RANDOM REVIEW: Acer Iconia TAB A100

The Rules of Tech Support on the Acer ICONIA TAB A100
Okay, so I couldn't help myself

So, a ten inch tablet is way too big for me, an eight inch one was just a hair too big, and so a seven-inch tablet should be just right…right? After returning my Vizio tablet, I decided to see what was available in the 7-inch space.  Neither the Kindle Fire nor the Nook Tablet had been announced at the time, so I was looking at full-featured tablets with GPS, Bluetooth, a micro-SD card slot and all those nerdy things nerdy nerds like me care for.

The Samsung Galaxy was nice, but it was also pretty darn pricey and running the phone version of Android. There was no way I was going to pay a premium for another ‘phone without the phone’ device. The Dell Streak 7 was very nice and was even supposed to get a Honeycomb update in the near future, but at the time I was looking, T-Mobile was the only place selling it.  While I didn’t mind the thought of getting a data plan, T-Mobile data service is pretty craptacular in my hometown, which was where I would really want to have that mobile data connection. The HTC Flyer was also ridonkulously overpriced, even more so than the Galaxy. Sure, it had a stylus, but as much as I miss using a stylus, I don’t miss it that much. And as I mentioned before, the cheapo ‘e-readers with Android on them’ were a no-go with their lack of access to the Android Market and barely-responsive screens.

The Acer ICONIA TAB A100 was the first 7-inch device to come with the ‘Honeycomb’ version of Android out-of-the-box. This is important because Honeycomb is written specifically for tablets and should not have that the ‘phone without the phone’ feeling the Vizio did.

HARDWARE

The A100 has a 7-inch widescreen that is nice to look at but gets washed out in sunlight like most mobile screens. The Gorilla Glass that sits atop the screen is also highly reflective (as you can tell by the photos) which can be a little distracting. I also found the touchscreen to be just a hair on the overly sensitive side when I was typing, but that may just be the keyboard software, my fat fingers, or more than likely, a little bit of both.  It is multi-touch, though, so I can zoom and out with ease.

The power button and headphone jack are on the top right of the device, pretty standard stuff there. The volume control, rotation lock switch and a MicroSD card slot are on the right side. The A100 provided an okay amount of audio, nothing earth-shattering, but then again I’ve learned to not expect decent audio out of anything smaller than a 13-inch laptop. The bottom of the device has a host of ports: Micro-HDMI, microUSB, a docking connector and a charging port. A 5MP outward facing camera with LED flash and 2MP front facing camera are also present, and a capacitative Home button lies just underneath the screen. The cameras take okay pictures, certainly ones that are good enough for throwing onto the web.  At a half-inch thick and weighing in at .92 pounds, the A100 feels comfortable in my hands with its rounded corners and sides. The casing is plastic and a bit of a fingerprint magnet, though.

Battery life is about 4-5 hours, depending on Wi-Fi and GPS usage, of course. After being able to use the Vizio tablet for almost an entire workday (9 hours), having to recharge the A100 barely after my lunch break is a bit of a letdown. Unfortunately, the A100 cannot be charged via its USB port; the included AC adapter is your only charging option, well, that or a $100 dock.  The lack of charging options only serves to make its limited battery life a bigger limitation than it should be. If the A100 could be charged via USB, I could use nearly any charger, but as it stands, there is no official Acer mobile charger available for purchase as of this writing, so I either have to find a wall socket or run out of juice.

Under the hood is the same 1GHz dual-core Nvidia Tegra 2 CPU that powers most of the other first-gen Honeycomb tablets, 1GB of memory, and 8 or 16 GB of storage, which can be supplemented via a microSD card. The A100 is fairly responsive, and doesn’t feel underpowered or sluggish.

SOFTWARE

Acer Iconia TAB A100 Home Screen
Home is where the data is

Honeycomb is a different animal than the phone versions of Android. The first thing I noticed about it was the bar that ran across the bottom of the screen, it makes it look and feel more like a PC desktop.  Honeycomb places Home and Back buttons on the bottom left of the screen, so physical buttons are not needed on Honeycomb devices at all.  A new third button brings up the last ten open apps, which comes in handy, and if you are using a phone-based app, a fourth menu button appears that takes the place of the physical “menu” button found on Android phones. Aside from the Home button just below the screen there are no physical navigation buttons to be found.

On the top left of the Home screen are a Google search button and a voice search button. The upper right corner has an Apps button that gives access to all apps and a plus sign that allows the user to add widgets and apps to the Home screen or change the wallpaper.

Having been accustomed to using Gingerbread on my phone, it took me a little doing to get accustomed to getting around Honeycomb, but once I did, I appreciated the way it worked. I do miss having physical buttons, though, the bar on the bottom of the screen that holds the soft buttons never really goes away, which I found annoying when viewing pictures or videos.

Overall, though, Honeycomb is a step forward for Android and it is quite nice once you get the hang of it, which doesn’t take too long.

APPS

The Amazon Appstore
Amazon made a better store, go figure

The A100 has access to the Android market, and unlike the Vizio, I was able to download all of the apps I needed. Some of them were optimized for tablet use, but some appeared to be phone apps that were scaled up to fill the device’s screen.  They didn’t look too bad, but the amount of empty spaces in such apps is pretty hard to ignore. I have to say that while I’m not a big fan of playing games on my phone because of the inaccuracy of my big fingers, doing so on the A100 was quite nice thanks to the increased screen size.

I also discovered the Amazon Appstore, which, I have to say, is awesome for two reasons: First off, they give away a free paid app every day.  While it is often a game of some kind, every now and then it’ll be something nicer, like a Microsoft Office app or a drawing program. The second and more important reason is that it keeps track of your downloads and synchronizes your apps across multiple Android devices. This means that when I download an app onto my phone the appstore is smart enough to ask me if I also want it on my tablet and vice versa. For the life of me, I don’t know why the Android Market can’t do this, but hopefully Google Play will take care of that.

CONCLUSION

The Acer Iconia TAB A100 is a good tablet with one flaw that may be fatal for some users. Plastic nonwithstanding, the hardware feels good, and as is often the case with mobile devices, the screen is a bit reflective and not-quite-so-good in sunlight. Micro-USB and HDMI ports are nice to have, though I haven’t really done much with them. The same also applies to the micro-SD card slot; even though I have an 8GB card installed, I use it mainly for storing media. The device’s internal 8GB has been sufficient, though I should mention that I am a pretty light app user.

Honeycomb is a step up for Android, it feels like an actual desktop environment as opposed to a ‘giant phone.’  It would be nice to not have those soft buttons following me around nearly everywhere I go, but that’s a minor quibble.  An upgrade to Ice Cream Sandwich (the next version of Android) is forthcoming, so I’ll have to wait and see how that pans out.

The A100’s Achille’s heel is its limited battery life.  I’ll go as far as to say it prevents it from being a really great tablet. The 4-5 hour uptime is not even enough to even last a full workday, and the lack of additional charging options makes it feel even more limited. A mobile charging option or at least the ability to charge via USB are sorely lacking. Thus, while I have been very satisified with how well my A100 works, the fun is often cut short by being constantly tied to AC outlets, which significantly reduces the device’s portability.

While the Acer Iconia TAB A100 is a good device overall and I love the 7-inch form factor, this particular device limited by its relatively short battery life. I would call it a good ‘home tablet;’ something nice to have around the house for those moments when you want to look something up quickly, take to bed with you, or take on a trip to the coffee shop. Road warriors and those who intended to use it for extended periods of time should be leery of its lack of charging options.

That said, with the next wave of Android tablets hitting stores, you can definitely find one for much cheaper now than its original retail price of $329.  Heck, its going for $249 at the Acer Store.  It isn’t a bad device, and I am certainly enjoying mine…I just wish it had a bigger gas tank.

I give the Acer Iconia TAB A100 just barely four out of five AC Chargers.

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