Like the Motorola Xoom, the Asus EeePad Transformer, the LG Optimus Pad, Toshiba's upcoming AT300 and the Hannspree SN10T3, Acer's Iconia Tab A500 has a screen resolution of 1280 x 800 pixels, a 1 Ghz Nvidia Tegra 2 dual-core processor, a micro-USB port, a microSD slot, a micro-HDMI out and two photo/video cameras, with a 5-Megapixel camera with LED flash on the back and a 2-Megapixel camera on the front.
On top of that, Acer has added a USB 2.0 Host port for hooking up a USB flash drive or external hard drive, and the lower edge of the tablet's casing is home to a proprietary connector, which could be used to connect the tablet to the upcoming line of docks and stands Acer plans to release.
The tablet has a 32 GB internal memory, Wi-Fi connectivity and is likely to sell for between £450 and £500. A 3G version is slated for release in June.
Design & Handling
We might as well admit that we weren't expecting such a high-quality build and finish on an Acer product. Our preconceived ideas were soon smashed to smithereens by the A500 though, as we were suitably impressed by its very high-quality plastic frame and mock brushed aluminium casing. The edges of the tablet are finished in glossy black plastic and are also home to the device's various connections.
It would have been nice to see a few covers for the ports and sockets, but the fact that these are set back from the surface of the tablet's edges does protect them a bit.
Note that the cover on the upper edge of the tablet not only houses the microSD slot but also an empty slot for the 3G module that'll come with the other version of this tablet. When asked, Acer confirmed that both versions of the tablet would have the same casing, with our without the 3G module.
In our A500, access to the empty module slot was blocked by an Acer sticker. When we peeled this back, we got a great view of the back of the screen and its backlighting system ...
As well as the camera and LED flash, the tablet's two built-in speakers are also found on the back of the tablet. On the whole, the design has been nicely thought out.
Fans of the 10-inch format will be thrilled, especially since the tablet's weight is perfectly balanced, while those who prefer 7-inch tablets will find even more reason to stick to their guns, as two large bands down the side of the screen do add extra centimetres to the Iconia Tab.
ScreenGiven Acer's years of experience in making notebooks, we were expecting to see a TN screen panel in the Iconia Tab A500, as this is a great trick for keeping costs down. But no—once again Acer has taken us by surprise! The manufacturer has, in fact, picked a PVA panel, which is better than TN in pretty much every respect, especially for contrast and viewing angles. Note that Acer doesn't actually state its choice of panel anywhere in the tech specs, but when we took a close-up shot of the screen in macro mode, the result looked typically PVA due to the way the cells are arranged.
The cells are arranged differently to the IPS screen of the Apple iPad
The Iconia Tab has the highest average contrast ratio that we've seen yet on a touchscreen tablet. Until now, the Apple iPad 2 was happily keeping the competition at bay with its 960:1 contrast, but Acer has knocked Apple off the top spot with an average contrast ratio of 1126:1! Plus, we might as well tell you that we're currently in the process of testing a whole load of other tablets and that the Iconia doesn't have anything to fear from the competition just yet.
The viewing angles are very wide and unless you're looking at the screen from 90° there's no big drop in contrast.
Although it's clearly very good, the Iconia Tab's screen still isn't perfect, as colours aren't reproduced accurately. We're quite disappointed with its average deltaE of 10.6, bearing in mind that an average deltaE of under 3 means that colours are accurately reproduced. In fact, out of all the colours, the red tones come off best with a deltaE of 6, which still leaves something to be desired. The best results for colour fidelity are currently held by the iPad and iPad 2 with a deltaE of 5.2 and 5.7 respectively.
We measured a screen ghosting time of 27 ms, which is a far cry from the 20 ms measured on the iPad or LG Optimus Pad (IPS screen). Strangely though, the images don't really look blurred and there's no strongly visible ghosting effect. Further tests showed that Acer has included a kind of built-in compensation system for its screen, which makes a black image pop up between every three frames displayed, creating the impression of smoother playback. We're not quite sure, but the black frame could well be created by a flash of the backlighting.
Interface & NavigationHoneycomb grows on us every time we use it thanks to its clear organisation and effective navigation. Unfortunately, there are still too few applications and widgets out there that use the full potential of this OS, which is smooth, dynamic and seamless. With the Iconia Tab, the OS doesn't flinch or glitch at all. The Acer even turned out to run Android 3.0 a little faster than the Motorola Xoom in some fields, like switching between portrait and landscape mode or jumping between apps while multitasking.
Apart from the classic features of Honeycomb, this tablet comes with several pre-loaded games and applications, including Everybody's Golf, Heroes of Sparta II (HD versions), the TegraZone (listing games that make the best of the Tegra processor), the LumiRead e-book reader software and the Aupeo! Internet radio service.
Above all, Acer takes the interface one step further by introducing new features to the standard menu. The tablet maker has embellished Honeycomb with a system of themed desktops for easy access to games, multimedia, social networks and e-books. You can explore Acer's custom additions as much or as little as you like, but we found the add-on interface pretty handy for organising and keeping track of apps and other content.
The Iconia Tab comes with its own custom apps too. For a start, there's Acer's Clear.Fi multimedia player, which has the huge advantage of network compatibility for accessing and even streaming shared content. On top of that, you'll find Photo Browser 3D, a great photo viewing app, and Acer Sync, for quickly synchronising the tablet with external content accessed via the USB or Wi-Fi connections.
Plus, with the new tab system and multitasking capabilities, working online or surfing several sites at once is as pleasant and effective as with a notebook or desktop computer.
For audio and video playback you can use Android's specific apps (Gallery and Music Player) or Acer's Clear.Fi, which is more of an extra window than a genuinely stand-alone media player, and it doesn't offer any extra file compatibility. For video playback, you're therefore limited to MPEG4 and H.264 (and derivatives) in resolutions of up to 720p. For boosted compatibility, you'll need to look for a third-party application in Android Market.
That said, Clear.Fi is worth using if only for its network compatibility. All of the locations you've previously accessed are displayed in the Clear.Fi browser with content arranged by theme (photo/video/music) so you don't have to search for it. It couldn't be easier—just pick whatever you want to view/watch/listen to and then launch the streaming.
The tablet's audio capabilities aren't bad either. Sound from the speakers and the headphones out is clear and crisp, the overall output could be more dynamic. However, that's a minor point, as it's still a cut above the fuzzy sound output from the likes of the LG Optimus Pad.
Note that the maximum volume level from the headphones socket isn't actually that loud, but, when all's said and done, this is the best-quality audio experience we've had with a touchscreen tablet other than the iPad and iPad 2.
The Iconia A500 is one of the first tablets to integrate Dolby Mobile technology. Although this feature offers a whole range of different effects for video and audio, we were left perplexed by its actual operation and how it's supposed to improve audio quality ... especially since we found the output more natural with Dolby Mobile switched off! However, fans of audio effects and processing gizmos will no doubt find what they're looking for.
It's worth mentioning that this tablet has a USB Host port, as thanks to this 'revolutionary' connection you can hook up portable storage devices for instant access to all kinds of content. Plus, it's even more pleasant to use thanks to Clear.Fi, which automatically tidies away each file in its rightful place depending on whether it's a music track, video or photo. What's more, the contents of the external device are quick to load up.
You can easily get around the lack of SD card slot with a USB-to-SD adapter (see above). The contents of large memory cards containing lots of heavy files do take a while to load up, but once they're displayed in HD on the screen all is soon forgiven.
The built-in camera is nothing special. With the flash everything looks red and without it everything looks blue. There's also a general lack of sharpness, which is a little disappointing. This haziness isn't all that noticeable, but it's just enough to place the A500 behind the latest high-end mobile phone cameras (iPhone 4, Optimus 2X, etc.). That said, the photos aren't completely awful, and they're still sharper and more detailed than photos taken with the LG Optimus Pad camera.
In video mode, the tablet gives up the ghost not long after 6 hours of playback, which isn't bad really considering it has a 3650 mAh battery. However, the fact that the tablet only takes a little over 2 hours to charge does go some way to making up for things.
All in all, we were really quite impressed with Acer's Iconia Tab A500, especially after having seen the brand's less-than-perfect smartphones. Acer has succeeded in lunching an all-new product that already feels mature, and which has been designed with attention to detail and built with care. It has more advantages and attractive features than any of its Honeycomb rivals have yet managed to come with.
- The screen isn't perfect but it's still very good and highly contrasted
- High-quality build and finish
- Smooth Android interface with nice additions from Acer
- Plenty of connections and good sound output
- Good for web browsing and games
- Battery life is OK but could be better
- Native multimedia compatibility
- Camera is too red or too blue
- Honeycomb needs to mature
Apart from the fact that Honeycomb is still finding its feet, the Acer Iconia A500 is a very good tablet indeed. It doesn't have the best battery life, but its design, hardware and extras compared with most of the competition make it a genuine alternative to Apple's iPad 2. The A500 is a very pleasant surprise from Acer.