Design and Ergonomics
The Acer A500 is a classy looking tablet, though it's a bit larger than the Motorola Xoom (making things small raises costs). It's one of the heaviest 10" tablets, but it feels balanced and easy to hold, despite the weight. The power button is translucent plastic and indicates power status (a nice touch) and it's the only 10 incher Android tablet we've seen with a rotation lock hardware switch. The volume keys on the upper left edge are small but usable, and the Acer has a micro USB for file transfer, a full size USB port that works with low power peripherals like flash drives and USB keyboards, a micro HDMI port, 3.5mm stereo jack and a small charging port for the 12 volt, 1.5 amp charger. There's a plastic door up top that covers the microSD card slot and non-functioning SIM card slot (Acer puts a piece of gray tape over the SIM card slot). There's a large docking port on the bottom.
Stereo speakers fire from the rear (they have pretty good sound and clarity for a tablet) and they're enhanced with Dolby Mobile software. The rear 5MP camera lens lives under a large glass sheet and the front 2MP camera is oddly placed at the upper left of the bezel, so Google Talk video chat buddies can get a good look at your left ear. The rear camera has a single LED flash. Neither camera impressed us with its video or still shot quality, but we're not sure how many of you want to wave a 10", 1.7lb. tablet around as a viewfinder. The front camera did a good enough job with Google's video chat function inside of Google Talk. Talk looks as sharp as FaceTime, and you can chat not just with other Android Honeycomb and Gingerbread users, but anyone running Talk on a computer.
The Iconia Tab A500's capacitive multitouch Gorilla Glass display is sharp and decently colorful though not as saturated as IPS displays. Like the Motorola Xoom, we wish max brightness went higher since the display washes out a bit in very bright rooms (forget using it outdoors). The display resolution is 1280 x 800 (again, the same as other 10" Android Honeycomb tablets), making it perfect for working with Office documents, web browsing and 720p video playback. Viewing angles are good, and we had no trouble seeing the display with the tablet tilted at odd angles on our lap or when sharing the view of a video with a friend.
Performance and Software
The Iconia Tab A500 runs on the usual dual core 1GHz Tegra 2 CPU with hardware graphics acceleration. Like the Xoom and LG G-Slate, it has a gig of RAM and it ships with Android 3.01. We'd expect performance to be identical on Android 3 tablets with the same CPU and RAM, and the Acer benchmarked at 2042, just a few points higher than the other two. It scored 41 on Linpack, again putting it in the same league as the Moto and LG. Oddly, the Acer fell on its face in the graphics department, where it failed to play 1080p video (720p and lower are fine). It managed around 2-4fps with the same 1080p MPEG4 test clips that played perfectly on other Honeycomb tablets. Now there's not much of a point in playing 1080p video to the internal display since its native resolution only supports 720p, but this is a problem if you want to play 1080p out via the micro HDMI port. We're not sure what went wrong here, and we hope that Acer addresses the issue.
In terms of perceived performance, the Iconia A500 felt responsive and on-par with the Xoom and LG G-Slate. Like those tablets, the Iconia runs standard Honeycomb without user interface customizations, other than the folder groupings mentioned earlier. It comes with the standard suite of Google Android apps including Market, Maps, Navigation, Talk with video chat support, Gmail, email, calendar, contacts, Google Search, Gallery, Music and the camera application. Acer provides their own Clear.fi, LumiRead ebook reader (ePub and PDF but no side-loading), Media Server, MusicA (identifies music that's playing now), nemoPlayer (a one-stop place for photos, video and music playback) and Social Jogger which handles Twitter and Facebook. Documents to Go 3 is included for viewing but not creating or editing MS Office documents. For PDF viewing, you can download the free Adobe Reader from the Android Market--it's quite good other than lacking bookmarks. Demo games include Hero of Sparta HD, Let's Golf and Need for Speed Shift, all of which played smoothly (see our video review).
The iPad 2 and Acer Iconia Tab A500.
Wireless, Battery Life
The tablet has WiFi 802.11b/g/n single band 2.4GHz, Bluetooth 2.1+ EDR and a GPS that worked well with Google Maps. If you're hoping for a 3G version, AT&T should have the Tab out by this summer.
Battery life hasn't been good for us in standby mode due to the bug or hardware issue that turns the display on every minute or so for a second or two. Thus we can't provide accurate standby times. For usage time, our A500 managed just short of 7 hours continuous video playback time with a looping 720p MPEG4 video clip. That's shorter than the iPad 2 (10 hours) and Xoom (8.4 hours) but better than 7" tablets since there's room for more battery inside the Iconia. Acer states that there are two 3260 mAh Lithium Ion batteries sealed inside the unit. We didn't open it up to check out this configuration since there are no screws or obvious way to open up the tablet. The tablet ships with a 12v, 1.5 amp charger with a mini-barrel connector.
The Acer Iconia Tab A500 has a lot going for it, most notably the relatively low price to feature ratio. Acer has made an attractive tablet that doesn't look the least bit cheap, and the features are largely on par with tier 1 brands like Motorola, Samsung and LG. The A500 does suffer a bit from either (or both) early release bugs and quality control issues. But if you're on a budget and want a good quality, well-equipped Android tablet, you might be willing to overlook these. The microSD card slot and USB port add plenty of value for those who want easy file transfer or to use the tablet as a photo viewer and to give presentations. Our top picks are still the Motorola Xoom and LG G-Slate, but the Acer A500 is a strong affordable alternative.
Pro: Nice materials and attractive design, relatively low price, good specs. Has working microSD card slot and USB host port for flash drives, keyboards and mice.
Con: Our unit turned itself on every minute or so, can't play 1080p video, unused slot is covered only by tape.
Price: $449 for the A500 WiFi-only model. $329 with AT&T contract, $479 without contract for AT&T A501 model.