Get past the Iconia A500’s surface-level disappointments and the tablet’s body leaves a much better impression. Connectivity is comprehensive, without leaving any one side too cluttered – as we saw in the budget Archos 101.
The left edge houses the power button, charge socket, headphone jack and microHDMI. The right edge is your USB station, with a microUSB and full-size USB port. This isn’t needless USB doubling either, as the larger USB lets you plug in a standard keyboard to type away on. Up top are volume controls, an orientation lock switch and a plastic flap that hides the microSD slot. This flap is the very worst example of the A500’s slightly clumsy design, as it’s rather large – giving room for a 3G SIM slot that doesn’t feature in this model.
Finally, there’s a dock connector on the bottom edge. The basic package doesn’t come with any accessories that make use of this, but there’s a multimedia dock available. A keyboard dock is rumoured to be in the works too.
Other than the four plastic cutaways for all these sockets and ports, the back’s brushed metal is also interrupted by the large lens housing serving the 5-megapixel camera and the stereo speaker outlets. The back camera is equipped with an LED flash, and there’s a secondary 2-megapixel model around the front for video chat and the obligatory throwaway Photobooth-style photo apps.
A dual-core 1GHz NVIDIA Tegra 2 and 512MB RAM powers the Iconia A500 show and there’s 32GB of on-board flash memory as standard. You can also add to this using microSD cards. We’ve already mentioned that 3G doesn’t feature in this model, but Wi-Fi, GPS and Bluetooth 2.1 are all here. Acer has also jammed-in Dolby Mobile, which lets you apply rudimentary EQ to the tablet’s sound output, as well as specific settings for video and music.
However, it’s not a feature that should sway you towards a purchase, even though it doesn’t feature in most rivals. Dolby Mobile offers decent results, but a tablet isn’t much cop as a portable MP3 player and if you’re using the A500 as a home music or movie solution, a receiver or hi-fi will likely offer their own EQ options. And if you’re using a TV’s own speakers, connecting directly from the microHDMI socket, no amount of equalisation is going to win you stellar sound quality.
The full-size USB slot is a serious convenience bonus for media fans though. Not only does it let you easily connect keyboards, you can also plug in USB flash memory drives and external hard drives. This boosts flexibility, although its video potential – which should be good given the high-quality screen and powerful CPU – is limited by other factors we’ll cover later.