Acer’s Iconia Tab A500 Joins the Honeycomb Party

The year of the tablet continues, and every major manufacturer—and many smaller parties as well—are keen to get their cut of the pie. As their entrant into the tablet market, Acer is announcing their Iconia Tab A500. We posted a short overview of the Iconia-6120 Dual-Screen notebook a few weeks ago, and it’s weird to have devices that are so wildly different in the same product family, but the Iconia Tab is a far more traditional device.

Google selected NVIDIA’s Tegra 2 platform as the target hardware for Android 3.0 (Honeycomb), so it’s little surprise that Acer will use Tegra 2 (specifically the Tegra 250 variant) as the core of the A500. Perhaps more importantly, the A500 uses a 10.1” display with a 1280x800 resolution, so it will be similar in size and form factor to the Motorola Xoom. It’s actually a bit heavier (1.69 lbs. vs. 1.61 lbs) and fractionally thicker (.52” vs. .51”) than the Xoom, but since we’re dealing with tablets rather than smartphones it’s unlikely anyone will notice. What they will notice is differences in styling; the A500 has a brushed aluminum casing that looks quite nice in the photos we’ve seen.

Other aspects of the device are pretty standard. Tegra 2 starts with a dual-core Cortex-A9 CPU and pairs that with NVIDIA’s ULP GeForce graphics and 1GB of RAM. There are front- (2MP) and rear-facing (5MP) cameras, an HDMI port for viewing content on an external display (1080p supported), 802.11bgn WiFi, 16GB flash memory on the initial device (with 32GB versions planned for the future), and a micro-SD expansion slot capable of accepting up to 32GB micro-SD cards. The tablet comes with two 3260mAh Li-polymer batteries rated for up to eight hours of casual gaming or HD video playback and 10 hours of WiFi Internet browsing. Another piece of hardware is the six-axis motion-sensing gyro, which can be useful for games (and detecting orientation of the tablet). Finally, there’s a built-in GPS, and Bluetooth support allows the A500 to connect to a variety of peripherals.

One of the key elements of any tablet is the display, and here’s where things are a bit fuzzy right now: Acer’s press release states that the LCD “provides an 80-degree wide viewing angle to ensure an optimal viewing experience”. Hopefully that means it’s an IPS (or similar technology) panel, so that you’re getting true 80 degrees off-center viewing in both vertical and horizontal directions. More likely (being the cynic that I am), it’s a TN panel with “160-degree” horizontal and vertical viewing angles—except we all know that the way viewing angles are rated is often far from ideal, as one only has to look at a typical TN laptop panel to know that it can’t be used from above or below. When we can get an actual unit for testing, we’ll provide full details on the display.

On the software side of things, Acer has all the usual Android 3.0 accoutrements, but they’re including a few extras. Given the Tegra 2 platform, it’s nice to see a couple of games thrown into the mix for free: Need for Speed: Shift and Let’s Golf come pre-installed—I’m a lot more interested in the former than the latter. Adobe’s Flash is also supported, but it doesn’t come pre-installed, which is easy enough to rectify. Given that Google has expressed an interest in standardizing the Android experience and avoiding fragmentation, there’s not a lot of unusual software added on the A500. Acer includes their LumiRead and Google Books apps for enjoying eBooks, Zinio for full-color digital magazines, and a trial version of Docs to Go for office documents. Naturally, users all get full access to the Android Marketplace for installing additional applications. The A500 also includes for digital media sharing, so it can communicate over your wireless network with any other DLNA-compliant devices to share multimedia content.

While the above items aren’t necessarily major improvements over competing tablets, one aspect of the A500 is sure to turn a few heads: the device is slated to go on sale at Best Buy starting at just $450. That puts it nearly $150 cheaper than the base model Motorola Xoom, albeit with 16GB instead of 32GB of integrated storage. The Iconia Tab A500 will be available for pre-order at Best Buy starting April 14 and available in stores and online starting April 24.

Besides the core unit, Acer also has a variety of peripherals planned. First on the list is a full-sized dedicated Bluetooth keyboard ($70 MSRP). There’s also a dock/charging station with IR remote and connections for external speakers/headphones ($80 MSRP), which can hold the tablet in two different tilt positions. Last is a protective case that allows access to the connectors and ports ($40 MSRP); it also lets you prop the tablet in two positions for hands-free viewing of movies or other content.

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  • RHurst - Monday, April 11, 2011 - link

    Well, my 64gb iPad is always full, I'm sways managing space and struggling.

    The reason that it's being used by the whole family: 400 apps, including a handful with 1-2GB. Nav application (I use it in the car with a proclp holder - awesome-, the nav app is a backup to the oem nav) is big, educational apps are huge (period table, stars, dinossours, I'm loving the history of jazz with my daughter) - unfortunately I don't hear much about those on android...I can't even begin to fit my music library to it.

    Finally my 2 1/2 year old has lots of games (two folders full). And she loves to browse the family pics and videos, so right now my pc is busy transcoding hd videos from the sponge break vacation on the beach.

    64GB simply doesnt cut it for me AT ALL!
  • Stuka87 - Friday, April 8, 2011 - link

    1.69lbs is really getting to be on the too-heavy side of things. I have used a Xoom and it feels too heavy as is, and this device weighs more? The Xoom gets uncomfortable to use after a little use. The iPad2 is about as heavy as a tablet should be IMHO.

    I do like the overall shape of this one. It looks like it would be nicer on your hands.
  • DigitalFreak - Friday, April 8, 2011 - link

    Curious to see how this stacks up to the Asus Transformer. I believe it's $50 cheaper than the Iconia and is confirmed to have an IPS screen.
  • DigitalFreak - Friday, April 8, 2011 - link

    Not to mention Asus has already released their kernal.
  • daneren2005 - Friday, April 8, 2011 - link

    Not sure but does the Transformer have the Android Market on it? I know a lot of the cheaper tablets I have been seeing lately all seem to not have access, essentially making the device worthless.
  • s44 - Friday, April 8, 2011 - link

    There's always Amazon.
  • human_error - Friday, April 8, 2011 - link

    It does have the market - it's running stock honeycomb.

    The transformer isn't a knock-off cheap version on the xoom - it is better in many ways (better screen, better speakers, a working micro sd card slot out of the box) and all while running the same tegra 2 setup as the xoom with stock honeycomb (and a couple of asus apps and widgets which can be removed).
  • ssampath - Friday, April 8, 2011 - link

    Not sure if the reviewer has used tablets extensively. But the size and the weight to me are even more important than the performance! It is a device you are constantly holding during use and needs to be as light as possible. I Xoom feels very uncomfortable compared to the IPad 2 because of the little bit of extra weight and slightly smaller bezel that makes it difficult to hold.
  • JarredWalton - Friday, April 8, 2011 - link

    Perhaps -- and I'm being generous -- you might notice the 5% increase in weight without using a scale. There's no way you'll notice a .01" (<2%) increase in thickness. Far more important is going to be the overall build quality and design. Apple has gone with a modified chassis on the iPad 2 that most seem to think feels better in the hand. I'd wager that the curvature is what makes the difference as opposed to the change in weight, but either way it's a subjective thing.

    I'm not comparing with the iPad 2, where the size and weight are quite a bit different; the Xoom and A500 are sized so similarly that industrial design elements will almost certainly be the overriding concern. Well, that and price. And if I'm going to do any typing, the onscreen keyboard is still a dead end for me.
  • Azethoth - Friday, April 8, 2011 - link

    If you follow the research studies people can consistently be fooled about change that is less than 10%. So a beep that is more than 10% longer than another: can be distinguished. Less than 10%? Sounds the same length. A few years back there was a series of pin pricks on skin tests where a similar 10% factor was found concerning time between pricks & distance between pricks etc.

    So applying it to this situation the 5% is likely not material, leaving the shape as the culprit.

    As with all statistics individual mileage may vary.

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