With its shiny glass surface, high resolution screen and aluminium back, it’s clear which tablet Acer’s Iconia A500 wants to be. But standards are already high for Android tablets, and it’s going to need to do more than look the part to impress us.
Looking at the spec sheet, it’s a good start for the A500. It has the ubiquitous Nvidia Tegra 2 processor inside and Honeycomb is proving itself a more than capable as an operating system. Acer also tells us that there’ll be a free update to the latest version of Android, 3.1, in the next few weeks.
What’s the angle?
Even at this early stage, tablet manufacturers are find their own specialisations. Asus’ Transformer has netbooks in its sights, HTC’s Flyer is the pen-powered note-taker. Samsung’s Galaxy range is taking on Apple with paper thin designs, and so on.
The Iconia doesn’t have an act to bring to this talent show. It’s a solid all rounder, but there’s no standout feature which makes it a must buy.
Where it tries to differentiate itself, it doesn’t quite get it right. For example, there are three icons on the desktop, for Games, Books and Media. All of them open the same alternative app launcher, which is attractive but replicates the functions of the stock UI. So they add to the complexity of starting an app, rather than making things more simple.
There are other puzzling software features. Like the fact that there’s no file manager pre-installed, which means that the USB port is useless until you install one from the Android Market.
And there are ungainly design choices to contend with. It requires a standalone charger, has a proprietary dock port for future accessories and a second non-standard USB port for connecting to a PC. That’s too many unique cables for our liking.
Not too shabby
If all this sounds like a damning critique of the Iconia, it’s really not. So long as you don’t mind doing your own desktop customisation and are happy to install your favourite apps from the Market, it’s as capable as any other Honeycomb-powered tablet out there.
There are many good points. The speakers are better than Asus’ Transformer. Battery life, at over ten hours, is brilliant. Uniquely, the Iconia A500 also comes with the same kind of haptic feedback we’re familiar with from Android phones, which makes typing on the touch screen more reliable. And the price is right. At £450 this 32GB model might seem expensive, but there’s a 16GB version on the way which will cost £70 less.
But for all its pro points, the question remains. Why would you buy the Iconia A500 over any other Android tablet? We think probably not.