Tag Archives: Acer

Acer Iconia W510: Windows 8 “budget” Tablet Convertible, great battery life but flawed and underpowered


A friend of mine had one the Acer W510 Windows Tablet Convertible he had won  as well as as the prize for an event conducted and sponsored by Microsoft for students to promote writing apps for Windows 8.  He brought the device as he was about to dispose it and move to an Apple Mac (yeah a Mac, supposedly it ran windows on a VM far more efficient and reliably than native Windows on any other hardware, scary) for me to get a quick feel of the device and Windows 8 on a tablet device.

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Readers be aware that this is a device running normal Windows 8 on a tablet, and not the tablet friendly RT device. To me devices such as the Acer W510 make far better sense, than a pure Windows RT device with the arrival of the newer range of lower power (ULV) Atom and Intel Core series based devices.  Why would you want to limited yourself to RT specific apps, when you can have both RT and Windows apps in one device!

For those who are not aware, Windows 8 comes in many flavors, not just versions.  The normal windows 8 as we know is a upgrade of Windows 7 can can any windows application.  However recently Microsoft launched a version called Windows 8 RT, which is a pure tablet device that uses a new set of libraries for developers to write pure tab applications.  These can be run on normal Windows 8 as well as Windows 8 RT devices. However Windows 8 RT devices cannot run normal Windows applications, so you are limited, severely limited if you buy a RT device.

The Acer W510 runs a normal version of Windows 8, with the only limitation being that it is a 32-bit version of Windows 8, as 64-bit is not supported by the hardware used, and it is also limited to 2GB memory, both harking back to netbook origins.

What is a Tablet Convertible

A tablet convertible as they call it is a device that can work as tablet device, and also provide almost laptop like functionality to the user.  The devices in the past used to come in mainly as rotating screens (either you twist it to face you, or as in the case of DELL with their swinging screens on a frame).  However with Intel working hard on reducing the power consumption and heat generation of their processors to make the mobile friendly, the time has come where the laptop internals have all moved to the screen, making truly tablet like formats possible, which is where the Acer W510 fits in.

The hardware

The Acer W510 is what is labeled as a budget tablet convertible, but its not by any means a cheap device, since it cost more than many far more powerful ultra portable laptops.  The term convertible here means that you can use the device purely as a tablet, or when connected to the optional dock, as a laptop.

However the advantage a convertible device provides is that it can be used a tablet and if required to a lesser degree as a laptop.  Its this key advantage that also makes the prices high, but the Acer W510 is one of the cheapest (and least powerful) devices in this market, as most other feature far more powerful Intel Core i3/5/7 processor based solutions including Acer’s own W700.  I am sure by the end of this year we will see a lot more such devices, and the ultabooks may switch to this format since the ultra books in the current format have not faired well against the Mac Air and MacBook Pro devices.

So what powers the Acer W510.  Let me discuss each separately

Processor

Processing is handled by an Intel “Clover Trail” Atom Z2670 1.8Ghz dual-core processor. This is better regarded for its very low 1.7W TDP power consumption than processing power. The desktop version of this model is the N2600 Atom.  The Z2670 Atom is a lot more powerful than the Atom processor range that used to power the rather primitive netbooks until recently, and yet it consumes nearly half the power compared to the previous gen Atom dual-core.  However compared to a Core i3 or even a dual-core Celeron based on the Sandy Bridge or Ivy line, this processor can be considered very very limiting for high end stuff, but for normal usage (web browsing, document editing, etc) this should be more than sufficient.

Graphics

Graphics is handled by a PowerVR SGX545 unit.  This does mean that it has more graphics capability than the Intel GMA series featured in old Atom netbooks, but sadly its no match for event the latest HD 4000 graphics from Intel which itself is in simple terms is crappy in the 3D performance aspect.  In an era where we talk of multi-core/stream based graphics processors, the PowerVR graphics core is a single-core unit, and is sadly far less capable than the PowerVR units that are featured in the Apple IPad devices, and Android tablets.  Intel should have coupled the Atom processor with a far more capable PowerVR unit so that the 3D capabilities of this SoC could have been improved.

Another concern over the Cloverleaf Atom and SGX545 combination is that, this was brought as a temporary measure for Intel to provide some decent low power graphics to its Atom range, and the proper Intel HD 4000 based Atom units are due soon.  The PowerVR chip has gained very little support due to this fact, and with the arrival of an Intel HD based solution the driver support from Intel is sure to vane.

A recent test by the famous Anandtech on graphics capability across platforms shows that the PowerVR SGX545 is one of the weakest in the range, out done by practically all current mobility graphics cores.  The Acer W510 was the preferred test platform but due to the fact the drivers kept crashing they had to shift to an ASUS with similar hardware, and the results were disappointing to say the least.

Memory

Memory is limited to 2GB (DDR2 type!) due to the SoC that this is built, and 2GB in recent times is definitely not enough for Windows based machines, so don’t plan to run anything serious on these devices.

Storage

Storage is handled by a SSD unit, but comes in a 32GB or 64GB format.  Both to most will be rather limiting as the OS and the Acer recovery itself will take more than 20GB of that space.  However the unit features a microSD slot that can take upto a 64GB micro SDXC card, that should boost storage. 

But unlike its big brother the W700 with the Intel Core series processors, the Atom based units feature MMC based designs, which means you get miserable read and write performances even though the W510 features an internal SSD compared to the Intel Core based convertibles that have a mSATA implementation.  This might explain why the startup from a full shutdown took over 30 secs, when all are speaking of under 5 second boot up times with SSD.  This limitation will apply to all Intel Atom based tablet convertibles currently in the market.

Display

The display is a 10.1inch IPS backlit TFT unit with 1366×768 pixels, which may not be fancy but does a very very decent job.  The resolution is very popular among most ultra books and laptops in the Windows market, and while it may  not be as great as a full HD unit, i feel the lower resolution suits Windows 8 tablets since the higher resolution will make touch a nightmare.  The display is classified as a 5-point capacitive touch screen and does not have digitizer as featured in the Surface Pro devices and Samsung Ativ devices, so while it does the job it does not have great touch capabilities.

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Acer seems to be rather lacking in marketing flair as they miss out bragging that this device actually does come with a layer of Gorilla Glass 2 protection, a fairly important fact since many Android tablets miss this out.

The unit was configured with the font size scaling set to Medium (125%), however even with this enlarged font size, its not easy to use the tablet since the OS is bog standard windows except for the RT apps and the new Windows shell.  Launching explorer and getting a file to be selected is only easy in icon view, if not good luck trying to select the correct file. 

Here is where a digitizer and pen can be useful, and Microsoft Surface and the ATIV have got this sorted out.  Sadly no such luck for the Acer W510.

In addition the rotation of the device is painfully slow, a trait that the Windows Phone 8 also shares, though in the case of Windows 8 its rotates like a snail, i am amazed why Microsoft seems so incapable of achieving this when all other vendors have done this with amazing ease. Rotation is nowhere even close to how quickly an Android tablet or phone manages, let along the silky smooth rotation of an IPad.  Microsoft has a lot of work to do in this front for Windows 8 in any format to match the competition.

Battery

The device sports a fairly large 27Wh battery which supposedly can power the Tablet for over 8 hrs of usage, and over 3 weeks of standby.  Again i could not test this, but all reviews confirm that the tab actually can last over 7hrs which is a pretty decent performance.  What is more impressive is that when coupled with the battery in the dock the tab can extend to over 12-18hrs (and some cases based on usage over 20hrs) of usage, impressive.  However considering the Atom processor is very much similar to an Arm based A9 quad-core in power, and also less capable in the 3D arena than such a device, this may not be much to brag.

However for what most would use this which is genera windows work, reading epub and PDF, browsing, the battery life performance maybe something that is very positive about this device.

The more powerful Intel Core i5 and i7 based convertibles struggle offer even 4-5 hours of performance in tablet format, and these throttle the processor when operating in tablet mode which also means you don’t get the chance to use it at full power. If you do want these more powerful devices can give you the horsepower but watch these devices drain juice so much that even 2hrs of usage maybe asking too much.  Some such as the Surface Pro come with massive batteries (48Wh) and while this will give you good performance, i am sure the battery will not last too long, and your lifetime of your device may not be that great for pure tab use.

Another area the Clover Trail platform brings out is what Acer calls “Always On technology”.  This means when you press the power button the machine goes into standby just like a normal Android or Apple tablet, and consumes very little power and offers standby of over 2-3 weeks. In addition pressing the power again gets the device back to life in under 3 secs. This capability is yet to reach the Intel Core series, which have very poor standby time.

So on the whole in the battery department the W510 does very very well is the short side of the story.

Connectivity

The tablet has been well designed with many options including a micro USB, micro HDMI, microSD onboard. Acer also provides the adapter so that you can use a USB device with the micro USB port if you require.

However one issue that you can point to the W510, similar to the Galaxy tab devices and the IPad devices is that it uses a proprietary cable for sync and charging, and avoids what is now a common option of using the micro USB port.

The dock sadly only provides a single USB 2.0 port, other than that it does not bring much more to the connectivity capabilities.

Camera

The W510 comes with a 8MP back camera with a LED flash

Weight

This is one area the Acer designers attempts at skimming has worked, as the tab with all the Intel hardware is just 576g in weight, which makes it lighter than most tablets.  Add the dock it still is very light at 1.26kg.

What is missing compared to tablets from Apple and Android

The W510 is more a laptop in tablet format, than a true tablet is the first thing you have to realize, if not you are going to be mighty displeased.

The Windows tablets lack some capabilities that we may expect in modern tabby devices, mainly

  1. No built-in 3G, but you can use a 3G dongle with no problems and work with this device. However the W511 model has built in 3G.
  2. No GPS, now this is a weird miss, since any tablet like device i feel needs a GPS unit for map features as well as location specific apps

How does it work for general Windows applications

I tried the device out as a tablet that can help me do stuff i need to do from a Windows device on the move. 

  1. Microsoft Office: What more can i say it runs normal MS office and you have no limitations on the editing or viewing.  The Atom processor is more than capable of providing satisfactory performances
  2. Browsing: Comes with IE 10, but you can install any browser available for the Windows platform including Chrome.  Browsing is smooth unlike the Atom processors in the netbooks, though it can slow down if you open too many tabs.  This is maybe due to the a combined reason that it only has 2GB memory and the Atom processor is not power horse.  However while i could not test the benchmarks personally, referring to several reviews indicated that the browser performance was actually far superior to the Android devices and Windows RT based devices, and even bests the performance of the King of tabs, the IPad 4 in some tests!
  3. PDF viewing: I used the Windows PDF reader as opposed to Acrobat.  The PDF rendering was pretty good, and i would say it performed better than quad-core Android tablets i have tried including the Tegra 3 on the Nexus 7 and the Exynos quad-core on the Note 10.1.  The PDF rendering was also superior to the IPad 2 i had a while back.  However the stability of the PDF reader bundles with Windows 8 seems a bit poor as it crashed out once when using.  

I currently run Windows 8 on my work laptop which is a 3rd Gen Core i5 with 8GB RAM, but with a standard 5400rpm hard disk.  Compared to this machine in the above applications the Atom based W510 performed decent enough, however things that i could not try, but which i found on the web were,

  1. Very poor performance when unzipping and zipping files (directly attributed to the poor Atom processor)
  2. Very poor performance in video and music conversion (Again due to the poor Atom processor, and also due to the fact that the PowerVR graphics is only used with the Atom, hence the third party app support for acceleration is non-existence for this graphics core)
  3. Poor multi-tasking performance (this is more due to the 2GB limitation of the SoC platform, there is no way you can upgrade memory for these units)
  4. Gaming capabilities is practically non-existent, check out Anandtech where the frame rates were checked of the PowerVR on the CloverTrail to other platforms including Android and Apple devices. It comes last in most cases.

How does it work with Windows RT applications

Unlike Windows RT devices, the Windows 8 devices can run both native Windows apps as well as RT apps.  Further currently most RT devices running Windows are using the Tegra 3 based SoC though some such as the unit from Dell use the Qualcom Krait based solution with the Adreno 225 graphics.  However it seems the Atom combined with  the PowerVR unit can do better than, indicating that even the “rock bottom” processors in the Intel line up are more powerful than the cutting edge mobile units from Qualcomm, and Nvidia however sadly the Intel units cannot match the miserly power consumption of the Arm based devices other than with the Atom based units.

I only tried one RT app which was a game, and it played quite smoothly however as more powerful games roll out for the RT market, the Atom and the PowerVR chip are unlikely to be able to sustain this, so don’t by this if you are thinking this is going to be storming gaming platform, and not that the Windows RT store has any large number of good games!

Multimedia experience

The tablet comes with stereo speakers that are astonishingly loud, much louder than any Android tablet i have used, now that is great.  However the speakers are beautifully placed such that its the place you keep your hands when you hold the tab in landscape mode, which means you end up blocking the speakers and muffling the sound.  Good job speaker designer, bad job tab layout designer for Acer.

I played some music and found that the speakers were pretty decent with the sound quality, which was impressive.

I then tried some videos including 720P and 1080P.  I had read in many reviews the Atom processor and the PowerVR graphics chip were not very good at 1080P, however with the Windows 8 video player the unit played 1080P videos pretty darn fine.  However it seems MKV format was not supported by the native player.

The owner of the tab had installed KM player, but this player definitely does not support hardware acceleration for the PowerVR chip, and was struggling to play even 720p videos smoothly. I could not try the VLC media player, possibly this may do a better job.

The Dock

Acer did well to make a dock that also had an additional battery that would make this tablet one of the longest running devices in the market with over 18hrs of usage time combined.  Once the tablet is attached to the dock, an auto lock is enabled to avoid the tab from falling, and it looks and feels like a proper laptop once its attached.

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However it seems if the dock is not powered, the dock will not charge the tablet battery, but the tab will use the battery in the dock.  If the dock is connected to a power source, then the dock will charge the tablet battery while it powers the tablet.

A cool design that the Acer engineers have done for the W510 is that when you rotate the laptop keyboard backwards so that you can use the laptop like a picture frame or use the keyboard as a stand, the keyboard is auto disabled so that the keys facing the surface will not cause any interferences.

W510-photo frame mode

The dock provides only one full USB port, to be more precise an USB 2.0 port 😦  Acer could have done better by including an additional port so that you can use a mouse, etc and preferably a USB 3.0 port for fast data transfers.

Acer designers seem to have set their priorities to make the combined dock and tablet very light weight, but in doing that they have done a criminal mistake in that the dock is lighter than the tablet since all the PC hardware now resides in the tablet. 

This uneven balance means that unlike a proper laptop the W510 when connected to the dock tends to tip back very easily and is nearly impossible to use if you are seated and want to have it on your lap.  For all such use, you are better off using it in tablet mode.

The next IMPORTANT bit that the designers have screwed up is the keyboard, the feel is very cheap and plasticky and the keyboard has very poor feel, and is rather slow.  The ability to type fast as in the case of a normal laptop keyboard is practically impossible, so don’t for one moment think that this dock is going to make this a full fledged laptop.

The touchpad in the dock does not have any of the multi touch capabilities that new laptops have, and it merely provides basic capabilities. However compared to the rest of the ill fated design, this performs acceptably.

The dock does not have any fancy features such as a providing the ability to attach a hard disk so in the dock, which is a cool feature you see with the ASUS transformer Windows convertible.

A lesson that convertible designers have to get is that while low weight is important, by making the dock super light you mess up the balance, and then any advantage of the convertible format is gone. For buyers you are recommended to try out the device with the dock to see if it works for you, and if you are buying purely based on online, see the reviews as well as the weight of the tablet and the dock separately, if the tab weights more its most likely that tab will not balance well with the dock and provide you pure laptop capability.

RECOVERY and RESET

Here is something that you have to know.  The tablet convertible in all essence is a laptop with the hardware on the screen than under a keyboard.  Which means if you want to recover you have to do it like a laptop. 

The Acer W510 64GB version comes with a separate recovery partition, which allows you to recover it just like a laptop. However the 32GB version is to small to have a recovery partition which needs almost 11GB, so the recovery is provided as 3 DVDs.  if you by any chance delete the recovery or have to recover the 32GB version things are not simple.

Based on my findings on the Acer forums its quite “complicated” and includes the following.  This is because its a laptop in tablet format, the Windows RT devices feature recoveries similar to what we see with Android and Apple devices since the platform is smaller and pure tablet type.

  1. Connecting a proper USB keyboard to the device with the provided micro USB to USB adapter.  You cannot use the provided dock keyboard since it uses a proprietary port which Windows cannot understand.
  2. You have to then boot in recovery mode
  3. Once you have booted to recovery mode you have to attach an USB DVD drive and insert the recovery disks to get back to the original state

Useful links if you are recovering or want to install Windows 8 Pro which is not bundled with the W510 usually include,

Conclusion

To start off, the important thing to realize is that these full fledged Windows 8 convertible tablets, are not really a competitor to the IPad/Android tablets, as that is supposed to be handled by the Windows RT OS devices. These devices are in reality an alternative to an ultrabook or laptop, with the added advantage that you can use it as a tablet if you desire.  However the OS is the one we are all to familiar and hence don’t expect any real touch friendly assistance.

What you get is that you can run all RT based applications assuming the graphics can be be handled (the Tegra 3 and Adreno 225 units are far more capable on the 3D area than the PowerVR unit on the Atom SoC), plus that you can run normal Windows applications in one single device. 

You also get the ability to run normal Microsoft Office (though unlike the RT version, you don’t get a free license!) along with other download tools that are not well supported on the tablet OS platforms such as iOS and Android.

So to me these devices bring what Windows users have been craving for many years, and were not able to get hold of such devices and had to opt for twist type screens on the laptops.

But the story is not a great one for the Cloverleaf Atom + PowerVR graphics unit that is featured in the Acer W510 and other similar rival devices.  The key reason is not the processing power of the Atom processor, but rather the limited capabilities of the PowerVR graphics core, and more so that fact that its an interim solution until Intel got out its HD graphics based solutions which should give the ideal platform.  This can already been seen on the similar but massively greater performing Intel Corei5/i7 ULV based convertibles.

If you really need one of these devices save up and get the i5/i7 based convertibles is my advice, or wait for the Intel HD graphics based Atom SoC that should provide far better performance, and assured driver support.

The Acer W510 offers much, and has many design decisions that are truly great, and its battery life is something that shows Intel based chips and Windows can compete against the others in battery life and general performance, but its the next gen Atom with the extra juice which is going to be the real steal, and that may come in the form of the W520 🙂 Get that when it comes….

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Acer Iconia A500 Official ICS brief review


Acer was haggled and hassled over the delayed availability of the ICS build for the Acer A500.  However when you look at the market for devices that originally came with Honeycomb 3.0 (and subsequently updated to 3.2), only a handful of manufacturers have rolled out their updates for tablet devices.  Samsung for instance has yet to roll out their update.

One of the first to provide this was ASUS for the TF101 Transformer, and oh boy did they screw it up.  The tablet to this date after many patches is still having a big problem where the device goes into a continuous restart loop when left idle so much so that the  power drains overnight.   In addition the cool feature of the TF101 transformer was the keyboard dock, but it seems the critical bug where once the dock battery had depleted, and the dock starts using the tablet battery has not had a proper fix and also requires you to return the dock for some part replacement.  I nearly went to get a TF101 tab as a stop gap purchase until the new quad core devices became “affordable” but sadly this issue put me of big time.

With this in mind, I was a bit skeptical updating the tab since it was owned by a friend of mine.  While i saw many providing sufficiently positive responses on the update, i went ahead and i was pleased to say Acer definitely has done a fair job with the ICS update that i have not had any issues.

Will post some screen shots and benchmarks, but here are some initial impressions.

1. The interface is now a lot more nippy compared to Honeycomb, with swiping now being super smooth.  Another friend who also brought the A500 and update from 3.2 to ICS was extremely pleased how much more smoother and nippy the device was with the ICS update.

2. No issues of battery drain when left idle with WIFI switched off.

3. No issues with WIFI signal loss which was an issue for some, turns out this was for the folks who manually updated their tabs with the US firmware for devices used in Europe and Asia.  Channel 12 and 13 are disabled for US devices by regulations and this was causing the problem based on the forum feedback.

4. Some of the cool features such as the Acer Ring which available with the ICS for the newer Acer tablets is not included with the ICS build for the A500.

5. The new stock browser is a lot faster, though i prefer to use Opera Mini or Mobile for my light browsing and opting for stock or Dolphin for any more complex browsing purposes.

6. Benchmarks have improved, and so has the real life usage performance.  The good news is that the Acer A500 is not impacted by the more demanding ICS on hardware.  The larger memory and dual core configuration definitely being more than adequate for ICS.

7. No restarts since installing ICS, which is great since it has been over 2 weeks since i ran the update.  This is truly great since none of my other devices had this level of stability after installing ICS.

Vellamo a test run to see how the scrolling and web performance, indicates with ICS the upgrade has improved and so has the driver maturity for Tegra 2.  Even with a higher screen size it is able to out perform the Galaxy Nexus and the Note which are running newer hardware.  What is also interesting is how close it it performance to the quad-core Transformer Prime!

 

Here are some screens with the Acer A500 running ICS.  Unlike the updates for the Huawei MediaPad and the Sony Arc, Acer has modified the release to restrict some of the developer options in the settings menu.

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).