Acer Iconia Tab A500: Review


Acer’s Iconia Tab (A500 model) is one of a plethora of tablets slated (see what we did there?) to hit Australia in the middle of 2011.

Like a number of its rivals, the tablet features impressive specifications — boasting NVIDIA’s Tegra 2 processor, a 10″ screen size, verion 3.0 (Honeycomb) of Google’s Android platform and a plethora of other features designed to make Apple’s iPad weep. But despite this there’s no doubt the Iconia Tab is the lowest profile of the lot — it’s been left out of the hype cycle completely; so far it has a low profile.

Is the Iconia Tab a diamond in the rough, or is it just an also-ran? Read on to find out.

The first impression that you get when you pick up the Iconia Tab is its sheer size and weight. We’re not going to say that the device is similar to the tank-like design of Telstra’s T-Touch Tab; the Iconia Tab is a more sophisticated beast than that. However, there are definitely shades of the T-Touch Tab’s excessive weight and bulkiness here.

The Iconia Tab’s weight (765g, according to its box, although it is listed as being lighter in online specifications) places it at the heavier end of the currently shipping 10″ tablets in the Australian market. The iPad 2 tops out at 610g, while Samsung’s Galaxy Tab 10.1v is even lighter at 600g, and the Motorola Xoom is also 730g.

Many people may laugh at the fact that we think weight matters so much in a tablet, given that most laptops are significantly heavier. But when you consider what the current flock of 10″ tablets will be used for, and the way that users navigate their user interface, we think the current crop of devices is in general too heavy — and the Iconia Tab is one of the worst in this regard.

Your writer is a large, tall man with large hands accustomed to reading massive fantasy novels of 1,000 pages or more. Even so, we found the Iconia Tab was too heavy to hold in one hand for more than 30 seconds without having to rest it on something. The weight made any serious reading of books or online articles a trial, although it was OK when we could prop it up in our lap and get some emailing or casual web browsing done.

The weight also made us reluctant to add the Iconia Tab to our laptop bag as an extra device to carry around with us on a daily basis — it was an extra more than half a kilo that we didn’t want to lug around.

Apart from its weight, the Iconia Tab’s design is quite nice, if relatively bland.

The tablet’s large 10″ screen is clear and colourful, although we noticed the pixels a little too much, being spoilt by the Retina Display found in Apple’s iPhone 4. One little annoyance is that the screen is surrounded by a border of about 1.5cm of black plastic, which we felt enlarged the tablet unnecessarily. We’ve also been spoilt recently by smartphones with screens which run almost to the edge of the handsets themselves.

The back of the device is gunmetal brushed metal, with a couple of more plasticky grips on either side which aid you in holding the device with both hands when it’s held horizontally. On the bottom of the device when it’s held vertically is the input for its power adapter, as well as a micro-USB port, and, somewhat redundantly but charmingly, an actual full-sized USB port and a small reset button which we assumed resets the tablet to factory default settings.

On its top is a mini-HDMI output port, a standard 3.5mm headphone adapter and a power on button. On the right-hand side at the top is one large volume button, which can be tilted either way to change that setting, and an orientation lock switch — which we felt was a bit redundant, as this could easily be a software feature. A covered slot for a microSD card can also be found here. A largish non-standard port on the tablet’s bottom was a docking mechanism where you can plug in things like an optional keyboard.

On the back of the tablet is its five megapixel camera and flash, as well as two decent-sized speaker grilles, which did a decent job of producing sound when used — although we would prefer the sound to have been directed at the user, not away from them.

Overall we weren’t that impressed by the Iconia Tab’s design. We didn’t hate it — but it definitely didn’t stand out as being anything special.

As with its design, the Iconia Tab’s feature list is pretty much standard but not exceptional.

A speedy NVIDIA Tegra 2 A9 CPU at 1GHz beats underneath its case, its 10.1″ screen does 1280×800 resolution, and it supports HDMI output at 1080p, a resolution which it can handle video at pretty well. The rear camera is rated at five megapixels, while the front-facing camera is a two megapixel model. It comes with 1GB of RAM and 16GB of on-board storage memory.

We’ve seen the Iconia Tab listed as being 3G-capable internationally on either the A500 or A501 models, but in this aspect, as well as a number of others (such as the slightly heavier weight), the A500 we were sent in Australia showed no evidence of supporting 3G mobile broadband. It does, however, support 802.11b, g and n Wi-Fi, as well as Bluetooth. And its sound quality receives a bit of a boost courtesy of its support for Dolby Mobile. The model we received also listed GPS support.

To be honest, we found using the Iconia Tab to be a bit of a chore.

Much has been written about how version 3.0 (Honeycomb) of Google’s Android operating system was going to revolutionise the tablet paradigm, providing a platform that for the first time was designed from the ground up for tablets and not for smartphones.

Many readers, for example, have informed me that they didn’t buy the 7″ version of Samsung’s Galaxy Tab series when it was released in late 2010, because there were no plans to support Honeycomb on that device, and so they considered the 7″ Galaxy Tab nothing more than a glorified smartphone.

However, the truth is that in 2011, Google’s Android platform is still not yet really mature.

Manufacturers like HTC and Samsung have had several years now to polish their Android-based user interfaces for smartphones, and it shows. We reviewed HTC’s Incredible S smartphone this week, which boasts version 2.3 (Gingerbread) of Android, and the device is simply a wonder to use — intuitive, beautiful; something which is qualitatively more attractive and accessible than other smartphones on the market, including, in many respects, Apple’s iPhone.

The promise of tablets is that they should be intuitive; their unique touchscreen interfaces begs that the user play with them, almost caress them — the user should enjoy the experience.

However, I found much of the Honeycomb interface on the Iconia Tab to be inconsistent; with on-screen controls differing markedly between applications. Most of the time I had to hunt around for five minutes or more to change the simplest setting. A good example would be setting a YouTube video to stream in 720p rather than 480p — it took me a good while to work that one out.

I’m not sure how much of this is related to Acer and how much to Honeycomb — but if a technology early adopter like me finds the Iconia Tab’s interface troublesome, I’m going to bet that less tech-savvy users will as well.

There were also other issues with the Iconia Tab.

Trying to stream a 480p video from YouTube over 802.11g Wi-Fi was pretty non-functional. My broadband connection is such that it’s normally no problem for me to stream 720p or even 1080p YouTube videos of StarCraft II matches to my MacBook Pro when I’m lying in bed. This was a task that the Iconia Tab was incapable of performing — even streaming at 480p suffered lengthy two minute buffering jags.

The user interface of the Iconia Tab was also jaggy — just navigating around and launching applications felt a little like you were using a device with an underpowered CPU. The touchscreen is also not that sensitive.

And then there’s the battery life … to be honest, it’s not great. Don’t expect to be using this tablet all day on the road without recharging it — especially if you’re using it for multimedia. For a road trip of a few hours it would keep the kids occupied in the back with a few videos — but eventually you’re going to need to plug it into the cigarette lighter to keep them happy.

And for anyone that is serious about using the Iconia Tab for e-reading, newspaper reading on the train or emailing … we would suggest there are probably better, longer-lived alternatives. We left the device on our desk for a couple of days only to come back and find it completely dead. Again, the battery on the Iconia Tab is nowhere near as poor as that on Telstra’s T-Touch Tab — but it’s also no iPad 2.

Having said all this, there is a lot to like about the Iconia Tab. Its speedy CPU and graphics chips mean apps, including modern Android games, perform absolutely fine when they are loaded, and we loved the on-screen keyboard; it’s extremely sensitive and made emailing and web browsing a breeze.

After propping it up on your lap a few times, you more or less get used to the tablet’s form factor, and the weight isn’t that much of a headache once you find the right position. Honeycomb’s not mature, but it will improve fairly regularly — with the Iconia Tab already wanting to download an update in the few short weeks we had it.

The Iconia Tab is neither a standout device like Apple’s iPad or Samsung’s 7″ Galaxy Tab, nor a tank of a product like Telstra’s T-Touch Tab. It’s a modern Honeycomb tablet which sits squarely in the middle of the spectrum. It’s got most of what you need, but it’s not svelte or beautiful, and it’s a bit jaggy and heavy.

However, it’s not currently priced in the middle of the spectrum. Starting at around $579 in Australia, which is precisely the starting price of the iPad 2, the Iconia Tab is too expensive at the moment. We’d like to, and no doubt we will, see this tablet come down in price to at least $300 before we could recommend it.

If you are going to spend close to $600, buy an iPad 2 instead of the Iconia Tab. To put it bluntly, if Acer is going to charge the same price as a low-end iPad for its Android tablet, it needs to give consumers a reason to believe that the device is at least as good, if not better, than Apple’s offering.

The Iconia Tab is good — and a year ago, it would have been great — but in mid-2011, the tablet is merely mediocre. I’m betting that in a few months, it will halve in price (let’s not forget the $700 price drop in a matter of months the 7″ Galaxy Tab went through this year) and you’ll be able to pick it up for a song. If you want a cheap, solid 10.1″ Android tablet, wait until that point and buy the Iconia Tab. At that lowered price point you won’t regret it.

Image credit: Acer


  1. Good review, if disappointing. The A500 was at the top of my “to buy” list, but now I’m having second thoughts – especially given your comments on battery life, which is one of the main attractions of a tablet IMO (my Android phone drops to 50% charge after 45 minutes of use on the train). Like you say it will be more attractive when it inevitably becomes cheaper, so I’ll be keeping an eye on it.

    Another thing to keep an eye on is Android 3.1. I’ve heard comments that 3.0 was a bit of a rush job, a view which this article appears to support, but the next release will apparently fix a lot of its problems. Perhaps it’s better to wait for this before committing to a purchase.

  2. From what I’ve read up about the Iconia a500. There is a bunch of possible manufacturing faults in the case itself that people have experienced and and with the wifi itself.

    It appears that all the current gen Android tablets have been rushed out as they all seem to have various faults.

    Also 3.1 fixes a lot of performance issues seen in 3.0

    I’d wait for the 2nd round of tablets from these manufactures or for the tablets that are going to be released near the end of the year from companies like Lenovo and Toshiba

  3. “Apple’s iPad 4”?

    Who the hell is the crap reviewer! There is no such thing and the iPad 2 does NOT have a retina display.It has a lower resolution screen than the Acer Iconia.

  4. I think your reviews are a bit bias towards Ipad. I dont know how you test the battery, but so far I managed to get up to 7 hours battery life with heavy internet browsing, and with some casual gaming. You also did not support your claim with a number but instead you just mentioned it vaguely. It will be more informative if you put a graph comparing the battery life between various tablets.

    My wife have an Ipad (first gen) and yes it is an awesome device. It was easy to use with lots of app available. But somehow I am kind of attracted to Android after watching many videos on youtube. The customisation in Android is almost limitless. So I decided to take the plunge and I choose Acer Iconia as my first Android device (the cheapest Honeycomb tablet).

    Of course the Honeycomb interface is a bit complicated but if you are really a technology early adopter I dont think you will faced any problem. After one day with the tablet, I already knows how to root it, where to find all the setting, download thing etc. Even if you stumbled any problem, just google it and you will get the solution as the Android community is big.

    For me I like both my wife Ipad and the Iconia. It just a matter of personal preferences. The build quality for me is more or less the same and in some aspects the Acer Iconia might be superior than the Ipad (camera, screen size (16:9) while ipad is (4:3) etc). Of course the Ipad is much easier to use and more fashionable but if you are looking for an Android tab (or if you are a technology early adopter who just like to have the latest gadget) then the Acer Iconia is your best bet. The Xoom is much more expensive, the Asus Transformer is currently out of stock or if you are patience enough just wait for the Galaxy Tab 10v.

    • I think the main issue with Renai and his interface issue is he’s an Apple user :P

      I’ve played with an Iconia in JB and no issues navigating around and doing things. Although I’ve been an Android user for almost a year now so I’m used to how things are done. ^_____^

  5. Good review Renai. I was hopeful about this tab too (I’m going back and forward between iOS and Android at the moment with tablet options), but it’s amazing how quickly phones and tablets become dated now.

    If it was sold at half the asking price it would be a great buy, but at this stage I’d rather an iPad2 for $600. Particularly with all the excellent apps out for the iPad now. And with iOS5 just around the corner Apple’s tablets are no doubt going to get a lot more competitive with comparable features to Android (forgetting the whole open vs closed debate given I root/jailbreak everything anyway).

    • No worries. Yeah, the price really has to come down on this one — it’s not worth the asking atm. But given the massive price cuts we’ve seen on tablets recently, I’m expecting a few months will see a dramatic difference.

      • Of course! Which is why it amuses me to no end when I see that you call the full-size USB port, the most useful feature of the tablet in my opinion, redundant.

        One man’s redundant is another man’s holy grail :-)

        As for the price, the $579 is just RRP. Most people are getting theirs from JB Hifi and Officeworks and Harvey Norman for $400 ($400.52 to be exact). But I don’t expect the price to move much from this until the next generation of tablets hit the stores.

  6. Ah! but then you have to carry an adapter…

    And what happens when a friend hands you their USB flash memory when you don’t have your adapter with you?

    Come to think of it, to get the same functionality out of iPad, you’d have to carry quite a few adapters. That surely adds to the cherished 600g weight, doesn’t it?

    • *ahem*

      Have you actually tested an Acer Iconia Tab? If the USB comment is the only thing you object to … I suggest you go out and buy one and see if my other comments are inaccurate :)

      • Yes sir, typing this from my A500, which I’ve been happily using for the past 3 weeks.

        I also have a xoom, bought from the US, which I think will soon go on ebay, as it doesn’t have the redundant port ;-)

        Perhaps we should just agree that opinions are subjective, and leave it at that.

        • Heh that’s why you’re so hardcore about it — because you have one! :)

          So how does the Xoom stack up against the A500, apart from the USB port? Motorola haven’t sent me one for testing yet.

          • Both are very similar in most regards really.

            Weight-wise they are both the same (729g for Iconia and 735g for Xoom according to my scale). The Xoom is slightly narrower, but feels cheap and plastic-y, the brushed metal back of the Iconia gives it a certain polish and quality feel. I also like the bezel around the Iconia’s screen as it gives me a place to rest my thumbs while holding the tablet for longer periods of time.

            The Iconia has a better screen than the Xoom. It’s got average brightness and contrast, but the viewing angles are far better than the Xoom, which I find very important in a tablet. The Xoom has a better camera, both rear and front. Also a downside with the Iconia’s screen is that some people say they can see the capacitive lines under certain light. I haven’t been able to see these, but I’m not a videophile by any measure of the word.

            The Iconia’s speakers are by far better (in fact they are quite impressive for how tiny they are) but the Xoom has a better microphone.

            I find the USB port very handy, as not only can I plug in USB flash memories and even hard disks, I can also charge my phone or other accessories from it. Also, the SD card slot in the Xoom (infamously) doesn’t work, but it works on the Iconia just fine.

            Neither can charge from the micro-USB port, which is a missed opportunity in my view. Also both use proprietary power plugs, and the A500’s power cord is comically short. I generally put them to charge overnight and each can easily last more than a day’s usage on a single charge, so it’s not a big issue for me.

            Performance is pretty much the same, as should be the case considering that they are both using the same SoC and OS. The Iconia pulls a bit ahead of the Xoom in some benchmarks, probably due to its usage of faster LPDDR3 memory as opposed to Xoom’s LPDDR2, but I can’t say that it translates to any real-life performance difference between the two.

            The Xoom is the official Honeycomb launch device, so it runs the latest version of Android ahead of others. The Iconia also unfortunately has a locked bootloader, significantly reducing the chances of developing quality third party ROMs for it. These are probably the only reasons while I’m still holding on to the Xoom.

            Software-wise, they are pretty much the same, both vanilla Honeycomb, which is how I like my Android devices. The Xoom is running 3.1 now, which the Iconia is supposed to get sometime in late June/early July but it’s a very incremental release. The only other difference is that Acer has bundled a bunch of apps and games that come pre-installed on the A500. I haven’t found any use for any of the apps yet (there are better alternatives on the Market), but some of the bundled games (like NFS Shift and Let’s Golf) can be quite fun.

            There you go. My mini review/comparison of Xoom and Iconia.

  7. sadly dissappointed with the Acer A500, chunky video, complicated applications, short battery life. I think it has a good alarm clock and that is about it.

  8. I purchased an ACER Iconia A501 after spending quite some time looking at alternatives. I’m aware that reviews are “opinions” just as my comments are, but I’ll put in my little bit because prior to purchasing mine I scoured just about every site looking at reviews to help me make my decision. I’m sure there will be others like me that happen to come across this site and look forward to picking up comments.

    I’m not interested in the Ipad vs Android debate. Both sides seem to have fervent users. One can’t deny that the Ipad2 is a great product. Personally I’m happy that there is competition.. it works for the consumers. Each platform fuels the progress of the other.

    My main reason for choosing the A501 was because it had a full size USB port which has been useful for me to transfer (or View) files easily. This allows me to have as much memory as I need. Viewing my photos is as simple as placing my SD card into a reader and plugging it in. I can do this easily with movies, music, pdf files, documents etc. For me it’s easy and convenient.. Using a micro SD card has allowed me to increase my memory over what is supplied. The battery gives me up to 10 hours use. I’m happy with that and when on standby the battery still seems to hold a good charge even after 3 days.

    I find the unit to be responsive. For my needs, it works well. The weight factor isn’t a drama. Anyone would think that it’s heavy. I thought my netbook was light compared to my laptop and this is even lighter. (I think it’s similar in weight to the first Ipad). It’s interesting to observe people using my device and refer to it as an Ipad. When told that it’s an ACER they show some surprise.

    To sum up. I don’t regret my decision in buying my A501. A number of my colleagues own the IPad2 and they are satisfied too, but they do envy (perhaps just a little) some of the features my Iconia has over theirs. The range of apps for the Android is growing, but I’m not severely disadvantaged because the apps I have are the ones I need.

    Good luck in your choice.

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