The Acer Iconia A500 features a 10.1in screen with a capacitive touch layer – just like the Asus Eee Pad Transformer and Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1. This size has become the standard for Android Honeycomb tablets, and it’s something that’s unlikely to change any time soon.
Different models employ different screen technologies though. Our favourite is IPS (in-plane switching), used in the iPad 2 and Eee Pad Transformer. This offers the best viewing angles money can buy and excellent overall image quality. The Acer Iconia A500 uses a PVA LCD (patterned vertical alignment) panel instead, but the difference in quality isn’t huge. Resolution is the same as most other 10in Android tablet at 1280×800 pixels.
It’s is bright, clear and vivid – the one giveaway sign that this isn’t quite as impressive as the iPad 2’s screen is that it suffers from minor colour shift when viewed from an extreme angle. This effect alters colour tone and tends to make the picture appear washed-out. In real-life usage though, you’ll barely notice this unless you’re actively looking for it, in part because the ultra-glossy screen leaves some reflections on-screen almost all the time but mostly because you simply won’t usually view the screen from such an angle.
This glossy finish means the Acer Iconia A500 isn’t pleasant to use outside, as unless you’re very careful about how you angle the screen you’ll see more of the world around you than what is on-screen. The same is true of all of the A500’s main rivals though. If you want a device to read a book outside in the garden, buy a Kindle. Or a Sony Reader.
What’s more disappointing than the frankly minor lack of IPA’s best bits is the poor video codec support. Only the very basics are here – H.264 and MP4. DivX, Xvid and MKV are all strictly out of bounds. If you have an existing video library downloaded from the net, you’ll probably have to convert most of it.
Alternatively, third-party media player apps from the Android Market such as yxplayer, RockPlayer arcMedia will play additional codecs, but they’re poor mitigation. They all use software decoding of media files, rather than employing the tablet’s graphics hardware, and consequently performance with high bit-rate and HD-resolution movies is poor even with a dual-core processor powering things along.
At least capturing HD video is easy thanks to its 5-megapixel (720p) camera. Vids are encoded as 3gp files and the quality is decent. Photo performance is worse though, with plenty of chromatic aberration on show and pretty mediocre detail harvested. The glossy screen and sheer size of the A500 make the tablet downright embarrassing to use as a camera anyway. Both video and still shots can use a handful of filters including Mono, Sepia and Posterize.
The Acer Iconia A500 feels similar to every other Android Honeycomb tablet once you get past its design. However, we’re not crazy about some of the bits that Acer is responsible for. The look lacks confidence and the bold strokes of a real designer, it’s also missing any cool extras like the keyboard dock of the Eee Pad Transformer and the screen falls short of IPS alternatives. What’s more, the overall Android tablet experience still doesn’t match that of the iPad when it comes to apps. We’d be happy to use this device as our everyday tablet companion, but would we splash out £450 on it? Probably not, given the other options out there.