Friday, April 29, 2011
Acer’s Iconia Tab A500 Joins the Honeycomb Party
The year of the tablet continues, and every major manufacturer—and many smaller parties as well—are keen to get their cut of the pie. As their entrant into the tablet market, Acer is announcing their Iconia Tab A500. We posted a short overview of the Iconia-6120 Dual-Screen notebook a few weeks ago, and it’s weird to have devices that are so wildly different in the same product family, but the Iconia Tab is a far more traditional device.
Google selected NVIDIA’s Tegra 2 platform as the target hardware for Android 3.0 (Honeycomb), so it’s little surprise that Acer will use Tegra 2 (specifically the Tegra 250 variant) as the core of the A500. Perhaps more importantly, the A500 uses a 10.1” display with a 1280x800 resolution, so it will be similar in size and form factor to the Motorola Xoom. It’s actually a bit heavier (1.69 lbs. vs. 1.61 lbs) and fractionally thicker (.52” vs. .51”) than the Xoom, but since we’re dealing with tablets rather than smartphones it’s unlikely anyone will notice. What they will notice is differences in styling; the A500 has a brushed aluminum casing that looks quite nice in the photos we’ve seen.
Gallery: Acer Iconia Tab A500
Other aspects of the device are pretty standard. Tegra 2 starts with a dual-core Cortex-A9 CPU and pairs that with NVIDIA’s ULP GeForce graphics and 1GB of RAM. There are front- (2MP) and rear-facing (5MP) cameras, an HDMI port for viewing content on an external display (1080p supported), 802.11bgn WiFi, 16GB flash memory on the initial device (with 32GB versions planned for the future), and a micro-SD expansion slot capable of accepting up to 32GB micro-SD cards. The tablet comes with two 3260mAh Li-polymer batteries rated for up to eight hours of casual gaming or HD video playback and 10 hours of WiFi Internet browsing. Another piece of hardware is the six-axis motion-sensing gyro, which can be useful for games (and detecting orientation of the tablet). Finally, there’s a built-in GPS, and Bluetooth support allows the A500 to connect to a variety of peripherals.
One of the key elements of any tablet is the display, and here’s where things are a bit fuzzy right now: Acer’s press release states that the LCD “provides an 80-degree wide viewing angle to ensure an optimal viewing experience”. Hopefully that means it’s an IPS (or similar technology) panel, so that you’re getting true 80 degrees off-center viewing in both vertical and horizontal directions. More likely (being the cynic that I am), it’s a TN panel with “160-degree” horizontal and vertical viewing angles—except we all know that the way viewing angles are rated is often far from ideal, as one only has to look at a typical TN laptop panel to know that it can’t be used from above or below. When we can get an actual unit for testing, we’ll provide full details on the display.
On the software side of things, Acer has all the usual Android 3.0 accoutrements, but they’re including a few extras. Given the Tegra 2 platform, it’s nice to see a couple of games thrown into the mix for free: Need for Speed: Shift and Let’s Golf come pre-installed—I’m a lot more interested in the former than the latter. Adobe’s Flash is also supported, but it doesn’t come pre-installed, which is easy enough to rectify. Given that Google has expressed an interest in standardizing the Android experience and avoiding fragmentation, there’s not a lot of unusual software added on the A500. Acer includes their LumiRead and Google Books apps for enjoying eBooks, Zinio for full-color digital magazines, and a trial version of Docs to Go for office documents. Naturally, users all get full access to the Android Marketplace for installing additional applications. The A500 also includes clear.fi for digital media sharing, so it can communicate over your wireless network with any other DLNA-compliant devices to share multimedia content.
While the above items aren’t necessarily major improvements over competing tablets, one aspect of the A500 is sure to turn a few heads: the device is slated to go on sale at Best Buy starting at just $450. That puts it nearly $150 cheaper than the base model Motorola Xoom, albeit with 16GB instead of 32GB of integrated storage. The Iconia Tab A500 will be available for pre-order at Best Buy starting April 14 and available in stores and online starting April 24.
Besides the core unit, Acer also has a variety of peripherals planned. First on the list is a full-sized dedicated Bluetooth keyboard ($70 MSRP). There’s also a dock/charging station with IR remote and connections for external speakers/headphones ($80 MSRP), which can hold the tablet in two different tilt positions. Last is a protective case that allows access to the connectors and ports ($40 MSRP); it also lets you prop the tablet in two positions for hands-free viewing of movies or other content.