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)
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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  • BishopZA - Friday, June 24, 2011 - link

    A fine review, but you failed to mention the biggest advantage the Iconia A500 holds over other Honeycomb tablets: An Integrated USB Port and Micro-SD card slot.
  • wsandman - Friday, June 24, 2011 - link

    I agree with you! The USB port and Micro SD card capability more the balance the scale for this device. The gripes about workmanship were not even apparent to me when I bought my A500. I believe that at $449 the A500 is very competitive with similar devices on the market when you balance ALL attributes. Also, once again an article that wanders from the topic of reviewing the worthiness of the device and ventures into a rant against the family of devices the unit falls under. In short, I like my A500 and have no regrets about its purchase.
  • cknobman - Friday, June 24, 2011 - link

    I completely understand your wanting to defend the Acer as you purchased it but a a potential buyer of a table (as I dont own one yet) I feel the reviewer did a great job and pointed out exactly what is wrong with this tablet.

    I passed on purchasing this device for the very reasons pointed out in this article and I had made my mind up of this a few weeks ago after playing with one first hand in a Best Buy store.

    The low overall build quality coupled with a mediocre screen, average performance SOC, and immaturity of the Android platform kept be from buying this especially at the $449 price point.

    I agree with the review at a $379 price point which is where I might bite into the table experience.

    Until more powerful hardware comes out and Android matures a little more I would never consider spending $400+ on a tablet especially when I can get so much more capabilities from a similar powered laptop.

    My 4.3' EVO smartphone fills the gap of latpop-tablet without me having to spend extra money.
  • VivekGowri - Friday, June 24, 2011 - link

    Just a heads up, the screen is better than you give it credit for. By the numbers, it's brilliant, and even without advanced screen technologies, it looks decent in day-to-day use. Maybe not as good as the iPad, but still good.
  • peterfares - Friday, June 24, 2011 - link

    You think the screen on the Acer is good? It looks like a crap PenTile display, though I don't think it even is. It had that fuzzy look that PenTile screens have.
  • Rhitick - Thursday, July 14, 2011 - link

    The screen on the Acer is excellent. I have one in the store, along with a Playbook, iPad 1/2, and a Viewpad (we rent tablets to people looking to try them). I am absolutely in love with the Iconia. The pics don't do it justice. We will be getting the Transformer in soon and I can't wait to try them back to back, but the USB port and MicroSD nail it for me.
  • mdshullaw - Friday, August 19, 2011 - link

    I am a video technician of over 40 years now, and run my own business. I can tell you without any doubt the display on the A500 is superb. The contrast is the best I have seen on a tablet, and the brightness can blind you, so what is the point of having more brightness than you can use. This is why the brightness comparison of these devices is pointless and not an indication of the screens quality. The designers of the supporting hardware set limits to the brightness range for each brand and model. Having messed around with all the tablets extensively, I ended up buying the Acer A500., With an excellent display, partially metal case, full size USB, a fast processor and excellent graphics, it was an easy choice to make.
  • micksh - Friday, June 24, 2011 - link

    Most tablets have microSD slot except Galaxy Tab and LG Optimus.
    Galaxy Tab has USB OTG with $20 adapter. Eee Pad has it on keyboard and Eee Pad surely has microSD.
    Motorola Xoom has USB host. It may not be enabled in US yet on Xoom but it's there in Europe, as well as microSD support.
  • Pokey-O - Thursday, July 14, 2011 - link

    BishopZA - I completely agree. I bought the A500 and the eeTransformer, expecting to sell/return one.
    I expected to love the Transformer, it was the one I was excited about (and I did like it, ended up keeping it for the family), but I've found myself using the A500 constantly, the key difference? the USB port. I can plug my thumb drive in, I can charge my phone off one power point (when travelling). The Transformer has the USB and the micro-SD, but it's on the dock, not the tablet, which is really surprisingly frustrating, I don't want to HAVE to have the dock with me at all times... otherwise it's a notebook!

    Incidentally, Just a few other points I'd note from the above article:
    - Jarred/Vivek I agree the build quality is marginally worse than the Asus, but (and it's a little thing) the rounded edges of the A500 are more comfortable to hold than the eeTransformer's sharper ones
    - and with regard to tablets generally, they're mobile devices, they're not good for typing on a table, but when you're sitting on a bus/plane/taxi there's nothing easier to type on that the tablets, setting up a net/notebook is troublesome.
    - lastly on the typing, one thing i like about both the Asus and the Acer is that the narrower screen means you can hold it like you would hold (or would have held, back in the day) a blackberry and type with your thumbs are at really quite fast speeds. I've not owned an ipad, but when I've borrowed them I've found them a little too wide to type in this way comfortably.

    As someone who commutes I wouldn't be without my A500 now...
  • jjj - Friday, June 24, 2011 - link

    Can you please stop saying "plain-Jane LCD panel",there is no such thing and you sound like Engadget .

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