There are a handful of questions to ask yourself before buying a tablet like the Acer Iconia Tab A100. First of all, "do I really need one?" Once you've surmounted that hurdle, you need to ask whether you want a home tablet, or one to use as you exhale a despairing sigh on the way to work, trapped within a crowd of similarly-miserable morning commuters. If the latter is your AM routine, the Acer Iconia Tab A100 is worth a look. It’s a 7in tablet that packs the power of its 10in relatives.
The Iconia A100 is Acer's second Android tablet, following on from the A500 - this mid-size tab's big brother. Next to the tablet elite - the iPad 2s and Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1s of this world - the A500 looked decidedly plump and functional, and the A100 shares the same style genes. If anything, it's less fancy.
Where the A500 featured a metal back panel, the Iconia A100 uses plastic all the way. It's shiny, grey metallic plastic, inlaid with a pattern on the back that would look more at home on the lid of a laptop than the back of a tablet. It feels as though its aesthetic roots are plugged into computing traditions, rather than the more aggressively-styled smartphone trends employed by Samsung, Apple and Motorola in their tabs. Consequently, the A100 isn’t the most desirable device in the tablet pantheon.
Its most serious design sin is allowing the pair of chunky seams that run down the back of the tablet. They initially suggest that the backplate is removable, but after giving it a good old yank we can confirm it's not. Functional seams are one thing, but superfluous ones are sure to turn our smiles upside down.
Front-on, the A100's style limitations are much less apparent. Like almost all tablets, the user's view is of a screen and glossy black bezel. There's just one touch-sensitive button to break up this blackness - a neat circular home button below the screen. All other navigation is handled using the touchscreen. The button is arguably unnecessary as the OS has its own software Home button, but it also lights-up whenever you receive a new email, which is nice.
As is often the case in tech, a slightly utilitarian look pays connectivity dividends. On the bottom edge of the Iconia A100 (when held upright) are the microHDMI and microUSB sockets, proprietary dock connector, power jack and stereo speaker outlets. This tablet doesn't charge over USB - that plug is used for data transfer only - which is a shame when a great many non-iPad 2 tablet buyers already use smartphones with microUSB charging. There's nothing to make use of the dock socket in the box, but a docking station is available for £50.
Perhaps the most significant hardware win, though, is the microSD slot on the right edge. Some tablet manufacturers, such as Samsung with its Galaxy Tab 10.1, are starting to follow Apple's lead in eradicating memory expandability, but not Acer. The slot is hidden under a plastic flap that also reveals a filled-in (so non-usable) SIM card slot - another style lapse. There's no mobile internet here, so unless you're near a Wi-Fi hotspot you'll be offline.
The standard up/down volume control buttons live further up the right edge of the A100, but above these is the one unusual hardware treat. It has a physical autorotate lock slider, something that's usually handled using software in Android devices.
At 400g, the A100 isn't quite as comfy to use one-handed as the 350g Time2Touch tablet, but it soundly beats the 600g iPad 2. Plus that autorotate lock comes in super-handy when reading in bed. Or in a hammock in the Bahamas.