Acer ICONIA TAB A500 Review

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Introduction and Design
Introduction:

Are you curious about all the fanfare surrounding Android 3.0 Honeycomb tablets, but you’re seemingly hesitant about picking one up since the current selections are just too exorbitantly priced for you? Well, you might find the Acer ICONIA TAB A500 especially gratifying since its starting price of $449.99 is by far its most attractive offering – and at the same time, it won’t bite you much in the wallet compared to the competition. In addition to packing along all of the lovely wonders that the tablet optimized platform has to offer, there are still some impressive things that make it a reasonable contemporary offering, which of course, makes it an equal contender to the other Honeycomb flavored tablets available on the market. Can this truly be the one that will proliferate Honeycomb to the masses?

The package contains:

  • Acer ICONIA TAB A500
  • microUSB cable
  • Wall Charger
  • Micro-fiber cleaning cloth
  • Quick Guide
  • Product Safety Brochure


Design:

Despite sharing the same display size as the Motorola XOOM, the Acer ICONIA TAB A500 is  noticeably larger, bulkier, and heavier (25.75 oz) to hold in the hands – thus, coming across as being rather cumbersome. In terms of design, it’s neither boring or eye catching with its pointed tapered edges, but rather, it manages to trick the eye by making it appear as though that it’s streamlined. We obviously adore seeing it utilizing a brushed aluminum exterior, although it only provides a subtle sense of durability – it's noticeable that its quality is not on par to premium tablets like the iPad 2.




Matching the size of the Motorola XOOM’s display, its 10.1”WXGA (1280 x 800) capacitive touchscreen is very sharp looking and produces some iridescent looking colors; despite its support for 262k colors only. In fact, it rivals the one used by the XOOM, but its brightness output appears to be slightly stronger. Combining that with its acceptable viewing angles, colors maintain their appearance in almost all angles, which in turn, allow it to be visible in outdoor conditions. However, the display isn’t as sturdy as we’d like because two scratches soon appeared on the surface after some use – making it seem as though it’s more susceptible to scratching. Strangely, there might be some sort of bug with it because we experienced seeing the display randomly turning at various interval when it’s completely off.




Peeking at the left edge, we find its microHDMI port, 3.5mm headset jack, and a reasonably sized dedicated power button that has some good feedback to it. Oppositely on the right side, you’ll locate its proprietary power port, microUSB port for data connection, manual reset button, and a standard USB port. Interestingly enough, you can connect a flash drive to it for additional storage, or simply use it to charge other devices – like your handset.



Meanwhile, the orientation lock and volume rocker are all positioned on the top edge of the tablet. Even though the chrome accent of the volume rocker looks nice, we’re not fans of its stiff feel. Additionally, there is a plastic flap that can be removed to access its working microSD card slot, and an empty space that would be used for the SIM card slot. Conversely, the only thing found on the bottom side is a dock port – albeit, there is no mention as to what exact accessories would use it.



Near the upper left corner of its display, there’s a 2-megapixel front-facing camera positioned in the bezel surrounding the display that’s used for video chatting and self-portraits. Turning to its rear, you’ll locate its 5-megapixel auto-focus camera with LED flash, that’s primarily your go to thing for shooting photos and videos. Finally, the tablet has stereo audio support thanks to its left and right speakers.




Interface:

Much like the two previous Android 3.0 Honeycomb tablets we’ve checked out, the Acer ICONIA TAB A500 runs very well thanks to its 1GHz dual-core NVIDIA Tegra 250 Cortex A9 processor with 1GB of RAM. In landscape, it runs very smooth even when things like live wallpapers are activated, but unfortunately, there are some instances of slowdown and lag in portrait – though, it can be related to something with Honeycomb itself. Nevertheless, we’re able to execute the most basic of operations without much fluff and follows in performance with other Honeycomb tablets – namely the G-Slate and XOOM.



Since it packs on the stock Android 3.0 Honeycomb experience, it doesn’t necessarily deviate from what we’ve seen already in other tablets when it comes down to personalization. However, Acer packages along some additional widgets that supplement the existing set available with the platform – these include things like the Acer clock, Agenda, Digital Clock, MusicA, SocialJogger, and Weather widgets. For a detailed and comprehensive look at Honeycomb’s rich set of features, you can read more about it in our in-depth Honeycomb walkthrough article.



Launching specific applications can be executed directly within the app panel, but as an alternative, the tablet offers a separate interface that categorizes them so it’s organized to your preference. You can get access to it by clicking either the eReading, Games, Multimedia, Social icons in the app panel, and once you’ve done that, you’ll be transported to its separate categorized interface. It doesn’t actually add any new functionality aside from its organization aspect, but it’s still nonetheless just another way to launch apps.

Naturally, you’ll find all the useful set of Google apps on board with the ICONIA TAB A500, like Google Latitude, Google Maps, Google Talk, and YouTube, but there are some additional ones preloaded as well. Some of the noteworthy ones include things like LumiRead, which is another app that allows you to purchase eBooks and read them. Moreover, you have the Tegra Zone app, which is a centralized hub where you can download some of the games that showcase the GPU’s prowess. Sadly though, the only full game installed with the tablet is Need For Speed Shift, while others like Heroes of Sparta and Lets Golf, require you to download them upon launching the respective apps.





Organizer & Messaging:

Being the usual Honeycomb flavored tablet, there is nothing absolutely different in terms of experience with the Acer ICOINA TAB A500’s Calculator, Calendar, and Contacts apps. It’s nice that things are synced with your Google account, like your calendar and address book, but it’s even better because Honeycomb presents them to you in a manner that’s optimized to take advantage of the tablet medium. Specifically, most of the organization apps utilize the common theme of relying on a paneled arrangement that makes for a practical presentation.




When it comes to inputting text, you have the stock Honeycomb keyboard that’s more than usable in landscape thanks to its responsiveness and large sized buttons. However, we can’t say the same about the portrait option mainly because of the wide amount of area needed to be covered by our thumbs – thus requiring a large amount of travel and work. Yet, we find it even more odd to find an XT9 Text Input keyboard as an alternative to the stock one. Regretfully though, it seems to be nothing more than the stock keyboard used by most Android smartphones – while providing predictive options as you begin to type.



With an abundant amount of real estate, the Gmail experience shines brightly with its exceptional performance by offering us a productive experience. Walking on the same path as its other Honeycomb brothers and sisters, you’ll find an almost desktop like experience with the tablet since it offers things like threaded view, the ability to label items, and a two-panel layout that presents emails in their full fidelity. Alternatively, setting up other email accounts  is a breeze because it mainly requires you to provide your email address and password for automatic setup. However, if it’s not one of the popular email services out there, you’ll probably be requested to dish up additional information, like server addresses and ports, to correctly get things set up.




Camera:

Sticking to it with the stock Honeycomb camera interface, there’s nothing we haven’t seen before. Specifically, there’s one large dial on the right side of the interface that allows your thumb to quickly navigate between the various settings of the camera. For a tablet, there should be more than enough appealing shooting modes to satisfy most users out there, but it doesn’t quite offer as many manuals modes as we’d like. Regardless of that, we can get up to an 8.0x digital zoom level by pressing on the “+” button. Moreover, there’s an on-screen toggle to switch from camera to video mode, while another one perched close-by will switch it to the front facing camera.



Although it sizes up evenly against the competition with its 5-megapixel auto-focus camera, we’re far from being impressed with the tablet’s photo quality, partly because outdoor images have a light amount of detail, muddy appearance, and drab looking color production. Conversely, indoor images have some graininess to them, with fine detail blatantly lacking to sufficiently consider them as being passable. In low lighting conditions though, the LED flash manages to illuminate the shots, but it tends to make them look over-exposed. Yeah, you can shoot photos with this tablet, but are you willing to whip it out knowing that its production is less than desirable than most other things?





Horrifically, we’re more than shocked by the sheer ugliness of the tablet’s so-called 720p video recording. In fact, it’s almost hard to believe that some devices out there have the guts to mention that they shoot in high-definition – especially this one! Granted that it shoots at the smooth rate of 29 frames per second, that’s probably the only thing going for it, but it doesn’t take away from the super muddy looks of its video capturing results. Furthermore, its audio recording is almost appalling with its muffled tones. Honestly, you just might cry from watching any of its 720p videos just because it’s downright abysmal.



Acer ICONIA TAB A500 Sample Video:



Multimedia:

Browsing through content with the Gallery app is indeed nice, but there is an alternative experience with apps like Photo Browser 3D and nemoPlayer. As a matter of fact, the Photo Browser 3D app has a book like appearance, while flipping through photos is accomplished by placing your thumbs on the sides of the display while tilting the tablet. With the nemoPlayer’s photo gallery, it organizes photos by month, but aside from that, there isn’t much different with its operation and functionality.




Of course, we openly adore the eye-catching look of Honeycomb’s stock music player, but there’s another one offered by the nemoPlayer app. Getting into its music player interface, it’s pretty much straightforward with its presentation – like displaying the album cover, on-screen controls, and track information. Fortunately, the Acer ICONIA TAB A500 boasts a Dolby Mobile mode, which is accessed through the Android settings menu. With it activated, the audio emitted by its speakers is pretty good and pleasant to the ear, but lacks some bass to prominently make it stand out.



Whether you’re going to watch high-definition videos with the stock player or using the one offered with the nemoPlayer, the performance either way is fantastic. Loading up a video encoded in MPEG-4 1280 x 720 resolution, it plays it very smoothly with no evidence of any slowdown or lag. Adding to the fact that it has a sizable display, which of course produces some good visuals, it’s the perfect concoction for all your video watching requirements.



With 16GB of internal storage, it should be sufficient for most people, but if you’re big into shooting high-definition videos, it might be inadequate. Luckily though, there is a functional microSD card slot, unlike the Motorola XOOM, which allows you to supplement its capacity.

Internet and Connectivity:

In order to get that desktop like web browsing experience, the very first thing that’s required to do is to click the “Link to Adobe Flash” icon in the app panel. Once installed, the overall web browsing experience is fittingly good thanks to its usual set of features like smooth kinetic scrolling, responsive pinch gestures, and double tap for automatic resizing. Additionally, it doesn’t particularly degrade in performance when Flash content is present. However, we experienced just an abundant amount of freezes, lock ups, and force closes that just might hamper some people who are constantly web browsing. Still, we’d suspect that future updates would bring some stability to it.



Due to its affordable price tag of $449.99, the Acer ICONIA TAB A500 is only a Wi-Fi only tablet, rather than being cellular connected like its counterparts in the Motorola XOOM and T-Mobile G-Slate. Just like most things nowadays, you’ll find things like GPS for your location based services and Bluetooth 2.1 with EDR to get other wireless devices to connect with it.



Performance:

Seeing that it’s a Wi-Fi only connected device, its battery life is pretty good considering that after fully charging it, we’re able to get out approximately 2 days of normal usage. Fantastic indeed, it should prove to be more than plentiful in getting you comfy with the tablet, but it’s hard to gauge its capacity compared to its 3G connected competition.

Conclusion: 

Surely not something that you’d consider to be part of the elites in the tablet market, the single biggest and most important aspect about the Acer ICONIA TAB A500 is its affordable price tag. Rather than coming to market with a 3G connected model first, like much of its rivals, Acer’s entry of a Wi-Fi only model to test the market is remarkably the smart way of getting people to take notice – even more with its sub $500 cost. Sure it might not excel in all areas, like taking photos, but its faithful Android 3.0 Honeycomb experience easily keeps it in line with what we’ve seen with the Motorola XOOM and T-Mobile G-Slate. Therefore, if you’ve been holding out from buying a Honeycomb tablet primarily due to cost, you’ll undoubtedly find the Acer ICONIA TAB A500 to be the perfect solution to get you situated with the new platform – not to mention it won’t cost you an arm or leg!

Software version of the reviewed unit:
Android 3.0.1
Kernal Version: 2.6.36.3-00001-g9b3ce2b
Build number: Acer_A500_1.104.02_COM_GEN1

Acer ICONIA TAB A500 Video Review:



Pros

  • Affordable cost
  • Great battery life
  • Same platform performance as the competition

Cons

  • A bit of a cheap feeling
  • Extremely muddy looking 720p videos
  • Many crashes with the web browser

PhoneArena Rating:

7.5

User Rating:

9.7
9 Reviews

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