- Expandable memory
- Handy form factor
- Plenty of power
- Poor display
- Mediocre battery life
- Review Price: £299.99
- 7in 1024x600 pixel display
- 8GB internal memory
- Tegra 2 processor
- 1GB RAM
- Android 3.2 Honeycomb OS
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.
The Acer Iconia A100 is one of just a few 7in tablets to use Android Honeycomb, the version of Google’s OS designed specifically for tablets. Most devices of this size to date have made do with the smartphone-oriented Android 2.x, such as the HTC Flyer and original Samsung Galaxy Tab.
Tailored for larger screens, Honeycomb squeezes more information onto each screen than ye olde Android, and uses a different notification system. Instead of dragging down a bar from the top of the screen, here the notifications bar is always present at the bottom. Apps can dim it, if programmed to do so, but there’s no way to get rid of it entirely (save hacking the A100 to bits (with software, not a saw)).
On a 10in screen, this barely seems like a sacrifice, but on the smaller 7in display of the A100 it becomes more noticeable. It’s like not being able to hide the Start Menu bar in Windows – ever. This isn’t a trick of the eye either, as the tablet’s 1024×600 pixel display offers less total room than the 1280×800 pixel displays of tablets like the Asus Eee Pad Transformer. The display can start to feel a little hemmed-in when held in landscape orientation.
What the Acer Iconia A100 doesn’t lack, though, is power. With a dual-core 1GHz Tegra 2 processor and 1GB of RAM on-board, it matches several more expensive tablets including the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 and Motorola Xoom. We subjected the Acer to the AnTuTu benchmark test, and it came out with a score of 4991. This is slightly higher than the Motorola Xoom’s Android 3.0 score.
In real-use terms, this means the Acer Iconia A100 will blaze through the Tegra 2 games slowly shuffling into the Android Market, such as Galaxy on Fire 2 and Dungeon Defenders. Although small, this tablet is no less powerful than the big boys.
Tegra 2-optimised games are the best-looking Android titles available
Overall performance is still subject to the niggles that are a big part of living with the still-young Android Honeycomb. Using third-party apps, crashes are frequent, and the autorotate function seemed slower than in other Android Honeycomb tabs. The Android Market refuses to be viewed in portrait mode at all too, which is irritating when it’s arguably the better view to use with a device this size.
Bugs aside, the A100 is quick and mostly responsive. The touchscreen not a patch on the top panels out there, and was only able to sense four touch points at once – others can manage more than double this number. However, most annoying glitches we experienced were attributed to software, rather than hardware, problems.
The browsing experience here is good. Download the Flash update from the Android Market, and you have a very fully-featured little browser, complete with multi-touch gestures and full Flash 10.3 content. It’s spoiled slightly by the screen, but more on that later.
Android Honeycomb remains a work-in-progress effort, and we found that doubly apparent in the 7in form factor of the Iconia A100. To its credit, though, it uses the very latest version of Honeycomb, 3.2. Its primary addition is the compatibility zoom mode, which uses pixel doubling to make apps designed for smartphones display more-or-less as intended.
The biggest disappointment of the Acer Iconia A100 is its screen. It’s a device that sells for £300 from most retailers, but its screen isn’t all that much better than what you’d find in a no-name ultra-budget tab like the Storage Options miScroll.
The pixel density is more than acceptable – at 1024×600 pixels its 170dpi gives a perfectly sharp image, slightly more so than most 10.1in tablets. However, viewing angles are poor, making the image all-but disappear when the screen is tilted the wrong way.
Contrast shift makes people look like aliens
This effect is particularly infuriating when you’re watching video, but it’s pronounced enough to be noticeable when using apps and browsing the web too. The original iPad set the tablet standard with its IPS screen (offering near-perfect viewing angles) in 2010, and the Acer Iconia A100 falls way below that mark.
Look at it straight-on and the screen looks just dandy. Just don’t move your head
It’s not the perfect portable video player, then, but isn’t devoid of video skills. The A100 uses NemoPlayer app as its standard video player. It’s basic, offering no control beyond pausing and flicking through videos using the timeline, but it can play more videos than some rivals. It will take on Divx files, but can’t handle MKVs, and stutters through HD-quality content – even 720p videos. This limited support is above-average though, as codec compatibility is a glaring problem with the majority of Android tabs.
If you want a device to watch a few downloaded movies on while on-the-move, waiting for the Archos G9 80 may be a better bet. The A100’s glossy-finish screen is highly reflective, demanding maximum screen brightness for anything approaching a decent outdoor experience during daytime.
From a full charge you’ll get just over four hours of video playback. In a budget tablet, this would be more than acceptable, but at £300, the A100 isn’t all that much cheaper than the Motorola Xoom (available from £329.99) and Eee Pad Transformer (available from £329.00). Both last for just under 10 hours.
A feature that is technically above the average is the camera. The Iconia A100 has two of them, in fact. There’s a 5-megapixel sensor on the back, accompanied by an LED flash, plus a user-facing 2-megapixel snapper for video calling. Shots produced with the main 5-megapixel unit do not impress though. There’s a slightly milky quality to the output resulting in muted-looking colours, and chromatic aberration abounds. For fun shots, or casual Facebook snaps, it’ll do the job – just don’t ask for too much more.
Initially, the Acer Iconia A100 seems like a sound proposition. It’s smaller and cheaper than the top 10in tablets, an attractive idea for those after a device to use on the commute as well as at home. However, it’s unfortunately beset by issues that have held us back from recommending much cheaper tablets in the past – most importantly, the screen’s rubbish.
Unfortunately, we’re yet to see a killer 7in tablet emerge to recommend in its place. The BlackBerry Playbook lacks apps, the HTC Flyer is significantly more expensive and the Time2Touch tab suffers from similar screen issues. We’ll be back soon so see if the Archos G9 80 can possibly fill that slot, but for now we can only suggest you spend a little more (and it is a little these days) and opt for a top tab like an Asus Eee Pad Transformer or first-gen iPad.
On paper the Acer Iconia A100 sounds great. It’s a sub-£300 Android Honeycomb tablet using the still fairly rare 7in form factor that has all the power of the top tabs in town. But a few serious problems blow its chances. The display quality is poor, battery life is half of what an iPad achieves and the design inspires indifference rather than desire.
Score in detail
Battery Life 6
|Memory (RAM) (Gigabyte)||1GB|
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