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Iconia Tab
At a glance
ProductAcer Iconia Tab (A500-10S16u)   [Website]
SummaryTen inch Android Honeycomb tablet competing for attention with the ASUS Transformer
Pros• Good sound
• Fairly quick
• Wide viewing angles
Cons• No bundled file browser
• Bundled apps useless for video playback
• Fairly hefty in the hand

Typical Price: $80  Buy From Amazon

Features
OSAndroid
OS Version3.0.1 (Honeycomb)
Weight1.7
Width10.2
Height7.0
Thickness0.5
Battery6520
CPUnVidia Tegra 2
CPU DetailDual-core 250 @ 1 GHz
RAM1024
Flash16
Flash Options32
SD
N
uSD
Y

Connectivity
Wi-Fi
Y
Dual-Band
N
3G
N
4G
N
Bluetooth
Y
uHDMI
Y
HDMI
N
USB
N

I wanted to get an ASUS Transformer to review when it was first announced because I believe that Android tablets need to be priced at least $100 less than the iPad in order to gain market share. I also wanted to see if Honeycomb had made some progress since the Motorola Xoom left a bad taste in my mouth.

But I wasn't quick enough and turned to the next best alternative, the Acer Iconia Tab A500, priced $50 below the entry-level iPad2 and $50 above the Transformer (without its keyboard dock). My colleague Matt was able to get his hands on one before me, so he got first crack at that review. So, instead, I'll be reviewing the A500 before I ship it back to Amazon.

I'll say right off that Honeycomb has come a long way since the Xoom. Like other reviewers, I've seen an occasional app crash or odd behavior. But in general, Honeycomb has matured enough to be a viable tablet OS. And that's even with version 3.0.1 that Matt found so distasteful.

Acer so far has shown no sign of when (or if) they'll have Android 3.1 ready for the A500. But, contrary to Matt's experience, I think many people (including me) will find 3.0.1 just fine.

Hardware and Features

The A500's key specs are summarized in the boxes to the right, but I'll highlight a few. Like most of the recent non-generic Android tablets, at the A5's heart beats a dual-core nVidia Tegra 2 CPU matched up with 1 GB of RAM.

I'm cheap and don't keep a lot on my tablets, so I have the A500-10S16u 16 GB model. But there is also a second version (A500-10S32u) with 32 GB of flash memory that will bring you up to the $500 level of the iPad2.

Like the Transformer, the A500 has single-band 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR radios. The specsheet says it also has a GPS receiver and the Settings screen checkbox seemed to confirm that, even though it couldn't find any satellites indoors.

There are no 3G or 4G versions available, or as far as I know, planned. The product has a flap glued over the SIM slot to the right of the micro SD card slot shown in the diagram below. There is probably a SIM slot under that flap. But to get connected to a WWAN, you would need a 3G / 4G radio inside and perhaps this custom ROM that's just been released.

SD slot detail

The diagram below from the user manual shows the ports and controls on the "left and right" edges. If you hold the tablet in the natural landscape orientation, that would be the top and bottom. The rest of the callout diagrams are in the gallery.

Ports and controls

Some nice touches in the A500 include the stereo speaker placement near the curved bottom edge so that lying flat on a table doesn't completely block the sound. There is also a full-sized USB host and a micro USB slave connector, the former to connect USB flash drives and the latter to connect to the USB port on a host machine for file transfer.

Something not mentioned in the specs is the buzzer, which is enabled by default for "haptic" feedback. This was my first encounter with this technique, which surprised me when I touched the screen and felt it respond. After the novelty wore off, though, I wanted to shut it off to save battery. But even with the checkbox unchecked in the Sound control panel, the buzzing continued. This behavior hasn't been fixed in Android 3.1, since it's the same on the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 I just got in the other day.

I like tablets that can charge from a USB connector. One charger and a handful of cables is a lot lighter than a handful of chargers when I pack up for a trip. Unfortunately, the A500 requires a 12 V charger that plugs into its own tiny little hole on the Tab's side.

In Use

Screen
Size10
Resolution1280x800
TouchCapacitive

Cameras
Front2
Rear5
Flash
Y

After handling an original iPad for the past year or so, the A500 definitely feels heftier. You won't be doing much one-handed holding of this tablet unless you've been pumping up regularly at the gym.

The 10.1" 1280x800 screen is active matrix TFT vs. the Transformer's IPS, which other reviewers seem to be swooning over. To me, they're similar enough in quality and viewing angle that I would not make a buy decision solely on this spec. The capacitive multi-touch was as sensitive and responsive as you'd expect, with no heavy pressure required.

Here's a shot of the A500 and ASUS Transformer side by side with both set to Auto brightness. I admit that the A500 on the left is a bit fuzzier than the Transformer on the right. But if you didn't see them side by side, I think you'd be perfectly happy with the A500's screen quality. The gallery has more shots of the two, including off-angle shots.

Acer Iconia Tab and ASUS Transformer screens

As some commenters pointed out, some of my observations about Honeycomb in the Motorola Xoom were based on ignorance, to which I plead guilty. I've had more time with Android in general since then and have had almost a month to use Honeycomb on the A500, so this time I'm better informed.

In general, the Tab has provided a better overall Android tablet experience than the Xoom. Some of this is due to Android tweaks that Acer had more time to do, some is fixes in 3.0.1. No matter what the reason, I can see Android becoming a much more viable tablet OS.

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