It's a tired promise for too many gadgets: Ice Cream Sandwich, just like the Gingerbread man before it, is coming... soon. You have to hand it to Acer, then, for bypassing those vague release schedules and actually pushing out a software update to the A200 on schedule. And though its specs are fairly run-of-the-mill (a 10.1-inch, 1280 x 800 display and 1GHz dual-core Tegra 2 SoC), it could nonetheless be a tempting deal -- after all, you don't see too many $330 10-inchers running Android 4.0.

The problem is, better things are around the corner, and the price wars rage on in the meantime. As it is, the A200 went relatively unnoticed at CES as Acer unveiled the Tegra 3-toting A700. The existence of that next-gen tab alone should raise a few red flags for consumers thinking of hopping aboard the Android tablet train. What's more, NVIDIA CEO Jen-Hsun Huang has already promised sub-$300 Tegra 3 tablets are on the way (ASUS even confirmed one!). So is this just a case of bad timing for what is an otherwise respectable tablet? Should you hold onto those hard-earned greenbacks until the market becomes flush with affordable quad-core slates? Or will its immediate availability and reasonable price make for an irresistible purchase now? Join us after the break as we tackle those very questions and give this tablet the fair shake it deserves.
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Acer Iconia Tab A200 review

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Acer

Acer Iconia Tab A200

Pros

  • Ships with Ice Cream Sandwich onboard
  • Solid build
  • Light software customizations

Cons

  • Inconsistent performance
  • Highly reflective display
  • Average battery life
Summary

Acer's Iconia Tab A200 delivers acceptable performance for a mid-range, dual-core Android slate. Get this if you need to have ICS now. Otherwise, its closely priced, older rivals make for a better buy.


Hardware


Admittedly, tablet design is an inflexible province: there's only so much manufacturers can do with rectangles, aside from folding them (see: Sony Tablet P) or molding them in the shape of magazines (Sony again, this time with the Tablet S). So that leaves us with build quality and thickness, with the A200 measuring 6.9 x 10.24 x 0.49 inches (175.3 x 260.1 x 12.5mm) and weighing in at a 1.59 pounds (721.2 grams). As you can tell from those measurements, Acer's clearly not positioning this slate as an iPad opponent -- it's just too girthy and heavy to compete aesthetically. Don't confuse that additional bulk as an indication of subpar construction, though. You can quite literally feel the attention to detail in its non-slip, textured metallic grey back and the subtle curves leading up to the bezel in portrait mode. Grip this thing in landscape and it's a quite less comfortable experience, one marred by industrial flat edges and two ill-placed speakers.


Acer's made ample use of the A200's available real estate, filling up most every side with dedicated functions. The majority of your I/O needs are met along the left landscape side, which is occupied by a 3.5mm headphone jack, micro- and standard USB ports, covered microSD slot and power button. Above this array lies a silvery volume rocker, punctuated by three raised dots for easy tactile recognition, and an orientation lock, while a jack for the DC charger rests by its lonesome on the opposite edge.

On the back, you'll find the company's logo embedded in the midst of that hard rubber casing and two speaker grills placed equidistant at the base. Below that non-removable enclosure resides a 3,260mAh Li-ion battery and a (now antiquated) dual-core 1GHz Tegra 2 CPU. If you're wondering about the tab's camera setup, be prepared for a shocker: it only features a 2-megapixel front-facer. You read that right: there's no rear shooter to speak of, and while that'd be a major con on a handset, tablets aren't really the go-to device for photography anyway, so this omission is easy to overlook.


Look at the A200 head-on and there's not much cluttering up its face. Logos denoting this as an Iconia Tab iteration and Acer product make subdued appearances, with the only other visible interruption coming in the form of that front-facing cam. As we mentioned previously, the A200 is mostly indistinguishable from other tablet entries. The real difference pertains to the software it runs: Android 4.0.3. Before you can even dive deep into that Googlefied OS, you'll immediately notice the lack of pixel density on its 1280 x 800 10.1-inch LCD display. Sure, it's enough to render video in 720p, but the loss in quality is noticeable, although definitely on par with other mid-range slates. Indeed, viewing angles appear to hold up, but that's just the problem -- we can't say for sure, owing to the extremely reflective glass covering the unit. Indoors, away from the glare of direct sun and overhead lighting and at full brightness, we still found ourselves jostling with the tablet to find an optimal position that would allow clear visibility. Truly, it's nigh impossible to do, as some glimmer of the surrounding environment will surely make an appearance on the screen. And believe us, we tried to make it work, but after 30 minutes of watching a film on Netflix, our hands were fatigued by the constant re-positioning.

Software


So, the A200's display is rather lackluster, but on the upside, you do get to play around with a skinned build of Ice Cream Sandwich -- and a light one, at that. Most of the tweaks that Acer's imposed here center around the lockscreen and homescreen menu bar. Whereas vanilla ICS allows you to unlock a phone or tablet by dragging an icon to the appropriate slot, the overlay on this tab highlights the available shortcuts -- all customizable, of course.

Move on to the five homescreens and you'll see two yellow, concentric rings in the middle of the lower navigation bar that, when tapped, bring up a larger circle with sliding volume controls and recently viewed web pages on its outermost portion, shortcuts on the area just within and a search icon smack dab in the center. And there, friends, is where the OEM's tinkering with Android thankfully ends; these are very subtle changes that manage not to weigh down the performance.


You've probably heard speak of NVIDIA's Tegra 3 -- that quad-core chip that's begun to take residence inside a handful of upcoming phones and tablets. The A200, as a middle of the road tablet entry, doesn't take advantage of that next-gen spec boost, opting instead for a dual-core 1GHz Tegra 2. So let's keep our focus on its market positioning and real-world performance, not the lack of a marketing bullet point. As a mid-range tablet, Acer's tab generally does an acceptable job of keeping the hiccups at bay. Navigation through the homescreens is quick, but you'll note a minute amount of occasional stutter. The same applies to the app drawer which, when triggered, fluctuates between an immediate response, followed by a slight delay. Unfortunately, that inconsistency is evident throughout, and has a special tendency to rear its ugly head when loading applications, frequently prompting force-closes across various apps.


When it comes to Android tablets, access to the stock Google apps and a sprinkling of bloatware is something of a given. In keeping with tradition, Acer's shoveled a considerable amount of applications onto this slate, though surprisingly, it's also thrown Amazon's Appstore into the mix. It's a puzzling and redundant inclusion, as it merely offers users an alternative route to the same fraternity of apps available on Google Play. In addition to that oddity, users will find Amazon MP3, Kindle, the Astro file manager, Acer's Clear.fi app for wireless media streaming, Docs to Go, Evernote, a Facebook shortcut, Netflix, Soundhound, TegraZone, Zinio, McAfee VirusScan, SocialJogger (Acer's homegrown social aggregation app) and AUPEO!, a Berlin-based music service. Acer's added the ability to disable a portion of these third-party apps and remove them from the app tray, but the option to outright uninstall is sorely missing; they'll still be running in the background.
Which brings us to the issue of storage. With 16GB allotted for the $350 model and 8GB for the slightly cheaper $330 version, users will realistically be dealing with an out-of-box deficit of 4GB devoted to bloat. While this isn't shouldn't be quite as offensive if you choose the more capacious 16GB version, its lower-capacity sibling will come with a meager 4GB of available storage. Thankfully, you can expand the available storage by up to 32GB via that microSD slot.

Performance and battery life

Acer Iconia Tab A200 Motorola Xoom 2 Galaxy Tab 10.1 Transformer Prime
Quadrant 2,053 1,841 2,083 3,023
Linpack single-thread (MFLOPS) 37.2 45.51 16.9 43.35
Linpack multi-thread (MFLOPS) 60.4 68.87 36.7 67.05
NenaMark1 45.6 fps 20.1 fps 42.5 fps 60.1 fps
NenaMark2 20.4 fps 19.6 fps 18.6 fps 46.1 fps
Vellamo 1,290 1,060 886 953
Sunspider 0.9.1 (ms, lower numbers are better) 2,251 2,229 2,200 1,861

The A200's 1GHz SoC and the accompanying 1GB of RAM may seem like yesterday's top-notch tech innards simply because... they are. So to give you a good sense of its raw power we pitted it against a cross-section of Android tablets, ranging from the similarly specced Galaxy Tab 10.1 to the dual-core 1.2GHz ARM-powered Xoom 2 to the Tegra 3-equipped Transformer Prime. Unsurprisingly, Acer's tab can't hold a candle to ASUS' major leaguer; it's an unfair comparison, yielding consistent benchmark defeats. Stacked side-by-side against Moto and Sammy's tabs, however, and you get a clearer sense of how it fares.


Victories for the slate were uneven, overtaking (or in some cases barely beating) the 10.1 in both Linpack single- and multi-thread, as well as Vellamo -- you can chalk that appreciable boost up to ICS's improvements. Sunspider 9.1 testing placed the tab's ability to render web pages speedily on par with its two rivals, although it did lose out by a minor, albeit significantly slower increment. As this is a Tegra 2 tab and therefore the product of NVIDIA's obsession with gaming, NenaMark 1 and 2 scores were on equal footing with the 10.1, and outstripped the Xoom 2.


Tablet
Battery Life
Acer Iconia Tab A200 8:16
Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.7 12:01
Apple iPad 2 10:26
ASUS Eee Pad Transformer Prime 10:17
Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 9:55
Apple iPad 9:33
Pantech Element 9:00
Motorola Xoom 2 8:57
HP TouchPad 8:33
Lenovo IdeaPad K1 8:20
Motorola Xoom 8:20
T-Mobile G-Slate 8:18
Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus 8:09
Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet 8:00
Archos 101 7:20
Archos 80 G9 7:06
RIM BlackBerry PlayBook 7:01
Acer Iconia Tab A500 6:55
T-Mobile Springboard (Huawei MediaPad) 6:34
Toshiba Thrive 6:25
Samsung Galaxy Tab 6:09
Motorola Xyboard 8.2 5:25
Velocity Micro Cruz T408 5:10
Acer Iconia Tab A100 4:54

Having no cellular network connectivity undoubtedly equates to longer battery life, but being limited to a singular WiFi radio has a downside, too. Wireless reception on the A200 is exceptionally poor; it tended to drop down to just one bar of signal strength when we moved a room away from our high-speed home connection. If you have your sights set on this tab, expect to find yourself tethered close to that household, office or in-store router.

Issues of range notwithstanding, we found the 3,260mAh battery lasted us well over two weeks with extremely light usage, and a large bit of that longevity has to do with the slate's power management abilities. Let it fall asleep and you'll notice that, upon re-awakening, WiFi has been disabled. It's a handy feature, but we can see it annoying folks expecting a steady stream of audible notifications. Under the duress of our formal battery rundown test, in which we loop a video with WiFi on and the brightness fixed at 50 percent, the tablet lasted eight hours and 16 minutes -- on par with early 10-inchers like the G-Slate and the original Xoom.

Full desktop pages on the A200's browser take a fair bit of time to load -- we had to wait nearly 30-plus seconds for Engadget to completely render on a high-speed connection. Pinch-to-zoom, however, does not entail the same sort of heel-dragging; the tablet managed to track our finger movements quite accurately while retaining the clarity of text and images. From time to time, however, you'll notice those dreaded white spaces surrounding your enlarged copy.

Wrap-up


Nearly three quarters of the tablet market may have tunnel vision when it comes to a platform of choice -- that being Apple's iPad -- but for the Android faithful, there are options readily available -- a wide and confusing glut, at that. Into this melange comes Acer's Iconia Tab A200, a tablet whose sole distinction is its Android 4.0.3 OS. With a narrow range of configurations that are too closely priced for the slight storage upgrade offered and a processor that grows more dated and comparatively sluggish as the year progresses, it's difficult to home in on a bright spot for the bulky slate.

Certainly, we've seen the pitfalls of its performance, shifting as it does between occasionally snappy transitions to minuscule, though noticeable choppiness. Then there's the bothersome illegibility of its über-reflective screen. It'd be easy to lay the blame for these software quirks on its dusting of a UX, but it's more likely that the company simply neglected to fully optimize its Tegra 2 core for this skinned OS. It's not as if sleeker, more responsive and critically praised slates aren't within reach. For an extra $49, you can purchase the Galaxy Tab 10.1 or recently discounted iPad 2, each with 16GB of storage. If you choose to go that route, then all you're really missing out on is Ice Cream Sandwich and even then Samsung's promised to deliver that update very soon. Add to this confluence of cons the potential for sub-$300 Tegra 3 tablets hitting shelves in the near future and you won't feel much inclination to whip out the credit card and commit to this capricious, and ultimately forgettable ICS slate. That forthcoming A700, on the other hand, might be worth the wait.

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