Whatever business you’re in, everything is mobile now. That’s become especially true in recent years for the world’s leading PC and laptop manufacturers, who’ve slowly cottoned on to the fact that they can’t let the likes of Apple hoover up all of the tablet and phone market. We’ve seen the likes of Asus and Dell launching mobile phones and tablets and Acer as well. The Acer Iconia Tab A100 isn’t its first attempt at at Android powered tablet, but it is the first using a seven-inch screen, rather than the more typical 10.1-inch. That size difference may not sound like much, but it’s a deceptively different experience. A substantially
smaller screen area attempts to strike a better balance
between productivity and portability. Unfortunately, while the hardware is
mostly there, Acer’s struggles with user interface design are visible from the start.
The Acer Iconia Tab A100 looks eerily like the second generation Motorola Xoom. The industrial design uses the same diagonal edges and black plastic cover. At 450g, it’s light and the 1024×600 capacitive touchscreen is sharp and bright, with great colour reproduction that’s only slightly hampered by shallow vertical viewing angles. The design is still very ‘Acer’ though, and its 12mm deep bulk is reminiscent of its lower-end laptops – as is the swirling ribbon design and logo on the plastic back cover. There’s one other unusual design flourish too: there’s an extra home button below the screen which no other Android Honeycomb tablet has. It’s actually surprisingly useful.
Happily for a small tablet, the power button isn’t hidden, but on the side and within easy reach, while the volume keys on the top edge are accompanied by a screen orientation lock and a microSD card slot for boosting storage space. On the right handside, a HDMI cable allows you to output video to a HDTV. Sadly, the one disappointing aspect of the build is the charging slot: it’s a proprietary socket and power brick, so you’ll need to carry this with you if you use the A100 on the go.
The tablet’s smartphone style innards produce speedy results. The A100 is fast – it scored around 1,800 on the Quadrant Standard benchmark, and an impressive 89,000 in the Rightware Browsermark page loading test – and that’s courtesy of an NVIDIA Tegra 2 dual-core 1GHz system-on-a-chip. Some of the other smarpthone specs are a disappointment however. Though the A100’s rear five megapixel camera can shoot 720p HD video, stills are washy and take an age to focus. The battery holds a mere 1530mAh charge, a smaller capacity than found on many new phones.
As such, you’ll only get about five hours of use with brightness up and internet on. Google has not open-sourced Honeycomb 3.2, its tablet-optimized version of Android, which suggests it’s been vetting every tablet so far released quite rigorously. The core operating system itself is excellent here: notifications slip quietly into a tray in the right hand corner, multitasking can be activated by a button present on screen at all time, and though the predictive on-screen keyboard is excellent, the ability to use voice commands throughout the OS too is incredibly convenient on a tablet. There’s also the screen resolution to consider – It’s actually lower than on some new Android phones, which makes the dearth of Honeycomb apps much less of an issue. Acer’s embellishments over the top of Honeycomb are disappointing, and confusing to the point where Google should have stepped in.
Its SocialJogger app pulls in Facebook and Twitter updates in a way that can only be described as baffling. It’s needlessly split its media streaming abilities into two separate apps, Clear.fi and Media Server, and several icons that appear to be apps are actually just full screen folders for games or social networking apps. Worse still, plug the A100 into a computer, and you’ll be prompted to download 40MB worth of USB drivers. You’re not given a link, either and they’re Windows-only. It’s not a problem if you use a PC: Acer’s solution even lets you move files over Wi-Fi, but it does mean this tablet basically doesn’t work with Macs. And that’s the core problem with the A100. Though it’s exceedingly portable, its user interface oversights make it a tough sell to those used to slicker phone systems. Why buy a confusing tablet when you could have a powerful and simple phone?
Unless you really must have a medium-sized tablet, the USB syncing issues and dull design still make the iPad your first port of call for usability and the Xoom 2: Media Edition is a tempting rival.