Review: Acer Iconia Tablet A500

I read an article that discussed the latest statistics on wordwide tablet use. Its conclusion was that the Apple IPad is still reigning supreme: that is, even after this season’s release storm of Android-based tablets (Acer, Asus, Motorola) and others (like Blackberry’s Playbook and HP’s Touchpad).

So, 4 or 5 weeks ago, I decided to jump in the tablet market and got an Iconia Tablet myself, only a couple of weeks after my wife decided to get one. There was no doubt in my mind to go for an Android tablet. First of all, a Windows tablet (at the current stage) makes no sense: Windows 7 is just not ready for ‘touch devices’. Secondly, while I admit Apple makes excellent devices, I’m not so much happy with the way how the company has locked down the iPad (and IPhone/Ipod for that matter).

So is Android tablet-ready? From the use I got out of the Iconia, I’d say yes. The Iconia is easy to use and comes with plenty of apps available on the Android Marketplace: while most of the apps aren’t ready yet for tablet use, the Android marketplace feels more mature than people say it is. The device itself suffers from design issues tho: while the metal back makes the tablet look sturdy, the seams (between metal and plastic) feel flaky. There are other parts (mostly the plastic) that make the device look cheaply produced: the Micro SD slot is one of them. The same is true for some of the slots on the sides: While the full-size USB and mini-hdmi slots look fairly solid, the proprietary mini USB slot (for synching data) looks like it could break anytime.

Note that I’ve hardly used the mini-USB slot: Android devices are properly detected as external drives on Linux and Windows. You can literally copy files over Windows sharing (nee Samba) using any of the (free) Explorer apps available on the Android market. This brings me to some of the included software: the quality of the Google applications is perfect. Google mail applications (Gmail and regular mail) are excellent and so are some of the niche tools, like Maps and Latitude. The Webkit based browser (which reminds of Chrome but is definitely NOT Chrome) is good but not stable: While Flash is supported, I can imagine why Steve Jobs does not like it. Light Flash apps work good: don’t expect to be able to run the average Facebook app. Most Flash apps are not even ‘touch ready’ yet. Video play works as promised and some of the typical (included) Tegra games show promising graphics. To be honest, I didn’t buy the tablet for playing games. I’m also not sure if there’s a future for Android games, but I might be wrong.

So, the question is ‘should you get an Android tablet or IPad?’. This is literally up to how you plan to use it. While the Ipad has a lower resolution it has definitely that ‘designed’ feeling, which this Iconia has not. However, it’s open: if you ever hated itunes and Apple’s closed up platform, you’ll enjoy using this tablet. Downloading zip files (right on your tablet) from the Internet or your other computers and then copying them to your tablet’s music folder is magic. It works perfect and flawless and you just can’t do this on your Ipad.

Maybe the right question is ‘do you really need a tablet device’. Lets say it this way: if you wanted to buy yourself a netbook, you may just as well consider getting a tablet. Android or Apple: that is just a personal choice or flavour.

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