A First Look at the Acer Iconia Tab A500

The Acer Iconia Tab A500 is the first Honeycomb tablet I’ve seen here in Brunei and is the first proper 10″ Android tablet. As with most Android tablets the specs are somewhat typical: 10″ (1280×800) with dual cameras running on the nVidia Tegra2. @mfirdaus and I managed to play around with the device for over an hour and below is the video overview we took of it. Below the video are further thoughts of the device and sample photos and videos from the device itself.

Full specifications (from Concepts and Acer specification pages)

  • Android Honeycomb(3.0)
  • 10.1” (1280×800) HD Touchscreen
  • 10.24″ x 7″ x 0.52″
  • 10 points Capacitive Multitouch screen
  • 1Ghz nVidia Tegra2 Dual Core processor
  • 32GB built-in capacity
  • Dual Camera (2mp front, 5mp back)
  • GPS, E-Compass, 6-axis Gyroscope G-sensor (auto rotation)
  • Long life 3260mAh x 2 battery
  • Dual display (HDMI output) (micro HDMI port)
  • microUSB expansion slot (up to 32gb)
  • Physical USB port (Full-sized USB port)
  • Dolby Mobile dual speakers
  • Acer Clear.fi app
  • Acer Social Jogger app
  • Acer Photo Browser app
  • Preloaded games (NFS Shift, Let’s Golf, Hero of Sparta)

Weight & Size
I have always thought 10″ tablets were a bit bigger than an iPad but in fact they are similar sizes: The A500 is longer and thicker but narrower than an iPad 2 (A500: 26cm x 17.7cm x 1.33cm, iPad2: 24.1cm x 18.6cm x 0.88cm). However the A500 is relatively heavy at 765g (iPad 2 is 601g), thus if you’re holding on the device it can get tiring.

Screen
The 10″ screen was responsive and we didn’t feel at real / noticeable / annoying lag or unresponsiveness. At a resolution of 1280×800, that is the same resolution as a lot of 13″ or 14″ laptops and is of higher resolution compared to an iPad: this means when browsing you should see more content. Speaking of browsing, with the great browser which has tabs and the ability to install Flash, this would make a great web browsing device.

Honeycomb and Apps
Refer to the previous post on A First Taste of Honeycomb (Android 3.0): in short there are not many apps optimized for Honeycomb and the large screen, but regular apps can still run.

Connectivity
The killer hardware features are the microSD card slot, full sized USB port and micro HDMI.

The microSD card slot enables you to add storage without buying a new device. If you’re on a budget, just buy the lowest capacity device and add microSD cards for your media (do note that microSD cards could be slower than internal storage on device, but is probably cheaper and can be transferred to other devices in the future).

The full sized USB port means you can connect a regular USB keyboard to the device and start typing straight away if you really need to type out of an email / do word processing. This will easily make the A500 into a productivity device with the proper applications. The USB port also means that you can copy files to and from a regular thumb drive like a regular computer which is a great feature. I’ve heard that USB card readers do not work, but I have no confirmation on this.

The micro HDMI port means you can connect the device to a projector / HDTV with display mirroring (display on both device and projector/TV). While this is a great option, I still think an iPad 2 trumps with the VGA dongle because VGA is still very widely used and HDMI is not. For people wishing to use the device for presentations, I would think an iPad 2 with the VGA dongle would be much easier to work with. I don’t believe there is an easy way to convert an HDMI signal to VGA without an external box, which means added cost and added items to bring.

Cameras
The front facing camera is a 2 megapixel while the rear camera is 5 megapixels (and also has a flash) however the picture and sound quality wasn’t stellar: samples below. Do note that the device was covered with clear plastic which would affect both the video and audio quality but I wouldn’t expect quality to be much better than what we got. Audio quality is pretty disappointing. Photos are stored in JPG format while videos in 3GP (H264/AAC).

Photos (jpg)

  • Rear: 5 megapixels (2592 × 1944)

  • Front: 2 megapixels (1600 × 1200)

Videos (3gp format with H264 video and AAC audio)

  • Rear: 720p (1280×720)

  • Front: VGA (640×480)

Battery Life
We could not take the device home to test the battery life of the device but below lists battery tests from other reviews but most reviews say you can easily get an full days worth without issue.

Price
At B$728, the 32GB A500 is priced cheaper than a 32GB iPad 2 (B$798), but do note that a 16GB iPad 2 is cheaper (B$668). IMHO Concepts should have brought in the 16GB version of the Iconia Tab to undercut all iPad 2 prices because with most Android tablets you can add expansion via microSD cards.

Summary
As a consumer device, this is a great device for web browsing, reading and watching movies. If you have TVs/monitors with HDMI input, this is a possible media center device with a purchase of a microHDMI to HDMI cable or a microHDMI to standard HDMI converter. As an office device, this is a viable option is you have HDMI monitors / projectors. The USB port option is great for using external keyboards and transferring of files. Overall Honeycomb is still maturing and is hard to convince people with an Android tablet unless there is a particular function that they need/want that is available on Android or a specific tablet as the iPad, with iOS, has the advantage of apps. Would I get one myself? I doubt so, as I’m looking more of a 7″ device with USB host, VGA out (highly unlikely thus maybe HDMI out) and possibly 3G to wirelessly tether via a wireless hotspot so I may even look out for the Iconia Tab A100 which is a 7″ version that is coming out in a couple of months.

Other Useful Links

Acer Iconia A500 Debunking Misinformation from Brunei Times

I’m pretty happy that @denogoh likes to cover Android but I was pretty sad to see that some of the arguments he made regards to the A500 where just wrong or could be misinformation. This article came out in the Brunei Times on Wednesday 18th May 2011. Below is a screenshot of the E-Paper version

the A500 has a proper-sized USB slot. The list of things you could do with this fabulous gadget include transferring files from pendrive or external harddisk, plug a dongle for Internet wherever you go in the world, very easily find a cable to connect to whatever you want to connect it to)

Just because there is a USB port doesn’t mean it will support any USB device: it needs the necessary drivers for the OS to communicate with the USB device. For instance, there is no mouse support yet (but is supposed to come soon with an over-the-air upgrade). It seems some people are working to get a 3G USB dongle to work with some success but it doesn’t look like something for a regular user.

not to mention it’s quite light (lighter than the iPad 2)

But it is not lighter than the iPad 2 which according to Apple specs is 1.33pounds (601g) for the Wi-Fi only model and 1.35 pounds (613g) for Wi-Fi+3G model. The Acer Iconia A500 is “0.4 pounds heavier than the iPad 2″ according to Laptopmag.com while Gigaom reports the weight to be 1.69 pounds and Carrypad reports: 765g. All 3 different sources say that it is heavier.

The video capabilities of the tab is not something to boast about as well, but you do get 1080p later this year

While it does not support extra codecs, the standard H264 in MP4 format, AAC, MP3 should all work fine and they are the typical formats available: similar to the iPad 2. Otherwise software decoding could be used though players like RockPlayer Lite to play files that is not initially supported. Currently 720p output is available with 1080p output to come in the future.

Currently the A500 32GB version is going for B$728 at Concepts which is cheaper than a 32GB iPad at B$798 (however there is a 16GB iPad2 which is cheaper, currently it seems that the 16GB A500 is not brought in). @mfirdaus and I will try do a (possible live stream) video later doing an overview of Honeycomb and the device itself

Rationalizing an Acer Iconia Tab W500

Trying to get on the tablet bandwagon, Acer introduced 3 tablets: the W500, A500 and A100. The W500, which has recently been available in Brunei, runs Windows 7 while the other 2 (more interesting tablets) are Android tablets. Sadly with the iPad around, the W500 will undoubtedly get compared to it but honestly it should be compared more to a netbook if anything else. The W500 has netbook specifications and runs a full version of Windows 7 and thus is a different category of a tablet / slate when compared to the iPad. It seems you can even play play Half-Life 2 on the W500 thanks to the AMD (i.e. ATI) GPU.

Specifications of the Acer Iconia Tab W500

  • Genuine Windows 7 Home Premium 32-bit
  • AMD C-Series processor C-50
  • AMD Radeon HD 6250 Graphics,
  • 10.1″ HD 1280 x 800 (WXGA) resolution
  • Acer CrystalBrite™ LED-backlit TFT LCD with integrated multi-touch screen
  • 2GB of DDR3
  • 32GB Solid state drive
  • Fast Ethernet
  • Bluetooth 3.0+HS
  • 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi
  • Dual Acer Crystal Eye webcams with 1280 x 1024 resolution
  • 36 Wh 3260 mAh 3-cell Li-polymer battery Estimated battery life: up to 6 hours
  • 2-in-1 card reader (SD, MMC)
  • Two USB 2.0 ports
  • HDMI port with HDCP
  • G-Sensor
  • 0.97 kg (2.14 lbs.) with 3-cell battery pack
  • 275 (W) x 190 (D) x 15.95 (H) mm
  • 1-Year International Traveller Warranty

Based on the prices from Concepts the Iconia Tab W500 is B$778 while the Acer netbook (Intel: D255 / AMD: AO522) is B$498: that is a price difference of B$280, which is pretty reasonable as you get a few things with the W500 that you don’t get on a regular netbook are:

  • a higher resolution screen 12800×800 vs a typical netbook resolution of 1024×600
  • dual webcams
  • a touch screen
  • a 32GB SSD
  • the flexibility of using the device as a notebook/netbook or a slate device

You can actually modify a netbook to have a touch screen but you would need to buy and install it yourself which would void your warranty and hopefully you will be able to put everything back together nicely after installation. A 32GB SSD will set you back over B$100 and a touch screen for will also cost US$74 (~B$90) adding up to a minimum of B$200. A high resolution screen and dual webcams can’t really be added to a regular netbook and certainly a netbook won’t have the slate form factor where the screen detaches from the keyboard, so topping up an extra B$80 and you get a fully functioning polished device as opposed to try customizing a netbook into a solid state touchscreen device.

There are some issues with the device itself being that Windows 7 may not be ideal for use with a touchscreen so it may not provide an ideal experience but I guess this is up to user preference and use case: try it out and see if it works for you and what you want to do with the device. Secondly, the SSD is only 32GB meaning after installation of the operating system and any applications needed, there may not be much space left for anything else. An SSD is not meant to be cheap however, it’s mean to be fast and is more robust than regular hard disk drives so this means you can use this device when on the move in a car or train without having to worry about the hard drive getting scratched/damaged if you were to hit a bump. The W500 also probably has a lower battery life compared to a regular netbook but if the added functionality of having a touchscreen slate computer experience is something appealing or useful for you, this could be a viable and affordable option.

Concepts’ Computer Trade-in Promo

Have you got old/non-working computers? If you do and want a new computer, Concepts has a deal for you.

Trade in your old computer at get an Acer Aspire X3900 – 353X7 for B$798 (B$818 with card) which is a B$90 discount for your old computer. The monitor has a resolution of 1600×900 and a standalone cost of B$248 (or B$198 bundled price with a computer) and I believe this is a good deal and the computer is ideal for general / family use.

With only an Intel integrated graphics card, it will not be the perfect gaming machine but there is 1 PCI Express X1 slot and One PCI Express X16 slot (low-profile) for expansion. Note: I was told by the staff that there are no expansions slots, however on the specifications in the brochure and online there seems to be PCI Express slots, so I believe the staff was mistaken. However taking a look at the back of the machine, it is fulled with ports and there doesn’t seem to be any space for expansion cards to be placed. I asked to see inside the chassis but they declined my request. (Update 1: managed to get them to open the chassis for me as there are only 2 SATA connectors which are used for the DVD drive and hard drive and there are 2 expansion slots on the back of the case as shown below, I guess I wasn’t remembering things right)

Ports on the back of the system

Ports on the back of the system (including 2 slots of PCIe expansion)

Also note that this is a mini-tower and thus regular components may not fit in the expansion slots, thus the reason for "low-profile" mentioned in online specifications of this system. Another thing I noticed is that the configuration that Concepts is selling only has 2GB RAM where all the other bundles I’ve seen for the same model X3900-353X7 has 4GB RAM (Acer Malaysia’s product page | QQeStore | Google Search). I will try clarify with them on this (Update 1: seems that the 2GB is a Brunei deal, other computer shops selling Acer products have the same 2GB with monitor configuration as opposed to 4GB without monitor)

The base Acer Aspire X3900 – 353X7 bundle from QQeStore has 4GB RAM but no monitor. QQeStore sells OCZ 2GB DDR3 RAM for $258 which is more or less the price of the monitor (assuming existing 2GB in the system is a single stick). Personally I have enough monitors at home and would prefer 4GB RAM but I guess for the typical home looking to upgrade a computer system, the choice for a monitor is better. While 4GB would be great for any system, I feel 2GB should be sufficient for most and only enthusiast or people with higher requirements from a computer will complain. (Update 2: You can upgrade RAM to 4GB for B$98 – 2 sticks of 2GB)

Acer Aspire X3900 – 353X7 bundle by Concepts Computers, Brunei

  • Intel Core i3 530 Processor (2.93GHz) (4MB Cache /2.5 GT/Sec QPI)
  • 2GB DDR3 RAM (upgradable to 8GB)
  • 500GB SATA2 Hard Drive
  • DVD SuperMultiplus Writer
  • Acer Brand 20" Wide LCD Model: P205H (Resolution: 1600×900)
  • Intel Graphics Media Accelerator HD
  • 10/100/1000Mbps Gigabit Ethernet
  • High-Definition audio with 3rd Generation Dolby Home Theater & S/PDIF
  • 40-in-1 Card Reader
  • 10L Housing, 352(L) x 265 (H) x 100 (W) mm
  • 1 PCI Express X1 slot & 1 PCI Express x16 slot (low-profile as found on Acer Malaysia’s product page)
  • 9 x USB 2.0, IEEE 3994 port, eSata, HDMI, Dsub VGA, 5 audio jacks, S/PDIF jack & 2 x PS/2
  • Acer USB Speaker Keyboard & Optical Mouse
  • Genuine Microsoft Windows 7 Home Premium

Update 1: Kudo’s to Concepts for allowing me to tickle my fancy of wanting to know how many SATA connectors there are. I asked if I could transplant the system in an existing chassis and they even offered to do it for free. So if you do transplant the system you can use normal sized components but the next issue that you could run into would insufficient power to the component. Stock power supply is only 220W, so if you put in a power hungry graphics card you will have to spend more on an extra power supply too. Possibly add another $200 – $300 for that.

Update 2: So you can upgrade the RAM to 4GB for B$98. (2 sticks of 2GB which is a added nice touch as it means you can max out the RAM without getting rid of any sticks, if they used 4 sticks of 1GB RAM). Also my brother seems to be having an issue with this brand new system. Monitor detected that the video signal was lost, then the power button kept blinking. Tried moving the mouse, pressing the keyboard, pressing the power button and none of that worked. Had to force shutdown and also during a restore, the restoration got stuck.