Android tablets come in waves. First there were the budget models, which lapped around our ankles, too often chilling us to the bone with their penny-pinching compromises. Now it's the turn of their expensive cousins, like the Acer Iconia A500 and Asus Eee Pad Transformer. At almost £500, the Iconia sits in iPad 2 territory. But can it compete?
The Acer Iconia A500 is a 10.1in Android tablet. In this most basic sense, it's very similar to the Motorola Xoom, Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 and Asus Eee Pad Transformer. This barrage of tablets welcomes the new Android Honeycomb 3.0 operating system to the market. It's the first version of the Google OS to be made specifically for tablets.
In entering the stage alongside other big-name devices, the Acer Iconia A500 risks being seen as an uninspiring also-ran. Design-wise, it doesn't do much to differentiate itself either. Its back is made of brushed metal and it's much slimmer than its Windows 7 sibling, the Iconia W500, but it's thicker and heavier than some alternatives. It weighs 756g and is 13.3mm thick. That's significantly weightier than the 680g Eee Pad Transformer and chunkier all-round than the iPad 2, which is just 8.8mm thick and 601g.
Consequently, the Iconia A500 isn't very comfortable to hold one-handed for extended periods. However, much as the iPad 2 left many a reviewer bleating about how much easier the device is to hold one-handed than its predececssor, a 10in tablet is never going to be as comfy to hold this way as an Amazon Kindle or a 7in tablet like the HTC Flyer and Archos 70. It's a compromise of the form factor, not just this specific design.
However, the Iconia A500 isn't as snazzy-looking as some Honeycomb tablets. Metal body bits aside, the design isn’t that impressive. The handful of plastic cutaways in the body, for the left and right edges, the microSD slot and the dock port eat away at the tablet's sense of style, as does the seam that joins the back and front body plates. The issue is that the Iconia's look suggests that these elements are unfortunate necessities, by trying to make the plastic bits look as much like the brushed metal as possible. A fashion designer doesn't apologise for his clothes - this is more Primarni than Armani.
With more metal on show the A500 should seem higher-end than the Eee Pad Transformer, but it doesn't. Its look is less bold than this and the iPad 2, and as such also less desirable. It's nice, in a rather pedestrian way. Much like the word "nice" itself.