Next in our series of Honeycomb tablet reviews is the Acer Iconia Tab A500. The A500 was the second Honeycomb tablet to go on sale, and is one of four on the market at present, all of which are very similar. They share basic specs—10.1” 1280x800 displays, NVIDIA’s Tegra 2 underhood, 1GB LPDDR2 RAM, 16-64GB onboard NAND, front and rear facing cameras with HD video capture, basic wireless connectivity options, and stock versions of Android 3.0/3.1 Honeycomb (albeit with different preloaded software packages). The hardware similarities makes things like design and price that much more important, and the latter is where Acer seemed to have an edge.

2011 Tablet Comparison
  Apple iPad 2

Asus Eee Pad Transformer

Motorola Xoom WiFi Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 Acer Iconia Tab A500
SoC Apple A5 (Dual ARM Cortex A9 @ 1GHz) NVIDIA Tegra 2 (Dual ARM Cortex A9 @ 1GHz) NVIDIA Tegra 2 (Dual ARM Cortex A9 @ 1GHz) NVIDIA Tegra 2 (Dual ARM Cortex A9 @ 1GHz) NVIDIA Tegra 2 (Dual ARM Cortex A9 @ 1GHz)
GPU PowerVR SGX 543MP2 NVIDIA GeForce NVIDIA GeForce NVIDIA GeForce NVIDIA GeForce
RAM 512MB 1GB 1GB 1GB 1GB
Display 1024 x 768 IPS 1280 x 800 IPS 1280 x 800 1280 x 800 PLS 1280 x 800
NAND 16GB 16GB 32GB 16GB 16GB
Dimensions 241.2mm x 185.7mm x 8.8mm 271mm x 175mm x 12.95mm 249.1mm x 167.8mm x 12.9mm 256.6 x 172.9 x 8.6mm 260 x 177 x 13.3mm
Weight 601g 695g 730g 565g 730g
Price $499 $399 $599 $499 $449

Long a sales leader in the budget notebook market, Acer jumped into the tablet game with a price advantage—the Iconia A500 came in at $449, in comparison to $499 for the iPad and $599 for the WiFi-edition Motorola Xoom (though it is worth mentioning that the Xoom comes with twice as much onboard storage as the Iconia and iPad). ASUS released the $399 Eee Slate Transformer soon afterwards, but supply issues meant that the Acer was the cheapest readily available Honeycomb tablet for some time. More recently, some retailers have dropped the prices of the Iconia, with MacMall selling it on their eBay store at one point for just $379. On paper, that’s a screaming deal, but most of the time it sells for closer to its $449 MSRP. Outside of pricing, though, how does the Acer hold up in real life?

The Hardware

Since the software and internal components are so similar between devices, the price, design, and screen tend to be the largest differentiating factors, in that order. Alas, the A500’s design isn’t on the same level as Apple, or really anyone else. Of the four Honeycomb tablets right now, the Iconia probably has the weakest design.

Acer’s design team went with the metal-and-glass approach, with an aluminum chassis wrapped around the screen capped by black plastic on both sides. That’s a good way to go on paper—similar designs have been implemented by Apple, Nokia, and HTC to great success. The main benefit is that it allows for nearly seamless construction around the body, as seen in the iPod mini and iPod nano, as well as the Nokia N8 to a lesser extent (the N8 has a more complex design that necessitates some seams for the sloping end-pieces, but the main body has a similar wraparound style).

Unfortunately, Acer lost the plot a little by putting a seam down the top and bottom edges of the device. So much for a unibody construction. As a mechanical engineer, I understand the complexities of manufacturing the entire body as a single part, but it’s the kind of thing that makes a device feel like a premium product. There are some good things going for the Acer here—the design itself is attractive, and the brushed aluminum finish is great (I’d have personally preferred a lighter silver color rather than gunmetal, but still), and little details like the speaker grills look great. But by and large, I see areas where the hardware just doesn’t have the polish of the other big names.

There's minor flex and creaking in various parts of the chassis, large panel gaps (1mm), seams in places you don’t expect to find seams, the SD card door that feels like it might snap at any second, the screen not sitting flush with the aluminum bezel—these are all minor things, but that kind of attention to detail is necessary for any company that wants to seriously challenge Apple from a hardware perspective. Acer also has to contend with ASUS, given that ASUS is currently priced lower and comes with an IPS panel and better overall construction.

At 13.3mm thick, the A500 is definitely on the chubby side—it’s only a hair larger than the Transformer and the Xoom (both at 12.9mm) but significantly thicker than the sub-9mm iPad and Galaxy Tab 10.1. The Iconia is slightly narrower and taller than the Transformer, but both have a larger footprint than the Xoom and Galaxy Tab 10.1. The Iconia matches the Xoom at 730g (1.61lbs) and comes close to matching the 695g Transformer, but none of the Honeycomb tablets can come close to the Galaxy Tab 10.1’s positively anorexic 565g (1.25lb) figure.

The Software
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  • Aikouka - Friday, June 24, 2011 - link

    You can change the control method for Real Racing HD. There are actually quite a few different options ranging from "we pretty much drive for you" to "good luck controlling everything on a tablet" :P. Reply
  • VivekGowri - Friday, June 24, 2011 - link

    Yeah, basically. Reply
  • stevessvt - Friday, June 24, 2011 - link

    I purchased the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 last weekend, hoping to love it as much as I do my HTC Thunderbolt. The 2 main programs I wanted most for it are Netflix, and Yahoo chat. Neither one is available for it. I found eack ones APK's on line, but they still wouldnt work. I brought it back and bought an iPad 2, even if they dont make a specific app for it, at least the iPhone specific apps work just fine. Shame, really, the GT 10.1 is a beautiful machine. Reply
  • berrykerry789 - Friday, June 24, 2011 - link

    I wanna win :) Reply
  • shabby - Friday, June 24, 2011 - link

    Budget not found in a $449 honeycomb tablet, now this $349 archos 10" tablet sounds interesting...

    http://www.engadget.com/2011/06/23/archos-intros-8...
    Reply
  • Confusador - Friday, June 24, 2011 - link

    I've been waiting for this review, even though I'd already decided to wait for Kal-EL, so it's nice to see that it was not lost. I do have to echo what others have said that it's nice to see the included USB port, despite the otherwise lacking hardware. Now that Android has USB host mode, I can only hope that others will start to do the same. Reply
  • Randomblame - Saturday, June 25, 2011 - link

    We will not see amazing android games until some actual game studios start developing for the platform and I fear that won't happen. They like stability, slow progress. Until the mobile/tablet market starts to slow down I think we're in a wait and see game. Direct x 7/8 era games werent that bad remember everquest? Ultima online? with bluetooth peripherials tablets can have buttons and controls but honestly we just need games that kick ass! Pocket empires is one I am incredibly addicted to despite it's ridiculously buggy crappy controls and interface. Once you figure it out it's fun and you can get past the nes style top down boring graphics. Because it's got something deeper game play! We need an epic game that gives us a reason to buy a new tablet every 6 months... Reply
  • vision33r - Sunday, June 26, 2011 - link

    Because all the big studios are busy in iOS land. New high quality iPad games comes out every week in the App Store. For example, Castle Attack HD for iPad was FREE last few days. It's a high quality tower defense game.

    For the past few years I have not found more than a dozen games on the Android market that is of high quality. Way too many low quality and poorly optimized games.

    Can't blame the devs, fragmentation hurts software development and a lot of android users are just cheapskates and drive all the quality developers away.
    Reply
  • yyrkoon - Sunday, June 26, 2011 - link

    What "big studios" would that be ?

    What for Win8, and then you'll see some real development happening.
    Reply
  • softdrinkviking - Sunday, June 26, 2011 - link

    this looks like its about the same LCD as the xoom?

    i tried that one out in the store, and the ipad and the LG pad (forgot the name) beat the pants off of it in view angles.
    even in the store's controlled lighting, i found the xoom hard to see and i had to tilt it around a lot until i found a sweet spot to view.
    for someone without great eyesight (me), it's really essential to have a great screen.
    these devices are basically big screens, so it should be the best part.
    Reply

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