Computers / Hands-on Review

New from Acer: The Iconia A500 Tablet


Sometimes, being given more choices can make it harder to make a decision. That’s the situation with tablet computers today. New to the market, Acer’s Iconia Tab A500 is an Android Honeycomb tablet that will compete with the Motorola Xoom, the T-Mobile G-Slate and the ASUS Eee Pad Transformer. It’s always better to have more choices, but if you’re in the market for a tablet computer, it’s now going to take you that much longer to figure out which one you want.

The A500 Honeycomb tablet has a 10.1-inch multitouch display with a native resolution of 1280 x 800 pixels and 16:10 aspect ratio. The multitouch screen tracks 10 contact points at once, so it will be compatible with any gesture one could make with two hands (10 fingers), provided that software developers program their apps to recognize such gestures. Gestures aside, the multitouch screen also lets you use your fingertips to write notes, draw sketches and play intuitive touch games.

The A500 tablet is housed in an attractive brushed-aluminum enclosure with smooth, rounded edges. It’s powered by an NVIDIA Tegra 2 dual-core processor and 1GB of memory. The processor is powerful but thrifty enough to wring up to eight hours of battery life from the tablet’s rechargeable lithium-ion polymer battery. The display is driven by an NVIDIA GeForce GPU, which provides full Adobe Flash support so you can watch any video on this tablet, and not just the types that Acer thinks you should watch.

Like most tablets, the A500 does not house a hard drive. Instead it features 16GB of solid-state memory. That isn’t a lot of storage space, but the tablet also features a MicroSD memory card slot compatible with cards up to 32GB in size. And the slot works right out of the box, unlike the Motorola Xoom, which started shipping with a disabled MicroSD slot.

The A500 Honeycomb tablet features two cameras, a 2MP front-facing camera ideal for video-conferencing, and a 5MP rear-facing camera with auto focus and a single-LED flash. The tablet also packs stereo microphones and stereo speakers. Connectivity features include a Micro-HDMI output, 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 2.1+EDR, one Micro USB 2.0 port and one regular USB 2.0 port.

Acer has loaded the tablet with a variety of apps and games, but the tablet can of course be customized with thousands of apps and games available from the Android Market Place. Hardware options include a protective case with a cover that converts into a stand, a Bluetooth keyboard and a docking station that comes with an IR remote.

The A500 tablet is 10.2 inches wide by 0.5 inch high by 7 inches deep and it weighs 1.69 pounds. Its ample feature set and price point of $450 make it a viable choice for anyone in the market for a Honeycomb tablet. Acer has loaded the tablet with a variety of apps and games, but the tablet can, of course, be customized with thousands of apps and games available from the Android Market Place. There are also some neat accessories for the tablet that will help protect it and enhance its functionality.

To prevent nicks and scratches from sullying the appearance of the tablet, Acer is offering an A500 Protective Case that weighs about a third of a pound and costs $40. Custom made for the A500, the case has openings to provide access to all of the tablet’s buttons and ports. And the panel that protects the screen folds into a kickstand to hold the tablet up so you don’t have to.

The neat thing about a tablet computer is that you don’t need a keyboard most of the time, and when you do, you can always use an onscreen keyboard. But not only does an onscreen keyboard take up a lot of your screen space, it’s also much harder to type on, as there’s no tactile feedback involved. That’s why Acer is offering the Iconia Tab Bluetooth Keyboard. Nearly a full-size unit, the Bluetooth Keyboard weighs two thirds of a pound and costs $70. It’s powered by a single AAA battery and has a wireless range of 32.8 feet, not that you would often need to use the keyboard so far from the tablet.

The Iconia Tab A500 Docking Station will make the tablet more versatile when you’re at home. This $80 unit charges the tablet when you pop it into the cradle. The docking station can hold the tablet at two different angles; a 70-degree angle is ideal for video playback or viewing slide shows, and a 20-degree angle makes it easy to perform touch gestures and input text.

An audio output on the docking station allows the connection of headphones or external speakers while an IR remote that comes with the docking station lets you play, pause or stop media and control the volume from a distance. So, if you connect the tablet to your HDTV via the HDMI output, you can enjoy high-definition content on the big screen from the comfort of your favorite chair.

If you do a lot of international traveling, you’ll definitely want to kick in an extra $30 for the Iconia Tab AC Power Supply-Travel Pack. It’s comprised of an AC adapter that comes with three interchangeable sets of snap-on prongs that will let you power and charge the tablet in foreign countries. The prongs are compatible with power outlets in the United States, the United Kingdom and most of Europe.