Acer Iconia A500 Android Honeycomb Tablet review


Two of my friends decided to join the tablet bridge, and wanted my advice starting with the perennial question Apple IPAD or Android tablet.  I gave them an update based on my ownership of both IPad and Android based devices.  After much thought they decided that they really needed more control over their tablet device than the apps, and since the user of the tablet was mainly for business use, the apps available in the Android market should be more than adequate.

So the next decision was to decide which tab. Here in Sri Lanka the tablet market had limited options, and options were Galaxy Tab 10.1 and 8.9 (3G version), Toshiba Thrive and the Acer A500 and A501 as branded Honeycomb devices.

Though they were initially tempted by the sexy slim design of the Galaxy Tab, they realized the benefit of the full USB and Micro SD capability, and decided to go with the A500 (they were going down the MIFI router path so the 3G version the A501 was not considered).  The Thrive was instantly discarded, since the local Toshiba agents price it way higher than the Acer A500, when it’s the other way around in other markets!, talk about stupid agent pricing.

Initial experience

I joined the two to go check out the A500, which strictly was to be a hands-on trial to aid the purchase decision which at the end of it became an immediate purchase by the end of the session.

Reading all the reviews, and loaded with Android experience as a former owner of an Xperia  X10, and then an owner of the Galaxy Tab 7” I felt confident I could easily demo the unit to the friends, since they had no experience of using any Android device, and were hard core Blackberry phone users!

Was I in for a shock with Honeycomb, it felt so very different to the phone OS version, and looked very much like a simplified version of Windows OS.  However one thing was sure, it definitely was not simple to use without some reading, and one can understand why many find the Honeycomb experience a bit daunting.

Fortunately for me, one of my buddies said why not take his device for a few days and play around and then update him, saving him time on learning. This means I got a chance of writing another review to my blog, and saving me the trouble of having to actually buy a device which has become a key limiter for articles.

Also featured this time are photos taken from the Nikon D5100, using the 35mm lens 🙂

The device

The Acer A500 was my initial choice before I then reverted to a buying an IPad2, main reason being the bug with the battery leak which was a concern initially.  This bug was fixed with the 3.0.1 update.

Now that I had the device with me, I was surprised how very different a 10.1 wide screen layout felt compared to the 4:3 format IPad device.  It felt much smaller though in fact it was not really.

While the Acer A500 was heavier than an IPad2, it was not something you call heavy, and once you do add the usual case, all tabs are pretty much too heavy for long time use, so I would not take that as a major reason unless you want to use a your tab for hours and hours.

A comparison photo with my IPad2, IPad 1 and the A500.  The topmost is the IPad2, right below is the Acer A500.  Below the Acer is the IPad1.  Resting under all this is the silicon cover for the Ipad1 🙂

Hardware

Well with a spec that is a match to any dual-core Tegra-2 based tablet, and considered one of the most powerful currently in the tablet market, it definitely has the horsepower for current and future tablet computing.  The main lag I feel is the Google Honeycomb OS itself and possible that the drivers by Nvidia are still being optimized and improved for the Android platform, considering Nvidia has been an relative late entry into the Android space, though it came out fighting with an awesome spec for the Tegra-2 platform.

Build Quality

The device is VERY VERY well built with a lot of metal being used.  The device passed around to many nearby colleagues in office!  One of them actually told that it looked like a big Nokia N8 in shape and build.  A Samsung Galaxy 7” tab user actually felt very envious by the gun-metal finish of the Acer, compared to the real plasticky feel of the Samsung tab.  It definitely felt classy and rugged.

Screen quality and use

Yes its may not be an IPS screen, and all the reviews talk about the viewing angles, etc.  However most users will find this screen more than good enough for personal use, considering the screen is way better than most laptop screens!  As an IPad user you also notice the extra resolution specially when looking at the small fonts on PDF files.

Being a capacitive screen, the multi-touch implementation is good and quite fluid.  However a common complaint by a person who has used an IPad is that that fluid-ness of the Google implementation is definitely not in par with the Apple implementation.

Also remember the screen has a Gorilla glass coating making it rugged.  However don’t forget a screen protector, as Gorilla glass does not mean scratch proof 🙂

One factor that was very evident was that in direct sunlight the screen is impossible to view, using a matt finish anti-glare screen protector may improve things, but it did not have a screen protector when I tested it.

Updates

When I connected the device, it first updated to 3.0.x and then updated to 3.1 and then to 3.2.  My friend who brought this device over the Samsung 10.1 was quite happy, since the Samsung had yet to give this update.  Kudos to Acer for giving the updates fast.  Oh yeah the other thing I forgot to mention is that the updates are OTA (over the air), and you don’t have that dreadful Samsung Kiev like software to work with.

Bundled Software

The device is bundled with several apps which I felt were actually messy to use, and there were much better free and paid ups on the Google market.

One crazy omission for a tablet that is actually having a full featured OS is the lack of a file manager as standard.  I am quite surprised why Google does not include this as a standard.  However Astro for Honeycomb tablets available free in the market provides a super file manager experience that may even have Windows users feeling a bit jealous.

Acer also does not bundle any Office application, which is a shame since the users of this tab would definitely like a complimentary copy of a Office application.  Samsung has this well covered, and so does many of the other Android tablet manufacturers.

Video Multimedia formats supported

Most reviews talk about it, but it’s worth noting that the default player provided by Acer does not have support for Divx/MKV which is disappointing.  However you can easily download free players from the Android Market that will help play these formats.  However one expects support for such formats considering these are standard formats in the present day multimedia playback needs.

Camera

Consider the device has a back camera and front camera, but don’t expect too much from the back facing 5MP camera. The camera is rather low end in nature and the picture quality is very noisy.  The positive is that the camera also has a LED flash which means you can take photos indoors as well. However the Android default camera software is quite featured, something I felt very lacking in my Nokia N8 which has such a great camera but poor software.

The video quality is decent, but not mind boggling.  The quality I felt was bit worse than the quality of the video that was produced by the Galaxy Tab 7”.

Audio Quality

A key reason that I sold the Galaxy Tab 7” which was more used by my son to watch videos and try out the pre-school apps was that the speaker volume was not very great, especially when used in an place where other people were speaking.  The IPad in contrast has a very loud and clear speaker that works quite well under such circumstances.

The Acer with its stereo speakers with Dolby was much louder and better than the 7” Galaxy tab but still not as loud as the IPad speaker.  The speakers being located in the behind also meant it could be muffled depending on use.

Picture below shows one of the speakers.  Looks cool 🙂

Connectivity

The most irritating thing with an IPad is that you have so many limitations in storing content into the device.  Default browser does not allow you to save any kind of video or music file, and while you can use other alternative browsers it still not a very intuitive way.  In most case you have to depend on ITunes to sync contents with your PC / Mac to get content into the tab.

Android is capable of being just like Windows with support for loading storage devices on the fly in the likes of SD cards, flash drives, portable hard disks and even USB mouses, as long as the device has the ports.  However not all Android devices have these ports, specially the most popular Samsung devices which are cool designs but skip on these and you have to use adapters to work around for some.

The acer has most of the required ports a FULL USB, very cool, a micro SD  which is very useful too (no full SD card like thrive the swiss knife of Android tablets).  It also has a built-in micro HDMI (sadly the cable to connect to a HDMI device has to purchased separately, only Nokia is well known for providing all cables!) and it also has a micro USB as well.

Battery life and recharge time

Since my reviews are purely on feel, I don’t have measures to prove this but I am sure you can find reviews from sites on actual facts.

But as a user I feel the battery drain is much greater than an IPad on regular use such as browsing, video playback.  The recharging time is not slow as was the case with the Samsung Galaxy tab (that takes hours which is very painful), and is more akin to an IPad charging, which is bearable.

Gaming

Sadly did not get much time to install any games and test, but tried out one racing game and found it very fluid and jerk free.  The accelerometer and Gyro are definitely things that make gaming on tabs a cool feature.  The Tegra-2 has the GPU power to handle gaming well, so in case you are looking for gaming in addition to the normal business usage of the tab, this is a match to any other Tegra-2 Android device.  Just in case you want to know where the Tegra-2 falls currently, it’s much more powerful than the one in the Apple IPad1, but is not in the same league as the IPad2.  However this is purely on the GPU capability as the gaming experience is based on many more factors than pure GPU capability.

Conclusion

I will write my story of Honeycomb on a separate blog, but these are my takes on the Acer A500.

  1. It may not be an IPad2 or Galaxy Tab in the slim feel, but it definitely is not thick and I am sure most could be very happy.  It is definitely a balance between coolness and actual usefulness.  The Acer A500 is quite cool but is superbly useful.  The built quality is super and really oozes class.
  2. The screen may not be IPS screen but is definitely a very high quality LCD screen, and is more than good enough.  However it’s very reflective, so make sure you get a good matt finish anti-glare screen protector.  The Gorilla glass coating also means the screen can take a degree of punishment, something an IPad user will be hesitant on.
  3. The built-in device connectivity features are awesome and makes this one of the best Android tablets for geeks, and power users.  You can simply transfer and load content in every conceivable way USB flash, portable hard disk, micro SD, Bluetooth.  IPad users can only sulk on this propositionJ, and even Galaxy Tab owners will be red faced unless they have an USB adapter to get some level of equality.
  4. The battery life is decent, though not in the league of the IPad device.  Based on reviews it’s a bit low compared to the Galaxy 10.1 Tab as well.  However it definitely is sufficient for over 4-5 hours of use, which makes it suitable for most tab owners, is my feeling.  The quick recharge counters the Galaxy Tabs longer battery life.  If you want more juice get a Sanyo enelope charger that can overcome this limitation easily!
  5. Having both a front and rear camera is useful, as you can take a candid photo, or use it for video calls.  However don’t expect the camera to replace your point and shoot or DSLR.
  6. The audio quality from the speakers is good, but its not very loud.  Compared to my older Galaxy Tab 7” it is way louder, but not a match for the single speaker IPad 1 or IPad 2.

Where can I  buy it in Sri Lanka and the experience when buying it

The Acer is only sold by the agents in Sri Lanka, but the pricing is very competitive.  The only issue is that the agent has ridiculous way of selling.

  • They don’t have this device in any showroom, and you have to go to their head office.
  • The sales lady draws the tablet from her desk and then you had to stand around her desk and use the device!
  • Since we were considering the wifi version, there is no wi-fi to connect to the Internet and test the device.
  • The person selling has no idea of using the device or the configuration (we had to find out how much storage it had)
  • The agent only sells the tab, they do not sell any of the accessories.  So you have to find a way to get them down from overseas, or depend on eBay for the screen protector, case, and other goodies!
  • Once you pay for the device you are given a receipt and told to go to the basement of the building (a dark and gloomy place) to pick the device from the warehouse

This is indeed sad, considering the Acer A500 is a very good Android tab and sells over 10K less than the Samsung Galaxy 10.1.  I also feel in the local context, the connectivity options in the Acer makes it more applicable for most users if they are going Android over the Samsung tab.

I do hope the agents realize this and make this tab available among their retailers (the retailers sell the Acer laptops but not the tab, puzzling) and also bring in some of the popular accessories that are a must (screen protector, case at the minimum).

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