The Acer Iconia Tab A100 is one of the first 7-inch tablets to run Android 3.2 Honeycomb. It also packs a dual-core Nvidia Tegra 2 processor for some speedy app action, and won't cost you an arm and a leg. It's available now for £280 or thereabouts.
Why buy a 7-inch tablet?
Measuring 195 by 117 by 13mm, the A100 is very comfortable to hold in one hand, while you busily tap away with the other. Larger, 10-inch tablets, such as the iPad, are considerably more difficult to quickly operate with one hand.
The A100 is more portable than its bigger sibling, the Iconia A500, so it can slide into a capacious jacket pocket without too much fuss, allowing you to trot off on your adventures with it as easily as you would with your phone.
On the downside, tasks that benefit from a larger screen, such as Web browsing, 3D gaming, watching videos and sending emails, aren't going to look as good or be as easy as on a larger tablet. If these activities are top of your to-do list, you might want to have a long think about whether portability or screen size is of greater importance to you.
The 7-inch screen offers an unimpressive resolution of 1,024x600 pixels. This means small text and icons often look blurry, especially if you're used to the pin-sharp retina display found on the iPhone 4.
Samsung has upped its game from the 1,024x600-pixel screen on its original Galaxy Tab to an improved 1,200x800-pixel display on the new Galaxy Tab 7.7, so we're disappointed not to see Acer pushing the boat out as well.
Still, the A100's screen is fairly bright and displays colours well, so photos and videos look, at the very least, acceptable. It will also be fine for games and apps that don't overly rely on small text or tiny icons.
The touchscreen is of the capacitive variety, so it's accurate and responsive. Tapping on any awkward little links that present themselves isn't much of a hassle.
Under the hood of the Iconia Tab A100 are a dual-core, 1GHz Nvidia Tegra 2 processor and 1GB of RAM. Those are some pretty decent specs, so we were expecting the A100 to deliver nippy performance. It also runs the latest version of Android 3.2 Honeycomb, which is specifically designed for tablets, rather than smaller smart phones.
While some people will enjoy the flexibility and customisation options in Android, others -- especially those who are totally new to the OS -- may find themselves quickly confused by the widgets and apps scattered across the various home screens. This isn't helped by the fact that Acer has included social, gaming and multimedia hubs, each of which has its own dedicated home screen for hosting apps. The overall effect can seem cluttered and unorganised.
There's only one physical control on the bezel around the screen -- a home button. But there are three touch-sensitive buttons on the bottom left of the screen to help you navigate around. There's no indication of what they actually do, though, so we were forced to undertake some experimental clicking around to uncover their true purpose.
It turns out
that one navigates back to the home screen, one takes you back a step, and one brings up a slider that
allows you to switch between currently running apps. This system's fairly handy, but an initial explanation of the buttons' function wouldn't have gone amiss.
Here's the A100's app screen, with the navigation buttons shown in the bottom left.
As an Android device, you get full access to the Android Market and the hundreds of thousands of apps within it. Many of the apps aren't designed to work on the larger screens of tablets, though, so they'll either look oddly distorted or will simply tell you that they can't run -- after you've gone through the hassle of downloading and installing them.
Many Android users have been requesting a dedicated section of the Market for Honeycomb-specific apps but, until that appears, you're going to have to trawl through all the apps, hoping that the ones you choose will work properly on your tablet.
Despite the odd turkey, we found plenty of apps that worked fine on the A100. We fired up some 3D games and were very pleased with the tablet's performance. At no point did we notice any lag or freezing, even when we had various other apps running in the background.
We also booted up the Quadrant mobile benchmark app to see how the A100's performance stacks up against that of other devices. We were pleased with its score of 1,760. That easily trumps the 1,309 achieved by the budget Andy Pad.
The Web browser is generally decent, supporting both tabbed browsing and Flash, so you can watch online videos. The touchscreen is responsive enough to allow speedy navigation through Web pages, although the poor screen resolution doesn't help when it comes to reading small text.
The only issue we had was that the keyboard sometimes wouldn't appear when we needed to enter text. It didn't happen often, but, when it did, it was incredibly frustrating.
We fired up BBC iPlayer for a spot of Dragons' Den and were pleased with the smooth full-screen playback. We also liked the ease with which we could switch between browser tabs while streaming video.
The native email client is simple to use and takes full advantage of the available screen space. It's not the most fully featured of email clients but it does the job if you're not a demanding user, and there are plenty of different options available in the Android Market if you need them.
Design and build quality
The A100 is largely made from plastic, which feels fairly firm but doesn't give the same impression of quality as the metal back on the iPad 2. The A100 feels quite similar to the original plasticky Galaxy Tab, although we prefer the squared edges on Samsung's offering.
Samsung, however, has decided to ditch the plastic on its new line of slates and has given the Galaxy Tab 7.7
a lovely and very slender brushed-aluminium back. In comparison to the Tab 7.7, the A100 seems somewhat plasticky and cheap. Acer doesn't seem to be keeping up with the competition in the design stakes.
On the back of the A100 is a 5-megapixel camera, with autofocus and an LED flash. We weren't particularly bowled over by its pictures, though -- the autofocus didn't do a great job and the pictures were pretty dull and grainy.
The quality of cameras on phones and tablets has increased massively recently. The snappers on phones such as the Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc and Samsung Galaxy S2 are almost good enough to replace a dedicated compact camera, so we were pretty disappointed by the offering on the A100.
There's a 2-megapixel front-facing camera for video calling your friends to show them all the wonderfully exciting things you're up to with your shiny new tablet. It does the job adequately and beats the iPad 2's 0.3-megapixel front-facing camera.
Around the edges of the A100, you'll find a micro-HDMI port for hooking it up to a big TV as well as mini-USB socket, volume rocker, screen-orientation locking switch, and a 3.5mm headphone jack. There's a slot for a microSD card too, so it's handy that the version of Android on this tablet supports such cards. You can expand the memory with cards of up to 32GB.
Next to the microSD slot is the outline of a SIM card slot. Alas, it's filled with plastic, making this model Wi-Fi only. A 3G model will become available in the future. Worryingly, the microSD card slot is covered by a very flimsy flap of plastic. Double check that this flap is in place if you're planning on chucking the tablet into your bag.
The Acer Iconia Tab A100 offers some worthwhile treats for those looking to take their first tentative steps into the world of tablets. It's portable and powerful, both in terms of its hardware and software. Just bear in mind that you'll have to spend some time getting to grips with Android if you've never used it before
Edited by Charles Kloet.