It’s a season for new operating systems. Last week, the BlackBerry PlayBook hit shelves and now the Acer Iconia Tab A500 is bringing Android 3.0 (Honeycomb) to a sub-$500 price point. But how does Acer’s new tablet compare to the iPad, G-Slate, Xoom, and Galaxy Tab? Pretty well, actually.
Acer has had a tough time breaking into the Android smartphone market, but its background in PCs and laptops is a strength when developing a larger tablet like the 10.1-inch Iconia Tab. The tablet isn’t as sleek as the iPad or PlayBook, but it looks a lot more useful from the get-go, with a full-size USB port on the side, a MicroSD slot, two rear speakers, a mini HDMI port, two cameras, an LED flash, a high-speed charging port, a stereo headphone jack, and a standard MicroUSB port. Its power button is also in a good spot and easy to press (unlike the PlayBook’s).
The volume rocker and screen-locking toggle are less exciting. It’s a bit difficult to know when you’re pressing volume up or down on the unit, and the button for it is hard to press, in general. While the PlayBook has a prominently placed menu item for locking the orientation of the screen (if you don’t want it shifting whenever you rotate the screen), the Iconia Tab’s iPod-style locking switch seems a bit unnecessary and in the way. The same goes for its bulbous docking port, for which you’ll get no use unless you plan on coughing up another $80 to dock your Iconia Tab.
The Iconia Tab A500′s design is two-toned. If held horizontally, a shiny black border surrounds the screen and extends out to the left and right edges. A plastic case with a brushed-metal design covers the back and clamps the top and bottom of the unit, giving it a nice tapered edge that, while not as sexy as an Apple product, does make it easier to hold.
It’s a good thing that the A500 is easy to hold too, because it’s the heaviest tablet on the market so far, weighing 730 grams — slightly more than the Motorola Xoom. Fortunately, the Iconia Tab, while heavy, has a more balanced weight distribution than Motorola’s tablet. The A500 also has competitive enough stats to justify its weight with 16GB of built in storage, a 1GHz dual-core Nvidia Tegra 2 processor, 1GB of RAM, a 5-megapixel rear camera, a 2-megapixel front camera, and all those ports.
The Iconia Tab’s screen is a standard 1280 x 800 resolution, though its colors seem a bit washed out compared with the iPad 2 and PlayBook. The touch sensitive grid is also more visible than we would like. However, these problems are minor, at most.
Most problems we’ve had with the Iconia Tab aren’t hardware issues. Most of them are caused by the still buggy and unintuitive Android 3.0 (Honeycomb) OS. There were a lot of complaints about BlackBerry’s tablet, but the PlayBook’s operating system and iOS run circles around Android 3.0 in usability, design, and stability. Instead of looking forward, Google seems to have taken a step back in intuitive design, making the touch-based Honeycomb more like Microsoft Windows than anything else. And if you’ve ever tried to use Windows on a touchscreen, you know how much we just insulted Android 3.0. The PlayBook and iPad have operating systems that are built around a consistent user experience and universal gestures. Google’s first tablet OS is a chore to set up and forces users to build their desktops from scratch. Worse, it has an ugly, bland Tron-like design scheme to it that actually makes the experience less exciting than if it had no style at all, like previous versions of Android. Actions and gestures are inconsistent and the placement of items is baffling, at times. While Android has always lead the pack in multitasking and notifications, the PlayBook may have it beat. Android 3.0′s multitasking elements are not well implemented.