Acer Iconia A1-830 review

Acer’s latest budget tablet is attractive if you crave that iPad look, but underneath, it’s underpowered and overloaded with pre-installed apps.
Acer’s latest budget tablet is attractive if you crave that iPad look, but underneath, it’s underpowered and overloaded with pre-installed apps.
Acer’s latest budget tablet is attractive if you crave that iPad look, but underneath, it’s underpowered and overloaded with pre-installed apps.

Highs

  • Attractive, iPad-aping design
  • IPS screen
  • MicroSD card slot

Lows

  • Short battery life
  • Loaded with bloatware
  • Less stable than other budget tablets
  • Low-resolution screen

DT Editors' Rating

The iPad Mini is a popular tablet for plenty of reasons, including its 7.9-inch, 4:3 display (which is great for reading books and magazines), and its attractive aluminum and glass shell.

Acer knows this — and knows there are plenty of consumers who can’t afford that tablet’s $300 starting price, let alone $400 for the newer, higher-resolution Retina Display model. So the company has crafted the Iconia A1-830, a tablet that unabashedly apes the iPad Mini’s look, offering the same screen size, aspect ratio, and resolution of the original iPad Mini at a much lower price.

The A1 offers the iPad Mini’s screen size, aspect ratio, and resolution at a much lower price.

The A1-830 even manages to look a lot like the iPad Mini in passing, with a glass-covered white front and mostly metal back with dual speaker grilles. But of course, there’s no mistaking the Acer logo on the front and back for Apple’s. And Android, even in its latest and greatest version (it ships with 4.2 Jelly Bean, but Acer promises an update to 4.4 KitKat will come) looks different than iOS.

Still, at $180, the Iconia A1-830 doesn’t have to look or feel as nice as its $300-plus competitor. It does, though, have to stand up well against other Android tablets in this price range, like Dell’s $150 Venue 8, the 7-inch Kindle Fire HDX, and the 2013 edition of Google’s Nexus 7, which starts at $230. While the A1-830 arguably looks-better than those three alternatives, its low-resolution screen hurts it. Battery life is also far from stellar – partially due to the plethora of pre-loaded apps Acer chose to install on the tablet.

Apple-like good looks

The Acer A1-830 is a very attractive budget tablet, especially if you like the looks of Apple’s higher-priced iPads. The back is a single piece of silver metal, with a strip of plastic up top to improve Wi-Fi reception and also house the 5-megapixel camera (more on that later).

The top edge of the tablet hosts a headphone jack as well as a Micro USB port for charging and connectivity. There’s also a pinhole microphone hole here. Power and volume buttons are housed on the right edge, near the top. They’re pleasingly tactile and well-placed, but they’re made of average-grade plastic, and they feel like it, which is the first — though certainly not the last — point where the tablet’s budget-price shows through its more luxury good looks. Also on the right edge is a MicroSD slot for storage expansion beyond the internal 16GB.

The tablet has dual speaker grilles near the bottom edge, but don’t expect impressive audio output. At max volume, the tablet’s speakers didn’t sound distorted, but the sound output from our Galaxy S4 smartphone was noticeably louder.

Still, aside from the cheap-feeling buttons and disappointing speakers, the Iconia A1-830 is an attractive device that looks and feels better in the hand than many low-priced tablets we’ve tested. Once we actually started using the tablet, though, it soon became clear that we were dealing with a budget device.

Bloatware overload

We could enumerate the entire extra apps Acer includes pre-loaded on the Iconia A1-830, but that would take up a lot of space. Instead, we’ll just say that, after powering on the tablet and connecting to Wi-Fi, we were prompted to restart to install a system update. We were hoping the update would deliver the promised Android 4.4 KitKat. Instead, after an install and reboot, we found ourselves looking at Android 4.2.2, and then waiting around as a staggering 40 pre-installed apps updated — some on their own, and some after asking for approval.

Worse than all the pre-loaded apps is the fact that most of them can’t be uninstalled.

Some of the pre-installed apps are common and expected, like Kindle, Dropbox, Evernote, and Zinio. Others, though, are far less familiar (and less welcome), like the 7digital music store, the Agoda hotel-booking app, and the TuneIn radio app. There’s also a “Top HD Games” app, which is really just a link to a Gameloft page that loops you back to the Google Play Store. The home screen also houses the Wildtangent games app, which steers users away from Google Play (where you should be getting your games and apps) to the company’s own store full of 270 free and paid games. Oh, and when we launched Wildtangent on the tablet for the first time, it told us that an update needed to be applied, then promptly crashed when we clicked okay.

This app crash wasn’t an isolated issue, either. Apps crashed on the A1-830 more often than we’re used to with modern Android tablets and, more frustratingly, app updates stopped mid-download a few times when using the tablet, and wouldn’t continue without a reboot. We’re not sure if this is an issue with the Wi-Fi chip or something else (the tablet reported a strong Wi-Fi signal throughout), but it was another quirk that made using the A1-830 feel more like we were dealing with an Android tablet from a few years ago than something that’s brand-new.

Acer Iconia A1-830 front

Worse than all the pre-loaded apps is the fact that most of them can’t be uninstalled. So don’t expect to recover extra storage space by ditching all the bloatware.

All that being said, when the tablet wasn’t being buggy, it felt reasonably responsive, and ran apps like Facebook and Zinio well. We particularly like the wider 4:3 screen for looking at magazines, although the 16:9 ratio of the Nexus 7 and many other Android tablets is better for watching movies.

IPS, but lower-res than we’d like

The A1-830’s screen is okay for a budget tablet. Those looking for the wider aspect ratio of Apple’s slates may appreciate it even more. It is an IPS panel, so viewing angles are pretty good, though not great. We noticed brightness and contrast shifts at extreme angles.

Resolution, though, is the screen’s real shortcoming. At 1,024 x 768 pixels, the screen matches the pixel count of the original iPad Mini, but it’s a far cry from the higher-resolution of the newer iPad Mini with Retina Display, the 1080p screen of the Nexus 7, or the 1,920 x 1,200 display of the Kindle Fire HDX. These tablets cost more, but even low-priced options like Dell’s Venue 8 have more pixels (1,200 x 800).

No performance powerhouse

With 1GB of RAM and a dual-core Intel processor, we knew going in to temper our performance expectations for the A1-830. It’s doubtlessly an improvement over the initial A1-810, which debuted about a year ago with a MediaTek processor. But not only is the A1-830’s Intel Z2560 chip a last-gen (Clover Trail+, rather than Bay Trail) processor, it’s also a lower-clocked model (1.6GHz) than the 2.0GHz Z2580 chip in Dell’s lower-priced Venue 8. Dell’s tablet also has 2GB of RAM.

Thanks to a measly dual-core processor, lower your expectations for the A1-830.

In the Quadrant benchmark, the A1-830 scored 5,763, better than the 2013 Nexus 7’s score on the same test (5,121), but a far cry from the newest high-end Android devices. For instance, HTC’s brand-new One M8 smartphone scored 22,703 on the same test.

In real-world use, the Acer A1-830 usually didn’t feel sluggish, but it didn’t feel fast, either. Web browsing worked well, though small default-sized text was noticeably fuzzy on the low-resolution screen. And as we said earlier, there were more OS quirks and app crashes than we usually see on modern Android tablets. Along with all the pre-installed apps, this didn’t help the tablet’s performance match its better-than-budget good looks.

Weak battery life

Battery life likewise didn’t impress. Had Acer opted for a newer Bay Trail chip to power the A1-830, the newer architecture’s improved efficiency may have helped it last through a full day of heavy use. But in our time with it, we easily brought the tablet’s battery below 50 percent before noon while installing apps (and those 40 updates), running benchmarks, and checking Facebook.

If you’re a casual user, you could probably get through two days or more without recharging. But those who reach for their tablet often will probably want to recharge daily. Those who watch a lot of video or play games more than once or twice a day may have to charge the tablet during lunch hour to get through the day.

Camera

The A1-830 has a 2-megapixel front-facing camera that suffices for selfies and video chat, and a 5-megapixel camera around back, near the power and volume buttons. Given that this is a budget tablet, we wouldn’t call the rear camera awful. If lighting is good and you’re sure to be still when taking pictures, you can get reasonably good results.

But blur is easy to introduce with even the slightest movement while snapping, low-light shots look grainy, and anything backlit is usually overblown. If you have a recent smartphone with a decent camera, you’ll be much better off using that to take photos.

Conclusion

The Iconia A1-830’s main appeal is its iPad-like exterior and the 4:3 aspect ratio of its screen, which is much nicer to read magazines on than the more common 16:9 screens of most Android tablets. But unless you’re strongly drawn to those features, there are better budget Android tablets, whether you’re willing to pay a bit more or a bit less.

For $150, the Dell Venue 8 has a screen with a few more pixels, twice the RAM, and a higher-clocked Intel processor (and a whole lot less pre-installed, unremovable bloatware). And if you can afford to spend north of $200, the Asus-made Google Nexus 7 has a much better 1080p screen, is much more stable, and has a stock version of Android, so there’s no worries about extra unwanted software. And because it’s a Nexus device, you can upgrade to the latest version of Android as soon as the tablet connects to Wi-Fi.

The Acer Iconia A1-830 looks good for its $180 asking price. But most good budget tablets these days offer a better user experience and better battery life at a similar price. If you really want a tablet with iPad-like aesthetics, you should probably just keep saving until you can afford a device made by Apple.

Highs

  • Attractive, iPad-aping design
  • IPS screen
  • MicroSD card slot

Lows

  • Short battery life
  • Loaded with bloatware
  • Less stable than other budget tablets
  • Low-resolution screen
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