Acer Iconia Tab A500

he Android tablet wars are starting to heat up, and Acer has entered the fray with its Iconia Tab A500. Priced at $449--$50 lower than the iPad 2--this slickly designed 10.1-inch Honeycomb slate features a brushed-metal design and a full-size USB port, plus Nvidia's powerful Tegra 2 processor. But can this tablet stand out in a field that's already crowded with devices bearing the same OS and specs?


Acer wrapped the Iconia Tab A500 in an Alpine Silver brushed-aluminum casing that extends from the back to the nicely rounded edges on the top and bottom (when held in landscape mode). It's a good look, but this slate is rather bulky. At 1.7 pounds, the A500 is 0.4 pounds heavier than the iPad 2 and 0.3 pounds heavier than the ASUS Eee Pad Transformer. Measuring 10.2 x 7.0 x 0.5 inches, it's not that much larger than the Xoom (9.6 x 7.5 x 0.5 inches), but the difference was noticeable. We found the tablet a little unwieldy when attempting to use it while standing on a subway platform or waiting in line.

We like that the A500's power button sits on the left side right underneath your thumb, glowing white when the tablet is on and orange when charging with the display off. However, the volume controls are on the top of the tablet, which makes them somewhat awkward to access. (ASUS puts its volume rocker right underneath the power button on the left side.) The top also houses an orientation lock switch and a microSD card slot, which has a cover.

One especially welcome feature on the A500 is a full-size USB port, which lines the right side of the tablet along with a microUSB port and power jack. The headphone and microHDMI ports sit on the left. The docking port on the bottom mars the smooth curve a bit, but not egregiously.

The only thing interrupting the smooth, glossy front glass is a 2-megapixel front-facing camera, brother to the 5-MP camera (with LED flash) on the back. Two speaker grilles flank the bottom.

Display and Audio

The A500's 10.1-inch, 1280 x 800 WXGA screen has an aspect ratio of 16:10 and good color depth. Brightness and clarity matched that of the Motorola Xoom, but the 8.9-inch T-Mobile G-Slate's display seemed a bit crisper when we compared the two side by side, and the iPad 2's display was far brighter. In some cases, too, the A500's screen was a little washed out. Among 10-inch Android tablets, some may prefer the IPS panel on the Eee Pad Transformer which promises wider viewing angles.

We encountered a curious issue with the A500: Whenever we laid it on a flat surface, the touchscreen struggled to recognize input. When tapping or dragging, the response was either jerky or nonexistent. Picking up the Tab or sitting it at an angle solved the problem immediately.

Powered by Dolby Mobile technology, the speakers on the lower back of the Iconia Tab pumped enough volume to fill a small room at around 70 percent. While playing Jill Sobule's "Cinnamon Park" and Zoe Keating's "Sun Will Set," we noted that the layers of music remained separate. The Dolby Mobile audio drivers allowed us limited equalizer settings for fiddling with treble and bass. When switched off, the audio quality dulled noticeably.

Software and Interface

The Iconia A500 doesn't promise the "pure" Honeycomb experience that the Xoom offers, but Acer didn't mess around too much with the user interface. On the home screen are four icons meant to help organize apps by type: eReading, Games, Multimedia, and Social. Pressing one leads to a sub-interface, where, just as with Android's Home screens, users can add and remove apps by tapping and holding. At the bottom of each screen is a desk with items on top representing that category. For instance, Games includes a ball and a Playstation-like controller, and Books has some books resting on top. Overall, it's a nice attempt to replicate the iPad's folders, but it's a little too involved.

By default, the home screen shows shortcuts to pre-installed apps and an interactive bookmarks widget for launching one of your favorite sites with a tap. A search box sits on the top left of the screen, and an Apps button for seeing all of your apps is in the top right corner. To add more widgets to any of the five home screens, change the background, and make other tweaks, just press and hold on the desktop or tap the + button.
As with other Android 3.0 tablets, the system bar at the bottom of the screen is persistent. That's where you'll find the Back, Home, and Recent Application buttons (which look like space-age line drawings) on the left side. The bottom right houses the notification area, where you can do everything from glance at incoming e-mail alerts and skip to the next song to adjust settings such as brightness. When you open an app, the Action Bar will appear, which presents contextual menu items at the top of the screen.

The Iconia Tab has the same stock Android keyboard as found on the Xoom and the T-Mobile G-Slate. We found it responsive and accurate. The one minor (but important) difference we noticed between this and other Honeycomb keyboards is that alternative characters are available via tap and hold (e.g., @, !, ?, ", and -).

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