Tablet design is unoriginal -- a complaint we've issued before and one we'll steer clear of in this review. So, consider this: when a manufacturer excises any emphasis on how something looks, the only thing left to focus on is how it feels. Though the A510 is flush with silicon at 1.5 pounds (680 grams), we're inclined to forgive that extra heft, since we get some jaw-dropping runtime in return (spoiler alert!). Besides, overweight or no, it manages to feel reassuringly grippy in-hand, at 10.2 x 6.9 x 0.43 inches (260 x 175 x 10.95mm). Sure, if you hold it in landscape mode the sharp edges feel a wee bit too sharp, but even so, it feels rigid, formidable. Much like the A200 before it, the tab's smooth back is made of a soft, matte plastic and studded with bumpy dots that should eliminate any worries you might have about dropping it. Curiously, the company's also slapped the Olympic logo next to its own, smack dab in the center of the back cover, underneath which lies that hearty 9,800mAh battery. Clearly, it's a case of pimping out public awareness of its London 2012 partnership, but here it just seems awkward and unnecessary; a scarlet letter of sponsorship instantly dating this debut.
The Olympic branding here seems awkward and unnecessary; a scarlet letter of sponsorship instantly dating this debut.
Above that collision of corporate branding is a 5-megapixel rear camera -- the same one used on the A500, only this time it's lacking an LED flash. On the opposite end there's a logo for the Dolby Digital Plus audio compression powering the dual speakers tucked into the tablet's bottom edge. Hardware keys and ports are sprinkled around the perimeter of the A510, leaving no side untouched. A micro-USB socket and recessed reset button take up residence on the lower edge, a power button and 3.5mm headphone jack lie on the left, a volume rocker and orientation lock up top and, finally, HDMI-out and a covered microSD slot sit on the right. Acer isn't throwing in any external storage to complement the tab's built-in 32GB, so if you plan on heavy media consumption you'll want to supply your own card.
The A510's front face is the usual mix of bezel, branding and camera, although in this instance Acer's downgraded that module from the 2 megapixels found on the A500 to a measly 1 megapixel. We don't have to spell out for you what that means in terms of imaging performance, so take care to check your disappointment before we continue on to the camera section below. Once you've powered on the device and completed the initial setup process, the A510's speed becomes readily apparent, as does the relative excellence of the screen. Yes, the 1280 x 800 TFT LCD display has remain unchanged in this hardware refresh, bringing with it fairly good viewing angles that are, more often than not, occluded by its propensity for incredible amounts of glare. Wake the tablet from a dead sleep and you'll see the cold boot time hovers in the 30-second range. Even a year ago we were seeing tablets that could best this, but otherwise, the rest of the user experience here is surprisingly nimble and fast-paced.
What more can be said about Ice Cream Sandwich at this point, especially when that Android UI's dressed up in Acer's familiar UX? Yes, the interface here has been altered to include the same uninstallable ring launcher we previously saw on the A200. Nothing has changed in the jump from that lower-end slate to this one: you can still pull up that circular shortcut menu from the bottom of the homescreen, as well as access the gallery, browser, settings, bookmarked tabs or snap screenshots. We did notice, however, that while performance is generally zippy, this one particular enhancement suffers from uneven performance, waffling between an immediate and somewhat delayed response time. The lockscreen also features the company's subtle modifications, adding the ability to set shortcuts for specific apps.
As you might've come to expect, navigation throughout the five homescreens is carried out with a refreshing briskness that blessedly spills over into the app drawer, as well as the various menus peppered throughout Android 4.0. Browsing takes on the same rapid pace, with page load times ranging between 15 and 30 seconds for full desktop sites. Pinch to zoom also feels amazingly responsive, though we did notice some tiling and blank gray spaces as we waited for pages to scale.
You want an Android slate, you get some bloat. So, when you boot up the A510 and are greeted by a dozen-plus apps filling up its drawer, try to feign surprise and righteous indignation. It's all rather rote at this point. Acer's shoveled only a couple of its own applications onto the internal storage, along with various third-party offerings like Amazon's Kindle, MP3 and Appstore trio; Netflix; Polaris Office; Evernote; SoundHound; HW Solitaire; and TegraZone. Thankfully, at least, purists can easily uninstall all of these in the settings menu.
Performance and battery life
Benchmarks are hardly the be-all and end-all in predicting a device's performance: their quantifiable results don't necessarily reflect a product's real-world experience. With the Iconia Tab A510, though, you can sweep away all of that uncertainty. Pitted against the Transformer Pad TF300, another recently released Tegra 3 slate, as well as dual-core contenders like the Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 7.0 and the lower-end A200, this girthy tablet absolutely dominates. There's no doubt about the massive processing power of its 1.3GHz SoC and 1GB of RAM. In nearly every category, the A510 leapt ahead with decisive, crushing victories -- a string of wins that repeated themselves over and over in everyday use.
Its dominance may be unchallenged, but don't confuse the A510's top-dog ranking with consistently fluid performance. A quad-core CPU is not some magic wand an OEM gets to wave over its offspring to eradicate performance hiccups. As we saw with Samsung's Galaxy Tab 2 (10.1) at MWC and the ASUS Transformer Pad we've just finished reviewing, there will be moments, fleeting though they may be, when the OS hesitates to execute an action. It's ever-so slight, but you will notice and wonder why, with all that horsepower under the hood, this forward-facing combination of Tegra 3 and ICS should stumble at all.
By no means will you be disappointed with the juicepack Acer's included in the Iconia Tab A510. Rated for 12 hours of video playback, the 9,800mAh battery should get you through bouts of heavy use with a charge to spare and then some. The lightest of users will probably wonder when they ever actually have to plug the tablet back in, given that it only fell to half capacity after three days of infrequent browsing. Put through the paces of our formal rundown test, the A510 fell a couple of hours short of the company's claim, but still kept a smile firmly planted on our faces as it racked up an impressive total of 10 hours and 23 minutes, putting it on par with Apple's iPad 2 and the Transformer Prime. Mind you, that's with brightness set to medium, Twitter syncing at 15 minute intervals, one push email account activated and WiFi enabled.
Taking photos with tablets not only looks silly, but it feels ridiculous. We throw that caveat out there because camera quality on Android slates is one of those areas best met by lowered expectations. To say the module on the Iconia Tab A510 is serviceable would be far too generous. Its 5-megapixel shooter takes decent shots with an acceptable level of detail that diminishes as soon as you start to zoom in. Colors -- reds in particular -- are rendered in an oversaturated, unnatural way, while other parts of the image appear dull in comparison. As for Acer's custom camera app, it delivers an uneven experience that demands a fair amount of juggling while you attempt to access the various options scattered about the screen. And you can forget the robust array of scene modes offered in other slates: the feature set here is plain and straightforward, almost as if it's acknowledging how useless it really is.