Acer Iconia Tab A500 unboxing and hands-onSee all photos
Like most Android Honeycomb tablets, the Iconia Tab's front is all bezel and screen (and a tiny front-facing cam), intentionally designed without any buttons to let you hold and use the slate in any orientation. However, unlike most of its competitors the Iconia Tab has an orientation lock switch (on its "top" edge) to save you the trouble of digging through a software menu. There's also a volume rocker up top, which performs a neat orientation trick of its own -- it's contextual, meaning the switch changes volume up or down depending on how the tablet is held. Sadly, both of these buttons are made of cheap plastic, sunk into the aluminum frame, and rather difficult to press, which somewhat detracts from the generally classy feeling of the Iconia Tab. There's also a plastic flap right next to the buttons, where you can insert a microSD card (yes, they work out of the box) and a blank space where we expect the AT&T model (or perhaps, the Verizon LTE version that disappeared into the ether) would store its SIM slot.
Moving onto the left side, we have the translucent power button, which doubles as the charging light, a 3.5mm headphone jack, and a mini-HDMI port. We're slightly miffed that Acer couldn't cram a full-size HDMI socket in the copious space here, or at least include a mini-HDMI cable in the box. Regardless, the video connection works fairly well, performing full, responsive display mirroring at 720p resolution, albeit suffering from a bit of overscan. (Acer says 1080p video-out will be supported in a Q2 update.) On the bottom, there's just a docking connector for the optional charging dock with infrared remote, and on the right side you'll find the dedicated power jack and a pair of USB slots: one micro-USB to transfer data to the tablet, and one full-size USB port which connects with both your storage drives and keyboards right out of the box. (Again, you'll need to wait for an Acer update to enable USB mouse support.) Last but not least, the back has the Iconia Tab's ho-hum five megapixel camera with a single LED flash in the upper-right-hand corner -- more on that in a bit -- and a pair of silvery stereo speakers along the bottom edge.
Performance and battery life
No, our only genuine disappointment with the Acer Iconia Tab A500 was its sustained battery life.
|Acer Iconia Tab A500||6:55|
|Apple iPad 2||10:26|
|RIM BlackBerry PlayBook||7:01|
|Samsung Galaxy Tab||6:09|
|Dell Streak 7||3:26|
Acer includes a pair of 3260mAh batteries under that shiny rear cover, and for the most part they worked just fine. The battery meter still read 80 percent after a day of idling, and had only dipped to 53 percent by the time we woke up the next morning -- with two push email accounts constantly running over WiFi the whole while. After charging up once again, and with moderate use of email, web, a smidgen of video and gaming, and plenty of music playback during a second day, we hit the pillow with 32 percent of battery life remaining. However, when it came time for our standard battery drain test (where we loop the same standard-definition video with the screen at roughly 65 percent brightness, and WiFi on) the A500's lithium-ion cells gave us only 6 hours and 55 minutes of playback, a good sight worse than any 10-inch Honeycomb tablet we've tested thus far. Mind you, that's still enough oomph to last you a transcontinental flight, but it's a little weak compared to the alternatives here, and that's surprising considering both the underlying silicon and batteries here are supposedly identical to the immediate Android competition.
Acer Iconia Tab A500 softwareSee all photos
Here's the basic rundown:
LumiRead is a simple e-book reader that redirects you to the web browser to actually grab any books, an odd addition when Google's own Books is a tap away; SocialJogger is a Twitter and Facebook status update browser with oversized fonts and a painfully slow UI that could be replaced with the likes of TweetDeck in an instant. There's also NemoPlayer, an ugly (but speedy) photo, video and music navigator that pales in comparison to Honeycomb's fast and stylish Gallery and Music apps; Clear.Fi, another multimedia browser that's slightly slower but prettier; and MusicA, a Shazam-alike that somehow had difficulty recognizing a number of pop hits. The two positive additions here are Acer's Media Server, which lets the A500 stream content to networked computers and DLNA-capable rigs, and Photo Browser 3D, which uses the tablet's inertial sensors to flip through graphically pleasing digital scrapbooks of your camera images.
Acer Iconia Tab A500 sample imagesSee all photos
Speaking of video, we're sorry to say it's far worse than the stills.
As you can see in our sample video above, the Acer Iconia Tab A500 is technically capable of 720p recording, but we'd be hard-pressed to call it high-definition here -- only in a small window on a webpage and with the tablet held perfectly still does it even look even passable. Compression artifacting crops up when making any rapid motion, and the short focus rears its head again, blurring everything more than a few feet away from the slate's sensor. Audio is also problematic. Even the wind generated by simply walking outdoors muffled most everything else.