The Android attack to the tablet market is clearly set to ignite this year, after months of seeing some cheap non-brand Android-based devices running old versions of the mobile OS.
One of the first Android 3.0 Honeycomb devices to be available in New Zealand, the Acer Iconia A500 tablet is a beautiful thing. It weighs only 750g, measuring 26cm x 17.5cm and boasting a 10.1" touchscreen with 800 x 1280 pixels, the Acer Iconia was a fun device to have around in the last couple of weeks.
The Acer Iconia A500 I have here came with 32GB storage plus 1GB RAM, and it is based on a NVIDIA Tegra 2 platform running at 1GHz. What this means is that HD is just at your fingertips - and you can taste it with a few free games that game pre-installed: NFS Shift. Let's Gold and Hero of Sparta. In all cases the graphics are stunning and there's no delay in the game play. NFS Shift is particularly nice because you can "drive" your car by taking advantage of the built-in gyrometer and steer the car by tilting the tablet - lots of fun.
There's a HDMI adapter and the Acer Iconia A500 currently supports 720p resolution, with 1080i planned to be available with an update due June 2011.
The first time you start the Acer Iconia A500 up the home screen will show some shortcuts to most visited sites such as Acer, Google, Picasa, Yahoo!, Twitter, Facebook and others. It's a nice widget that you can scrolls to see more of your bookmarks.
It also shows "groups" such as eReading, Games, Multimedia, Social that lead to a page with a wall metaphor where pre-installed programs are grouped by activity or genre.
The Multimedia group gives access to Photo Browser 3D, nemoPlay, MusicA, Aupeo! and others. The clear.fi app did a good job of finding a couple of DLNA servers I have here in my network (the Windows Home Server built-in Windows Media Connect and the PlayOn server). Alas the player itself didn't work well with my collection of wmv and mp4 content.
But despair not, for the Acer Iconia A500 gives you access to Android Market, so you can easily find an app that will let you play some of these formats.
The Android Market is well done and you can access plenty of applications - in no time I had installed LogMeIn Ignition, WolframAlpha, Facebook and Twitter, Amazon Kindle plus Skype and all worked fine. I did have problems with one kids' finger painting app that only used 1/4 of the screen (probably an app for mobile handsets?) and another that would throw an exception when you finished painting... My daughter, the one using those apps most, quickly figured out how to tap on the Ignore button when the app crashed.
This brings us to compatibility. It seems most of the apps I put in here will run - including the so important Facebook, Twitter and Amazon Kindle.
You also get access to the Nvidia Tegra Zone, a showcase of games specifically developed for the Tegra platform. You get to see news related to each game in the list, plus trailers an screenshots. There's also a shortcut icon linking to the Gameloft HD website where you have access to more games.
The browser is nice and fast, pretty compatible with almost everything I tried to see. It support multiple tabs. Interestingly it will automatically redirect you to the mobile version of YouTube, even though the desktop version will work just fine.
The Acer Iconia A500 comes with a micro SD slot for expansion, plus a micro USB and a standard USB. You can just plug in an external HDD or USB memory key and have access to that expanded memory.
The micro USB did fool me though - I tried to keep all the cables inside the box, and plugged the tablet to a micro USB wall charger, but nothing happened. I then realise Acer doesn't use the USB for charging at all, providing instead its own proprietary charger and tip.
Another thing that put me off is the lack of Exchange support. You can sure find some apps in the Android Market to fill this gap, but I was expecting this as a given on a high end tablet that is probably being put against some other brands that do provide this functionality out of the box.
You get support for WiFi 802.11b/g/n and even with wireless permanently on I thought I was getting a good battery life out of the tablet.
There are two cameras, including a five megapixel one and a front facing camera for video calling. Apart from the fact you have to hold a tablet a bit larger than a point-and-shoot to take a picture, the quality is pretty good.
There's also built-in GPS and Google Maps do look good on a large screen like that. GPS fix was almost instantaneous, thanks obviously to having WiFi on and a couple of access points around to give the device its first coarse location before getting onto satellites.
Pros - very nicely finished, Acer quality tablet - 32GB RAM, with micro SD slot plus USB available for further storage - responsive screen - HDMI output
Cons - proprietary charging adapter - Exchange support not available out of the box