First Looks: Acer Iconia Tab A100

Launch SRP: S$449

First Looks: Acer Iconia Tab A100

Great Things Come in Small Packages?

Acer is no stranger to portable computing with its range of laptops and netbooks. With the tablet market booming in 2011, it is not surprising to see Acer stepping in to establish its presence among the crowded space with the Windows 7-powered Iconia Tab W500 and Android 3.0 Honeycomb-powered A500. While both tablets target consumers who are looking for a 10-inch tablet, Acer takes a step further and covers the 7-inch tablet market with the Acer Iconia Tab A100. How does the Acer Iconia Tab A100 fare against the likes of Research in Motion's BlackBerry PlayBook and the HTC Flyer? Read on to find out more.

Design Aspects 

The Acer Iconia Tab A100 looks like a downsized version of the A500 - a clean front profile with two color tones (a black bezel around the display and grey borders running alongside). The front side of the A100 is dominated by the 7-inch display. Flanking the sides of the display is a 2-megapixel fixed focus front facing camera and a touch-sensitive home button. As expected, the screen and the black bezel attract fingerprints and smudges very easily. 

Instead of a brushed aluminum casing, Acer opts for a plastic shell. As a result, the A100 lacks the premium and solid build quality of the A500. On the plus side, the use of plastic materials means that the A100 weighs much lighter at 410g. In fact, it is one of the lightest 7-inch tablets in the market, edging out the 425g BlackBerry PlayBook and 420g HTC Flyer. Measuring 13.1mm in thickness, the A100 is significantly thicker than the 10mm thin BlackBerry PlayBook and a tad thinner than the 13.2mm HTC Flyer.

You can find the usual connectivity features on the A100. The micro-HDMI port, a docking connector for connecting to dock accessories, a microUSB port and a power adapter port are located on the right side of the A100 in landscape mode. On the left side, you can find the 3.5 mm audio jack, Power / Screen Lock button and a microphone. The screen orientation lock switch, volume controls and the microSD card slot can be accessed from the topside of the A100.

The back cover of the A100 takes on a metallic blue color tone with some fancy swirling designs. The Acer's logo is stamped right in the middle of the back, with the 5-megapixel autofocus rear camera located and LED flash not far from it. 

Software and Multimedia Features

Acer is among the first to feature the latest Google Android 3.2 OS on tablets, with Huawei leading the pack with the MediaPad and ASUS bringing the Android 3.2 update to its Eee Pad tablet devices. For those who are not familiar with Android 3.2, here's a quick summary of its new features:

  • Bug fixes
  • Boosts in performance 
  • Compatibility zoom mode 
  • User interface improvements 
  • Connectivity to various USB accessories

The compatibility zoom mode is one of the relevant features for 7-inch tablets on Android 3.2. As some apps are created specifically for use on mobile phones, the apps will look odd on a larger screen with higher resolution. Compatibility zoom allows you to choose between Stretch and Zoom options to improve the usability of such apps on bigger screen devices such as tablets.

Besides adding a handful of apps such as SocialJogger and Clear.Fi, Acer left the stock Honeycomb interface untouched. This may be a boon and bane, depending on how you see it. For example, the Sense user interface on the HTC Flyer enhances the usability of the Android OS and helps differentiate the Flyer from the rest of the tablets. On the other hand, the Samsung TouchWiz user interface on the Galaxy Tab 10.1 hogs too much system resources, resulting in a slightly sluggish user experience.

The 7-inch display of the A100 boasts a resolution of 1024 x 600 pixels, which is similar to that of the PlayBook and the Flyer. However, we have a major gripe with the screen - its viewing angles can be quite bad depending on how you hold the A100. If you miss the sweet spot and view it from off-center angles, the result can be quite awful. 

The presence of the micro-HDMI port means that you can link up the A100 to a TV and enjoy your videos in full HD. With internal 16GB storage capacity, that means you can also load up the A100 with your favorite apps, movies, music and photos. If you feel that 16GB is not sufficient for your needs, Acer has added a memory card slot that supports microSD up to 32GB. 

Due to the position of the pair of speakers on the right side of the A100 (in landscape mode), it is advisable to hold the tablet with your left hand if you want to avoid covering the speakers. The quality of the speakers are satisfactory. 

Similar to most tablets in the market, the A100 features a 5-megapixel autofocus rear camera. Its below average image quality is not surprising, but fret not, since tablets are hardly used for taking photographs. For those who engage in video conversations, the A100 has a 2-megapixel front facing fixed focus camera. 

Usability and Performance

Using the A100 in our daily work routine was a pleasant experience as it is light and portable enough to be carried around. Due to its light and compact form factor, we had no problems using it with one hand although we prefer the edges of the A100 to be more rounded. 

The home button acts like a LED-notification alert. Whenever you are on the home screen and an email pops in, the home button will light up every four seconds. This is handy as it alerts you to any notifications that you may have missed. 

In terms of interface responsiveness, the user experience is generally snappy and smooth, thanks to the same NVIDIA Tegra 2 1.0GHz dual-core processor and 1GB of RAM seen on most other Honeycomb tablets. Apps open and close quickly without any noticeable lag. Web browsing is also speedy and smooth, thanks to the on-board Adobe Flash 10.3 support. 

By tablets' standards, the A100 has the smallest battery capacity at 1530mAh. (The 5-inch Dell Streak has a similar battery capacity but we prefer to view it as a smartphone rather than a tablet.) Smartphones such as the Samsung Galaxy S II are already carrying batteries which have higher capacities and we are befuddled as to why Acer made the decision to equip the A100 with such a small battery capacity. And that explains why the A100 managed to run for 3 hours 7 minutes only, the shortest battery lifespan among all tablets.

Conclusion

Is the Acer Iconia Tab A100 an example of a great product that comes in a small package? Unfortunately, no.

The disappointing battery performance of the A100 will more likely be a deal breaker for consumers who are looking for a tablet to use on the go. The limited viewing angle of the A100 is also another factor that multimedia enthusiasts have to take into consideration. 

To be fair, the A100 does offer some prominent features in its slim chassis. The A100 is among the first to run Android 3.2 OS out of the box, an area where Acer deserves praises for doing so. Its dual-core processor and 1GB of RAM ensure that nothing gets in its way. One of its strengths also lies in its portability. It is one of the lightest and most portable tablet in the market. 

The Acer Iconia Tab A100 is available now at S$449. The attractive price point places the A100 in a favorable position against the competition. If you are a multimedia enthusiast looking for a tablet with long battery life and good viewing angles, you might want to steer clear from this Acer tablet. However, the A100 will be a good fit for those who want for a no-frills tablet for short bursts of web browsing and gaming on-the-move.