Here is our review of the Acer ICONIA TAB A501 written by our very own HC - NO "i"
Design and Specifications:
The Acer Inconia Tab A501 is a Android 3.2 (Honeycomb) based tablet which supports 21mbps DC-HSPA+. Itís currently in available in Canada from GLENTEL stores like WIRELESSWAVE, Tbooth and WIRELESS/etc on Rogers for $199.99 on a 3 year contract.
Inside is a dual core NVIDIA Tegra 2 processor running at 1Ghz, 1GB of system RAM and 16GB of user storage. The 10.1" 1280x800 LCD display support capacitive multi-touch. Itís also got a 2 megapixel front-facing camera.
Most of the back along with part of the bezel are covered with what appears to be brushed metal.
The back has a 5 megapixel camera with LED flash plus a pair of stereo speakers.
Along the top top edge are volume buttons a display orientation lock switch and a pull-tab that covers the SIM card and micro SDHC slots.
Thereís a docking station connector along the bottom.
On the left side is the power button, along with headphone and HDMI jacks.
On the right is the DC power jack plus two USB connectors. One is a standard A connector which can function as a host while the other is a microUSB which functions as a slave (for connecting to a computer). Thereís also a system reset pin-hole the right side.
Besides 21mbps DC-HSPA+ support you also get 802.11b/g/n WiFi, Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR and A-GPS.
With itís 26.0 x 17.7 x 1.3cm dimension and 767g weight, the A501 is slightly thicker and heavy among the tablets on the market. Compared to the Galaxy Tab or the iPad 2 the A501 feels a little clunky. The internal Li-ion rechargeable battery is rated at 3260mAh.
While the A501 is a solid device with good build quality I found it tiring to hold with one hand. Like other wide-screen tablets, itís a little too wide to type comfortably. Fortunately, I generally use tablets for media consumption rather than creation.
While the A501's TFT LCD display is not as vivid or vibrant as the Galaxy Tab 10.1ís and it doesnít display natural, accurate colour like iPad 2ís, it still it looks pretty good to my eyes. Itís not washed out or anything and it has decent viewing angles. On the downside I had trouble viewing the display outdoors and under bright lights because of glare and reflections. The touch screen is accurate with good, unique haptics on the default sensitivity setting.
The messaging experience has been improved in Honeycomb 3.2. Setting up email accounts is now just a few presses away. Besides the native Android keyboard, Acer also includes a XT9 keyboard. While both have got very responsive dictionaries and spell-check, the XT9 key layout seems a bit too big for my small fingers. Anyways, if those arenít your taste you can always try an alternate one like SwiftKey.
Video performance of A501 is good. I like that the native video apps supports various video codecs including wmv, mkv and avi.. Just note that it can struggle with those higher resolution, higher frame rate ones. So donít count on smooth video playback when watching an action flick a 1080p @ 60fps! The camera department is another weak link. Both the main and front-facing camera do not capture high quality photos or videos.
In the audio department, the A501 features Dolby Mobile technology. Besides the built-in stereo speakers, I also used wired and Bluetooth stereo headphones. The surround sound effect is pretty noticeable. It makes for a lively experience.
I canít say the same thing for outgoing audio quality. In fact I couldnít even figure out where the microphone was. This causes problems when it comes to voice commands and video conferencing. Using Skype, I got some complaints about how muffled I sounded.
Acer has done very little customization to the A501's Honeycomb interface. Several folders on the main home screen serves as "hubs": Social, eReading, Games and Multimedia. I found them useful and quickly put my own apps into these folders. There are also some value-added apps like Clear.Fi (Multimedia sharing hub), AUPEO! (music streaming service) and SocialJogger (aggregates Facebook and Twitter feeds). I set SocialJogger as a widget and found it very handy. Rogers has also a couple of their own apps.
I am not an avid gamer, so I canít say how fun the included Hero of Sparta 3D is. The native web browser supports Adobe Flash but its HTML5 performance is just average.
I love how you can access external storage via the microSDHC and USB ports. The experience is not exactly like a PC as it can only deal with certain types of files. Then again, there are always 3rd party file manage. Anyways, itís handy for people like me who want to take a bunch of content for comparing different devices.
I successfully connected my 16GB microSD card, 4GB USB flash drives. I have also tried to connect with other Android smartphones but it does not detect the external storage this way though.
Another benefit to the USB port is that you can use it to charge your phone. I was able to charge a Galaxy Nexus and a HTC Amaze.
Around town the mobile broadband experience with the A501 seems to be consistent and reliable. I got average down-link speeds of between 8 and 14Mbps. Rogers does have a few dead spots in the greater Toronto area but I also found some places where it was even faster than the local WiFi hotspots.
Battery life is average for a tablet. In my typical daily routine with the mix of WiFi and Rogers' mobile broadband access, it can last most of the day without plugging in. I tried the AnTuTu battery test program and found it only lasted about 6 hours while itís competitors like the Motorola Xoom, Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 and Apple iPad 2 can last for another 1, 2 and 3 more hours respectively.
The Acer Iconia Tab A501 has got an intriguing package. Itís got good connectivity, ample access to external storage, good audio (but not good outgoing audio) plus it feels solid with good build quality. Overall, it works well for surfing the web, messaging with friends, reading documents, listening to music and watching streaming video.
Compared to the iPad 2 the A501 lacks a certain wow factor. Donít get me wrong, I am not trashing the A501 but Iím talking more about under the hood. For example Google has not made Honeycomb as open as other Android builds. Only a few top tier manufacturers have Googleís blessing. You also get the feeling that Honeycomb was rushed out to compete head to head with Apple. The current situation with the Honeycomb reminds of the early days with the iPad. The majority of apps are not developed or optimized for the larger screen and higher resolution. To make matters worst Google has already announced the next version of Android; Ice Cream Sandwich, which promises to unify the development for both handsets and tablets.
Itís kind of hard to recommend the A501 at this point in time. While the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 costs more and lacks the A501ís USB ports and HDMI itís thinner, lighter and generally easier to use because of this. Thereís also the question of whether the A501 will be getting Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich. Donít forget the upcoming Acer A701 with its NVIDIA Tegra 3 quad core processor.