Acer Iconia Tab A500 review – India’s first Honeycomb tablet
Acer Iconia Tab A500 was the first Honeycomb tablet landed on Indian retails. And we’re happy to make a review of this mighty 10.1″ tab. So let’s start!
Unlike with any box available for consumers to take home, this box comes with surprisingly good things – a charger, a microUSB to USB cable, some documentations telling what we are going to tell you in the next few moments, fine cleaning cloth and a microHDMI to HDMI cable (only for the stock shipped from July). Did we tell it also has a tablet with a 10.1 inch screen? That precisely tells “whats in the box” stuff of the story, but the complete package ends with a protective casing packed separately, which when folded works as a stand for the tab. It’s nice to find the tab packed with so many essential stuffs, so consumers won’t have to buy such accessories separately.
When you see a tablet for the first time, the first apparent thing you see is the design – same goes for this one as well, just like any other Honeycomb tablet, it’s made for use in landscape mode – unlike iPad. It’s around 13.5 mm thick which is obviously thicker than iPad 2 (8.8mm) and even Motorola Xoom (12.9mm) but you will know what does it bear all that fat for in a bit. It also weighs 750g which is more than 100g heavier than iPad 2 (613g) – so you can’t hold this thing in your hand for long if you are on your bed, just like the iPad 2. But the weight is still decent for the grip and the silver brushed aluminium case also helps with it.
On to probably the best thing this tab has to offer – a ton of ports. The upper right side has the charging input, below that is a MicroUSB 2.0 port and a full USB 2.0 port, where else would you find that? The full USB port brings a ton of possibilities with it, like using any keyboard you would wish to use, you can also connect a mouse if you are the type of person who uses mouse on a tablet. It also lets you connect your USB flash storage or a portable HDD/SSD, provided that they are in FAT32 format because Android doesn’t recognize NTFS and other formats as of now. There’s also a tiny factory reset button on the bottom right side, but it needs something pointy like a needle to actually do anything. On the left side, there’s the obvious power/sleep button beside a 3.5mm audio port. At the top, there’s a volume rocker, orientation lock and a microSD card slot which is compatible with upto 32GB memory cards. At the bottom of left side there’s the Micro-HDMI 1.4 port which makes it capable of pushing full 1080p videos to your HDTV and at bottom of the tab it’s got the proprietary Acer dock connector to connect with some of the Acer’s accessories like the charging dock.
There are also two cameras to make this thing even more beefy. The front 2 MP camera is placed at a very odd place at the top right side when holding in portrait mode – much like a smartphone, this obviously is bad for video chatting in landscape – which is how this tablet is made to use. Video quality isn’t something revolutionary but should be decent enough for some quick calls at 640 x 480 resolution. The rear cam isn’t any good either, although it has AutoFocus enabled by default and comes with an LED flash, and also comes with a lens capable of taking snaps with 5 million pixels – which is 5 megapixels – the color reproduction is the one of the worst we have seen in any tablet yet, and the video below is enough to prove that.
Auto white balance seems to be a joke here, although it has a much better clarity in colors, the brightness is way too high for anything - ultimately you have to choose the white balance mode yourself according to the scene and hope you would get some decent color reproduction and brightness, but no matter which white balance mode we selected, the stills just failed to have any hope of decent color reproduction. This doesn’t change for videos either – it can record 720p videos, but we still couldn’t get what we were expecting from the camera. Have a look at the video below to get an idea, the auto whitebalance was pathetic, objects are brighter and contrast is way too less giving a very unrealistic image. It was cloudy outside so we switched to cloudy white balance and all we had was over saturated contrast and colors. Audio recording is awful as well because of the odd placement of the mic which we will talk about in a moment. Not impressed Acer.
The stereo speakers are placed at the rear and comes with Dolby Mobile giving really impressive sound quality – though the impressiveness of that sound turns into lameness when you place the tab on anything soft like a cushion. Although almost every tablet has speakers at the rear, BlackBerry PlayBook was an intelligent exception. And you are probably never going to find the microphone unless you read this – It’s in the center of the tab (horizontally) above the screen, beneath the aluminium casing slit – almost invisible for anyone to even notice. It’s really a shame to find the mic at such a strange place, resulting in distorted and heavy sound/voice reduction.
Display isn’t the worst of all but it isn’t something über epic either. As said – it’s 10.1 inch in size, and comes with a regular TFT LCD screen covered by the usual capacitive touchscreen, and runs on the standard Honeycomb resolution of 1280 x 800 pixels. Here’s the thing – the display generates only 18 bit (262k pixels) colors. 16M pixels or in other words 24 bit is what smartphone’s and other tablets’ use as a standard. 18 bit is simply ridiculous because of which the display – although capable of outputting at 1280 x 800 resolution – doesn’t seem to produce as vivid colors as other tablets like Xoom or iPad. Though the viewing angle is pretty good, the glass used for the display is a fingerprint nightmare, and we are not kidding when we say you need to clean the screen with that “fine cleaning cloth” at least once a day to keep it good as something near to new.
Okay so the display, mic and screen pretty much sucks for the most part, but what is the true power this tab holds? Well, It’s a WiFi-only tab so obviously it supports the 802.11 b/g/n network. It also has the usual Bluetooth 2.1, and finally a GPS chip – it’s pretty hard to realise that iPad doesn’t come with a GPS antenna, which is really frustrating. It obviously has the now-standard and common sensors like accelerometer, proximity and gyroscope. It has 1GB of DDR2 SDRAM, and there is only one 16 GB variant being sold in India. Ultimately, it’s a beast powered by Nvidia Tegra 2 dual-core SoC, and an integrated Nvidia GeForce ULP GPU.
Acer ships the tab with Android Honeycomb 3.0 in India, but fortunatly there’s the usual magical OTA update available to Android 3.1 – and that was a good thing for Acer, because they failed to do the nesscary optimization for Android 3.0 resulting in a really poor and sluggish performance. Indeed this means you need to download something as big as 300 MB when you get the tab, but it’s well worth it, because at the end of the day it brings some really good performance boost and some minor UI improvements and better touch sensitivity. Consider it as polishing your just-now bought shoe – it’s not something you would want to do, but once done it’s great. That said, Acer still throws much of their bloatware on this tab, and some of them don’t even have a use because Android already comes with better apps that do the same thing.
First in the list is Acer’s “Content folders” – it’s basically an app launcher. The “app” that launches apps extends itself to four categories – Multimedia, Games, eReading, and Social. You can swipe through these with a simple left/right swipe gesture, and add apps to them by tapping at the “add” icon at top right. Acer was kind enough to add and organize the icons of other bloatware apps they have included, oh and some games too. Although some may find this thing useful, keep in mind that there is no way to add a new category – you have those four categories and just that.
Out of all these bloatware apps by Acer only some seem to make a bit of sense, most of them are no different than the default Honeycomb alternatives, they are simply cloned. Also – there are multiple bloatware apps that do the same thing, like Nemoplayer and Acer’s Clear.fi – they both are media organizers to manage and view your photos, music and videos, to us both of the apps are totally crap when it comes to UI – and even at that, Nemoplayer was better than Acer’s Clear.fi. Instead of using these clones we would recommend you to use the default Galary and Music apps that come with Honeycomb, which are much better.
Acer has also added an ebook reader known as “Lumiread” to apparently compete against the default Honeycomb reader, again. The reader is a quite a rip off of iBooks, but only at the looks, but it’s at something though – it lets you add different custom online book sources to purchase your new read, and it also supports PDF. Acer also installed Kobo eBooks for you, although its available in the Android market and is pretty popular, we still don’t understand why is Acer bloating the tab with apps that do one and the same thing. Acer also adds Zinio Reader – it’s not an ebook reader, but a digital magazine shop, one place for a ton of magazines which are free, as well as paid.
Acer’s SocialJogger only has one and only job – show your Facebook and Twitter timeline. The End. And just when we thought it was over – another Music app. The tab comes with MusicA, an app that works much like Shazam and tells the name, album and artist of a song just by listening to it, and you can buy the song.
And when we thought Acer finally managed to add a app that had some use to it, they failed us. Docs to Go is a document reader and editor that lets you edit MS Office documents and let’s you view PDF files. But wait – Acer didn’t really give you the full thing, its the free version of the app and only supports document viewing – no editing, and for that you have to spend some extra Rs. 662 and buy the full thing from the Android Market. Not good Acer, they should have included the full version of this app, just to make the tab a good choice for professionals.
And finally – Iconia Tab A500 comes loaded with 3 games – NFS Shift, Hero of Sparta and Lets Golf. So there’s fun! All games are installed for free, so you can enjoy gaming and experience the power of that Tegra 2 silicon.
Keyboard – Well this is Honeycomb so there’s the default – and pretty good – Honeycomb keyboard, but it also comes with an optional and useless T9 keyboard. Just like the bloatware apps in this tab, this one addition also seems to be unwanted. And even if you are the type of guy who likes T9 over a full keyboard – this isn’t the perfect deal – it lacks typing accuracy in landscape mode. And anyway, who needs a separate T9 keyboard when the full keyboard has word suggestion options which is much like T9? Touch accuracy has been polished by a huge margin in Android 3.1, and with the full Honeycomb keyboard 45 Words Per Minute are super easy to achieve, while you would hardly get 30 WPM with the sluggishness of Android 3.0.
Browser is something Honeycomb can be proud of – if you use and love Chrome you will feel at home here. There’s the famous “gift-shopping” incognito mode, page sharing and full Google Chrome synchronization, and full Adobe Flash support. Multi-tab browsing which we’ve shown in the video below is quite good. Acid3 test gave a 100/100, and Sunspider gave a score of 2282 – a hell lot better than the Android 2.2 powered Samsung Galaxy Tab.
Below is a video showing the power of Tegra 2 and Android 3.1 when it comes to running multiple apps and games together. There’s also a video showing the boot time of the tab, nothing that could change the game over there.
Despite having 2 cells of 3260mAh powered battery inside, the tab didn’t perform well, however Android 3.1′s battery performance was better than Android 3.0. Battery lasts for about 9 hours over usage including HD movie playback, push updates over Wi-Fi and surfing the web. And if games are added to the list of usage, battery drains faster. iPad 2 gives about 10 hours of battery life over usage. In standby, it’s decent – battery life hardly drains to 10% overnight on push email updates, and decreases very small amount battery life if either Wi-Fi is switched off or on no connection – can last for about 160 hours. It takes about 2.5 hours to charge A500′s battery from 0% to full.
Verdict and price
Well we don’t know what to say – Acer failed really hard at the cameras, screwed up the mic and used a cheap outdated display to stay under budget. They failed at optimizing Android 3.0 but they fixed that with Android 3.1 so we will give them that, but they still ruined the experience by bloating the OS with stupid and pointless bloatware apps that all did the same thing. However, that said – the performance of the tab was pretty impressive with Android 3.1 and that Tegra 2 piece of silicon, and we would say much better than the Android 3.1 powered Motorola Xoom – even with all the bloatware.
It’s one of those times when a company manages to update and optimize the software really well. Although that full USB 2.0 port is quite handy, it really isn’t a great trade off for a display, mic and camera. And at the price of Rs. 27,990 you get a pathetic camera, a cheap display, and a very bad placement for the mic and speakers – but you’re still getting many accessories with the package, which includes microHDMI to HDMI cable and a pretty good sleeve, and above that it is powered by a really well optimized version of Android backed by the raw and powerful Nvidia Tegra 2 SoC, a gig of RAM, and a rare but handy USB 2.0 port comes as a bonus as well. We even went ahead and did something as crazy as connecting an Xbox 360 controller via the USB 2.0 port – even though any game would not support it, it worked for atleast navigating UI.
The choice is tough, but we would say that this tab has some really hard competition to face, and Acer didn’t do a very good job at the thing it cannot update via the magic of OTA – the hardware. But with all the ranting about bad hardware – let’s not forget that it’s one of the cheapest Honeycomb-running high-end tablets, and it does give some really good performance after updating to Android 3.1. Just for comparison - Motorola Xoom which we mentioned in the review to be less powerful than A500 when it comes to “practical performance” costs around Rs. 31-32k - and it’s not good when someone asks you more price for lower performance. At the end it’s your choice, better performance, additional accessories, ports or better screen, speakers and display.