We had a brief hands-on with Acer’s ICONIA Tab A500 back in May, when they announced it in India. We returned from the conference quite pleased with what we saw. Finally! A worthy competitor to the almighty iPad - we thought. On paper, the A500 is way more feature packed when compared to Apple’s offering and at a lower price tag. We finally received the A500 for review and I must say we were all pretty excited as it was the first Android Honeycomb tablet to hit the labs. So we took it through its paces and here’s what came up.
Honeycomb in all its glory
The first striking feature you’ll notice after unboxing the A500 is the build quality and finish. The tablet has a very nice brushed metal coat that covers the entire rear and extends a bit towards the front. It’s fairly slim measuring 10.24mm in depth, which is slightly thicker than the iPad 2. It's slightly heavier at 730g, which isn’t apparent immediately, but after a while you’ll feel the fatigue in your wrist if you hold it in one hand. Acer has reserved quite a bit of space around the bezel making it easier to use in portrait or landscape mode. The glass covering is a magnet for fingerprints and is quite reflective but not any more than any other tablet device out there at the moment, iPad 2 included. The 10.1-inch screen has a decent resolution of 800 x 1280 pixels which gives you really sharp and vibrant images. The capacitive screen supports multi-touch and is backed by an accelerometer, gyro and proximity sensor.
The volume rocker and micro-SD card slot
The volume rocker and orientation lock switch is located on the top along with a small flap - that’s incidentally not the easiest thing to pry open - that conceals the micro-SD card slot and an empty space that would be the SIM slot in upcoming models. The A500 comes with 16GB built-in, so there’s plenty of space to work with. I noticed the chrome coated plastic feels a bit flimsy and it doesn't sit well in the mould. Over to the left we have a translucent power switch that glows white when ‘On’ and orange when charging. Next is a 3.5mm headphone jack followed by a mini-HDMI port. Acer does not bundle the cable along, all you get in the box is a power adapter, data cable and a sleeve (that doubles up as a stand) for the tablet. There’s a slight problem with the sleeve/stand though - due to the dock connector at the bottom, the surface isn’t even so if you use it in landscape mode with the stand, it tends to wobble.
Helps when watching movies
Finally, the right side plays host to the charging port, micro-USB port, standard USB 2.0 connector and a reset button. Currently, the USB port does not support NTFS formatted drives but will, in a future update.
Coming to the rear of the device, we have two speaker grills on either side, at the bottom. Now, if you plan on watching a movie by holding the tab, your hands will block the grills giving you a slightly muffled sound. However, the speakers are quite loud for their size, hence it’s not too much of a problem. The connector at the bottom is for a dock that’s part of Acer’s optional accessories. Last but not the least, we have a 5MP auto focus camera gracing the back along with a LED flash. There’s even a secondary 2MP camera in the front for video chat.
Features and Performance
No way to delete extra home screens
With all the hype surrounding Google’s tablet version of Android, I couldn’t wait to see what the fuss was all about. The A500 runs Honeycomb 3.0.1 and is due for a 3.1 update, hopefully by June end. Now even though this was my first time with Honeycomb, I‘m quite familiar with the mobile version of Android up to the current Gingerbread edition. This is however, quite a different experience, something I did not anticipate. Booting it up takes a bit of time and once done, you’re greeted with a lock screen that you drag in any direction to unlock it. There is no notification bar that you can pull down from the top of the screen, it instead, now appears at the bottom right corner along with the time and other information like battery status, Wi-Fi signal strength, brightness adjustment or access to the Settings.
The A500 does not have any physical touch sensitive buttons, so instead you have on-screen buttons for Return, Home and recently opened apps. The five apps in that list remain in memory and run in the background, so when you switch to them it’s instantaneous. On the upper left, we have the Google search box which you can set to either search the web or just the contents of the tablet, like music, contacts,etc. It also has the voice search feature. On the other side, we have a shortcut to take you to all your apps. To add a widget or shortcut, either press the ‘+’ sign above or simply hold any empty space on the home screen. Doing so, brings up all the available widgets and shortcuts that are neatly categorized.
Acer has bundled a few widgets for weather, recently viewed web pages, popular apps in the Marketplace, etc. They’ve also included a bookshelf-like UI that gives you a one-stop shop for your games, movies and music, social networking and e-book readers. Even with all of this in place, the interface is not exactly user-friendly. Icons for various tasks are spread across the screen in different corners when it could have have been placed at the bottom where there’s ample of free space. The stock Honeycomb launcher seems to add too many steps to do simple tasks like getting to the settings page. After installing Launcher Pro, navigation was so much easier. When holding the tablet in landscape mode, I could simply browse all my apps, scroll up and down, all with my right thumb without having to search the corners. In the main apps menu, you can choose between ‘All apps’, or just the ones you’ve installed. Most of the system apps are designed to take advantage of the larger screen. For instance, the Settings menu is split in two columns, with the left showing you the main menu and the right giving you the sub-menus, again similar to iOS on the iPad. The same applies to GMail, Marketplace, etc.
Updated 24 May, 2013, 11:01 am IST
Tablets , Acer Pvt Ltd , Acer ICONIA Tab A500 , Acer A500 review , Acer Iconia A500 , A500 review , tablet , Android , Honeycomb , Nvidia Tegra 250 , dual core , HDMI , USB , 10.1-inch tablet , iPad 2 , Apple , review
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