer managed to include on the Iconia Tab A500, which had some of the widest viewing angles and highest contrast ratios of any tablet currently available. But the manufacturer got off to a bad start with the A100 by deciding to use a TN display instead, which has much narrower viewing angles. When you're holding it in landscape, even a small movement leaves the onscreen image looking dark or inverted. Reading a whole web page from top to bottom or an e-book in portrait mode can be frustrating.
Here's a little tip for watching videos in landscape mode: it looks much better if you hold the A100 upside down, with the webcam at the bottom rather at the top. That way, you can tip the tablet back a few degrees because you're looking at it from the side where the TN technology causes the picture to dip to white, rather than black, when you tilt it away from you, which is a little more acceptable.
In other areas, though, Acer's seven-inch tablet does well, with a decent contrast ratio of 804:1, which is better than the first iPad.
Colour reproduction is less successful, with an average deltaE of 7.2, instead of the ideal result of 3.0 or less that we'd expect if colour reproduction were more accurate. This is mostly caused by problems with red and cyan, as well as a colour temperature of 10 080 K which ruins a lot of blue shades. Alongside a rather disappointing ghosting time of 28 ms, the real disappointment was that the brightness never got above 221 cd/m², making it much harder to use the Iconia Tab A100 outside than inside. That's a bit of a weakness for what's supposed to be a portable tablet ...
InterfaceNB: if you'd like to know more about how Acer integrates Android Honeycomb into its tablets, we suggest you read our review of the Iconia Tab A500 tablet.
The basic principle is that Acer has created a series of virtual homescreens, each one dedicated to a different set of tasks like gaming or media apps. There are also some exclusive apps, including clear.fi which makes creating DLNA connections between your tablet and Acer computers and laptops easy, and Social Jogger, a hub for Facebook and Twitter.
Despite the similarities, we found that Android ran more smoothly on this new tablet. That's no doubt because the lower screen resolution of 1024 x 600 pixels is easier to handle than the 1280 x 800 pixels on the larger A500, freeing up the processor to do other things. It makes the Honeycomb experience even more enjoyable!
NB: we suggest you read our review of the Iconia Tab A500 if you'd like to know more about about the multimedia features that the Iconia A100 has in common with the A500.
In general, browsing the web on the Iconia Tab A100 is fast and fun. Apart from the problems that the TN display creates the screen offers a decent amount of detail for a device of this size, although it's clearly not the best tablet at displaying web content.
Acer still hasn't bothered to include a decent media player, and instead falls back, once again, on the one offered by Android. We can only suggest you head straight to the Android Market and grab a third-party app like moboPlayer if you want to be able to access more files.
Even when you aren't covering it with your hands, the sound from the speaker is muffled but still loud enough (but rarely deafening). Things are better with headphones, but not much louder. In general, though, you can hear everything you want to.
As with the Iconia A500, we're glad that Acer included a Dolby Mobile profile, but we could easily live without it: it only exacerbates the other problems we've mentioned.
We're really not sure who's supplied the 5 Megapixel camera that Acer is using. It misses almost every detail, adds an unsightly red tinge and hardly bothers to focus. If you use the flash, you can expect a lot of over-exposure. Need I go on? We've never seen such a wasted opportunity for a camera on a tablet since the iPad 2 ...
In theory, you can also use the same camera to record 720p HD video, and although the dreadful quality camera means it isn't up to much, it does at least have the virtue of being reasonably smooth.
Battery LifeIt should be a simple enough equation: users are going to want to take a seven-inch tablet with them everywhere they go, so having good battery life is going to be important. Acer seems to have forgotten that, though, and fitted a puny 1530 mAh battery with less juice than some recent smartphones.
As a result, the Iconia Tab A100 will never last for more than five hours. If you turn WiFi off, you can get through 4 hours 25 minutes of video before it throws in the towel; turning WiFi back on loses another 20 minutes or so. For more general usage, you can expect a maximum battery life of around 4 hours 45 minutes.
On standby, it puts in a similar performance to the Samsung Galaxy Tab 7, in that it doesn't last as long as the Apple iPad but still does better than most other devices. If you don't use it all day, your Acer tablet will still be fully charged in the evening, unlike plenty of other devices we've seen.