It's a week of tablet comparison smackdowns here at MobileTechReview, and today we're comparing the "budget" 10" Android Honeycomb tablets, the Acer Iconia Tab A500 and the Asus Eee Pad Transformer. Both tablets sell for less than the top name brand tablets from Samsung, LG and Motorola yet they offer just as much bang for the buck. In fact, both the Acer and Asus offer more ports and expandability than their pricier brethren.
The 16 gig WiFi version of the Transformer sells for $399 (the lowest price among name brand Honeycomb Android tablets), and its optional keyboard dock with battery and USB ports sells for $149. The Acer Iconia Tab 16 gig WiFi model sells for $449. Both share the common Honeycomb 10" DNA: a dual core 1GHz Tegra 2 CPU, a gig of RAM, lots of internal storage, dual cameras, WiFi, Bluetooth, GPS and a 1280 x 800 capacitive multi-touch display. If you're looking for a power user Android tablet that's easier on the wallet and can't decide between these two, watch and read on.
Here's our 18 minute Asus Eee Pad Transformer vs. Acer Iconia Tab A500 comparison smackdown video:
1. Display: Both tablets have 10.1", 1280 x 800 capacitive displays protected by Corning Gorilla Glass. The Acer Iconia boasts 10 points of multi-touch, which it needs to use their custom app. The Iconia's display looks identical to the Motorola Xoom's. It's distinctly average in terms of brightness and color saturation, but quite clear and sharp. The Asus Eee Pad Transformer has an IPS display with extremely wide viewing angles, excellent contrast and sharpness and plenty of brightness. That's the same display technology used on the iPad and iPad 2, and it's the best among current Honeycomb tablets except the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 that boasts even higher color saturation. Asus Eee Pad Transformer wins.
2. Expansion: Both tablets go the extra mile for expansion. They have microSD card slots (that actually come with working drivers, unlike the Xoom), HDMI ports and the Acer Iconia A500 has a full size USB port that works with USB keyboards and flash drives (we've had no luck with USB mice and hard drives, but that might change when the tablet gets OS 3.1). The Transformer lacks the full size USB port on the tablet itself, but it one-ups the Acer and other tablets with its moderately priced $149 keyboard dock that turns the tablet into a notebook/netbook of sorts. It adds not just a keyboard and trackpad, but two USB 2.0 ports and a full size SD card slot. Asus Eee Pad Transformer wins for expansion possibilities overall.
3. Performance and OS: Both feel equally fast in daily use, but the Acer falters for video playback. Unlike the other tablets, it seems like it has codecs that aren't implemented correctly or are missing. It can play baseline profile 720p MPEG4 files and lower resolution as well, but it can't play most high profile videos (commonly used since it's supported by the PS3, XBOX, iPad and others). It turned a variety of 1080p baseline profile MPEG4 videos into slideshows, while the Asus and other tablets could play these files. We noted this issue back in April when we first reviewed the Iconia Tab A500, and had hoped that Acer would release an updater to address this, but so far no luck.
Our other area of concern is OS updates. The Motorola Xoom got the Android OS 3.1 update first since it's Google's reference device. The Transformer got it a week later and the Galaxy Tab 10.1 shipped with 3.1. Still no luck for the Iconia Tab A500 a month later... We wonder if Acer's custom drivers for the microSD and USB port are slowing things down, or the fact that they customized the OS a bit more than the other manufacturers. Asus Eee Pad Transformer wins.
4. Battery life: Both manage close to 8 hours on a charge. The Asus Transformer can run up to 14 hours with the keyboard dock since that has a second battery, but when considering just the tablets, it's a tie.
5. Appearance and build materials: Looks are subjective, but we give the Acer Iconia Tab the edge, despite its slightly heavier weight. It's a clean and good looking product with an attractive metal finish back vs. stippled plastic on the Transformer. Both feel solid enough and have Gorilla Glass for scratch-resistance, but some folks have complained of case creaks at one corner (ours doesn't have this problem). Acer Iconia Tab A500 wins.
My favorite? The Asus Eee Pad Transformer for its IPS display, quick OS updates and expandability via the ingenious keyboard dock.