Ever since Apple launched the iPad 2, the race has been on for other tablet manufacturers to come up with a worthy rival to steal some of its thunder. Asus came up with the impressive Eee Pad Transformer, which doubles as tablet and notebook; Motorola released the Xoom. Now it’s Acer’s turn, with the new Android-based Iconia Tab A500.
Initially, you might think there’s little to distinguish the Iconia Tab A500 from those other two competitors. It shares the same 10.1in screen, and uses the same Android 3.0 Honeycomb OS that was developed by Google specifically for the tablet format. However, while its overall dimensions fall broadly mid-way between the Xoom and the Transformer, it’s by far the heaviest of all the Android tablets at 765g – the iPad 2 is a flyweight 601g by comparison.
The Iconia’s weight wouldn’t be quite so onerous if you had the option – like the Transformer – of adding a keyboard dock so that you could rest the A500 comfortably on your knees while you type. But as it is, you’ll find it difficult to hold the tablet in one hand for any length of time. This becomes relevant when you want to make use of the rear-facing 5-megapixel camera (there’s also a useful 2MP front camera for using Google Talk).
Circling round the perimeter you’ll discover a full-size USB port (ideal for plugging in memory sticks), as well as a mini-HDMI port for playing back HD content on your TV. There’s a proprietary dock connector at the bottom, plus a separate power connector (why not use the USB to draw power from a PC?), as well as a screen-locking device to keep the device in either landscape or portrait mode, whicever orientation you’re holding it in. Although the Iconia A500 includes a MicroSD card slot at the top, Google still hasn’t produced the app that will let you expand your storage beyond the built-in 32GB.
The 10.1in display uses the now-standard resolution of 1280×800, and although it can’t quite match the crystal clarity and wide viewing angles of the IPS screens of the iPad 2 and Eee Pad Transformer, its brightness, colour contrast and sharpness are impressive.
The tablet is powered by a 1GHz Nvidia Tegra 2 dual-core processor backed by 1GB RAM. The A500 also uses an ultra-low power Nvidia GeForce GPU with Flash 10.1 support. As a result, apps and the Web fire up quickly and the touchscreen is very responsive.
While you the A500 has Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 2.1 built in, you can only get 3G connectivity if you buy the upgraded A501 model (which, according to the official RRP, will set you back another £80).
Setting up the Acer’s Android Honeycomb OS is relatively simple, with five home pages covering Game Zone, eReading, Multimedia, Social Network and the streaming clear.fi. It has been a common complaint that Google needs to expand the relatively meagre range of apps available for Honeycomb – but you the Iconia A500 does at least include firm favourites such as Acer Sync for transferring files, Dolby Mobile sound, and Documents To Go for reading Microsoft Office documents.
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- Fast apps and excellent screen quality.
- Extremely heavy and still quite pricey.
Although the Acer Iconia Tab A500 is one of the weightiest tablets on the market - and comes with a heftier price tag than the iPad 2 - it has a powerful processor, fast performance, bright and clear screen and user-friendly app management.