By Sean Hollister posted Apr 26th 2011 2:01PM
Last month, the Motorola Xoom was the only officially sanctioned Android 3.0 tablet available in the United States. Now there are four – the T-Mobile G-Slate arrived last week, the Acer Iconia Tab A500 this week, and the ASUS Eee Pad Transformer is on sale today, assuming you can find one. All have the same basic silicon inside, but oh-so-slightly different approaches to shape, such that price might honestly be the deciding factor these days. That’s where we thought this WiFi-only Acer Iconia Tab had an edge, launching at $450, but now that ASUS has shaken the money tree with a $400 figure for the Eee Pad Transformer, we doubt other price tags will stick. It could be the tiniest of differentiators that shifts your opinion in favor of a particular slate. What’s a prospective tablet buyer to do? Join us on a tour of the Acer Iconia Tab A500’s particular perks and quibbles after the break, and we’ll tell you.
We first saw Acer’s 10-inch Android tablet five months ago – when it didn’t have so much as a name – but by golly, it doesn’t look like the hardware has aged a single day. In some ways, that’s a wonderful thing, as we’re big fans of the stylish brushed aluminum case, which plays off of the iPad aesthetic without looking like a blatant clone. On the other hand, we were disappointed to find that a few of the iffy design decisions we noticed in earlier prototypes have carried over to the final frame – that aluminum sandwich has very visible seams (one snagged an armhair) and the back sometimes creaks when squeezed. At 1.69 pounds and 13.3mm thick, the A500’s most definitely portable, but still slightly heftier than the Xoom, and of course it feels positively portly beside an iPad 2. The rounded edges make single-handed reading possible, but the weight means you won’t want to hold it over your
bed. Enough of that for now, though – let’s describe what you’re actually getting.
Like most Android Honeycomb tablets, the Iconia Tab’s front is all bezel and screen (and a tiny front-facing cam), intentionally designed without any buttons to let you hold and use the slate in any orientation. However, unlike most of its competitors the Iconia Tab has an orientation lock switch (on its “top” edge) to save you the trouble of digging through a software menu. There’s also a volume rocker up top, which performs a neat orientation trick of its own – it’s contextual, meaning the switch changes volume up or down depending on how the tablet is held. Sadly, both of these buttons are made of cheap plastic, sunk into the aluminum frame, and rather difficult to press, which somewhat detracts from the generally classy feeling of the Iconia Tab. There’s also a plastic flap right next to the buttons, where you can insert a microSD card (yes, they work out of the box) and a blank space where we expect the AT & T model (or perhaps, the Verizon LTE version that disappeared into the ether) would store its SIM slot.
Moving onto the left side, we have the translucent power button, which doubles as the charging light, a 3.5mm headphone jack, and a mini-HDMI port. We’re slightly miffed that Acer couldn’t cram a full-size HDMI socket in the copious space here, or at least include a mini-HDMI cable in the box. Regardless, the video connection works fairly well, performing full, responsive display mirroring at 720p resolution, albeit suffering from a bit of overscan. (Acer says 1080p video-out will be supported in a Q2 update.