Acer is just one of many companies playing its hand in the rapidly growing tablet space. But can any tablet actually overtake the Apple iPad for the number one position?
I've gotten my hands on a number of tablets, including the Samsung Galaxy Tab (7"), the BlackBerry PlayBook, and now the Acer Iconia Tab A500. And while each has its own benefits and advantages, I tend to find myself reverting to the iPad for everyday Web surfing, application use, and other typical activities. No matter what other tablet is in my hands.
But each new tablet that launches offers its own benefits over the iPad. With the PlayBook, it's the BlackBerry Bridge function that allows me to access my BlackBerry smartphone contents seamlessly on the tablet. With the Galaxy, it's features like Flash support and the more pocketable design. And the Iconia offers up some compelling features of its own.
Before getting into specifics, let's look at the basics.
Based on the Android 3.0 operating system, the Iconia Tab has a 10.1-inch WXGA (1,280 x 800) screen, and comes in 16 and 32 GB capacities. It boasts a dual-core Tegra 2 processor, 1 GB of RAM, HDMI output, a front 2 MP camera and rear 5 MP camera, and microSDHC and USB slots. It weighs 1.69 lbs. It also offers Flash 10.2 support.
It connects via WiFi, and also has Bluetooth 2.1 EDR, and built-in GPS.
The tablet measures 260 x 177 x 13.3 mm, which is slightly smaller than the iPad 2 in length (the iPad is 185 mm long), but larger in width (the iPad is 241.2 mm), boasting a true widescreen design. It's also much thicker at 13.3 mm versus the iPad's slim 8.8 mm frame. It comes with a rechargeable lithium-polymer battery, plus Dolby Mobile for audio.
It starts at US$450 for the 16 GB version.
As an objet, the Iconia Tab is absolutely gorgeous, with a sleek black and gun metal bezel, crisp screen, and clearly marked Acer logo on the back. It gives off the feel of a computer, not just a tablet. But it's also very heavy; almost half a pound heavier than the iPad 2, and even 0.1 lbs heavier than the similarly-sized Motorola Xoom. This isn't a device I'd use often handheld for long periods of time; I can't see myself curling up reading an eBook with it like I would with the iPad, PlayBook, or Galaxy Tab. But I would use it for occasional Web surfing, e-mail access, but most likely desktop-mounted with a stand and Bluetooth keyboard.
Turn it on using the side-mounted power key (I wish it were on top, which would be less awkward), than swipe the lock image to unlock it and begin. You can swipe right and left to scroll through menu and app screens.
Connecting online was a breeze, with the unit automatically picking up our WiFi network in the office, and my home connection.
It was immediately apparent that the dual-core processor pays off. Loading Websites and running applications is ultra-fast. However, some of my most frequented Websites forced the mobile version of the site, when I always prefer the full site, even if I'm on a mobile device. This didn't happen on other tablets like the iPad and BlackBerry PlayBook. Other Websites, however, appeared perfectly.
The cameras are better than those in the iPad, however, delivering more natural looking and less blurry shots; potentially likely thanks in large part to the LED flash capabilities. A light sensor detects the amount of light and adjusts the 262K screen's brightness accordingly. Having the microSDHC card slot is a plus as well for added storage, as is the HDMI output for viewing content on a large-screen TV or other monitor.
While the Tab is supposed to support Flash, I was unable to play back the Flash videos on our Website until I realized that you have to first download the Adobe Flash player from the Android Market. It's free, and worked flawlessly once I took the few minutes to do that. Audio is also impressive for a tablet via the built-in Dolby Mobile technology and stereo audio.
Battery life is favourable; used it occasionally and running in sleep mode 24/7 for a week, and it lasted the whole way through.
One of the features that sets the Iconia Tab apart is called SocialJogger, an application for displaying live updates from various social networking sites allowing you to share and view content through the one portal. This is supposed to include Facebook, YouTube, and Flickr, but I could only manage to connect Facebook and Twitter; no other sites were listed, nor could I figure out how to add them.
I could update my status on both sites simultaneously, which I found redundant considering that I already have my two accounts linked so every Tweet appears on Facebook anyway through a third-party application. But I could also view streams of updates from both sites, categorized by links, photos, my page, and all. When composing a status update, you can choose if you only want it to post to one site or both. The tablet will also show a convenient counter to ensure you don't go over the 140-character limit for Twitter updates, or the 400 limit for Facebook. Still, the feature was a bit of a letdown, as I figured the function would serve more of a purpose than what it actually does.
The feature I really found neat, however, is the full-sized USB port on the right side of the unit for connecting USB flash drives or other USB devices (FAT or FAT32 only) to view photos, music, and videos on the tablet. Pop in the drive, then hit the Gallery tab, and you'll see thumbnails of the photos appear under usb_storage drive. The operative word, however, is view; you can't save the files to the tablet directly from the USB drive. But you can view images and videos together or separately; and view by album, by time, location, or tags. You can also send photos from the drive to an e-mail address, via Bluetooth to another device, or to Picasa or Gmail while connected. Images can be rotated, cropped, and set as a contact photo or wallpaper. Where available, details on the photo can also be viewed, like when the photo was taken, and with what camera and which settings. Still, it's a neat function for having a larger screen to show off content instead of a smartphone, for example, or having to find a full-sized PC or notebook.
Another neat photo-related feature is called Photo Browser 3D. Hold the tablet on either side, with your thumbs in the centre right and left points of the screen, then tilt the tablet left and right to flip through a virtual photo album. You can also flick your thumb inward to simulate turning a page in a photo book, and even see the page flipping upward like you would with real paper. Place one thumb on the screen and slide the other up and down to zoom in and out of a photo.
The tablet also has a bottom dock port for connecting optional accessories, and a headphone jack. LumiRead is included for ebook reading.
Another addition is Acer's own clear.fi media sharing system that allows customers to store files in one spot, then communicate with other Clear.fi enabled devices on the home network to share the files among them. But since I didn't have any other Acer products on hand, I was unable to try out this function.
Using the Iconia Tab is a pleasurable experience. You'll enjoy the ultra-fast Web browsing, gaming, and application toggling. Convenience features like the USB port and SD card slot make it easy to use the tablet as a sharing or content viewing device.
But there are limitations; most notably the bulky weight.
The Iconia Tab is a viable contender in the tablet race. But it may be geared toward a different customer base than the iPad and some of the other Android devices. I can't fully put my finger on why, but for some reason, this tablet seems more business oriented than consumer-focused. It may just be my perception of Acer as a computing company, and this device as almost a hybrid tablet and entry-level computer. Nevertheless, the Iconia Tab is worth considering if you're looking for a powerful tablet that can get the job done.