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Having now played with Acer’s newest — and only — Android tablet, I find it to be a pretty capable device, and an intriguing entry into the increasingly crowded tablet space. Rather than try to outdo everyone else on everything, Acer seems to be trying to offer something that can perform up to expectations at a more affordable price. The results are good, but there is still room for improvement.
The A500 has pretty decent specs out of the box, though some are probably the stuff consumers now expect from tablets. GPS, Bluetooth, Flash compatibility, front and rear-facing cameras, 16GB of onboard storage and 10.1-inch screen. It runs on a dual-core Nvidia Tegra 2 processor, has 1GB of RAM, as well as a micro-USB port, a regular USB port, HDMI out and a microSD card slot. There’s even a switch to lock the orientation.
On the software side, Honeycomb 3.0 is the main centerpiece, naturally. When the A500 launched in April, it was only second to the Motorola XOOM in tablets running on that OS. Since then, others have followed and Honeycomb has gone on to 3.1 (Acer is planning to keep upgrading the A500, which is good for consumers). But more than that, Acer is hoping its proprietary Clear.fi application will be a winner in sharing and streaming content between devices.
Clear.fi’s mandate is both broad and limited at the same time. It can definitely share and stream from other PCs on the home network, provided they are Acer-manufactured computers no earlier than 2010. It can’t do so with any other PCs or Macs based on my testing. It can, however, read network attached storage drives or external hard drives that are plugged into a router somehow. Certain media server apps running on your computer might also make content available on the A500, but this is completely hit or miss.
Once you try to play content, particularly video, you’ll find that some stuff will play and some won’t. The A500 loves the MP4 format (the same as what Apple uses), but won’t natively play MKV or AVI. There are apps in the Android Market that can help with this, but only if the videos are stored on your device.
The built-in nemoPlayer is an app that is able to playback media content stored on a USB device. The USB port on the A500 supports this (as well as external keyboards), but again, file format compatibility comes into play. Moreover, if you plan on plugging in a 1TB external, you will be waiting a long while before the A500 is able to read everything on it. Plugging in a USB stick with a lot less content works smoothly. If you have a movie on there that’s in a compatible file format, you will love the experience. It’s portable, efficient and user-friendly (though HD movies can be a bit choppy; a firmware update may actually fix this though). This is equally true of photos and music stored on a stick, too.
I would’ve preferred that the A500 was lighter overall. Lifting it in one hand with an iPad in the other, there is a noticeable difference. I also would’ve loved if the Iconia Tab could be charged using the micro-USB port (which is used for syncing) instead of the proprietary one forcing me to carry the charger around, too. There is a $79 dock sold separately, but my hope is that eventually tablet makers will just throw these in the box. Propping up the A500 can prove to be a bit challenging sometimes.
Battery life isn’t that bad, so it’s not likely that you’ll be facing this problem too often. It’s just a matter of convenience.
In the end, the A500 is a compelling tablet at a good price. Some kinks definitely need to be worked out, not of all of which are Acer’s fault, since Honeycomb will need its share of maintenance, too. If you don’t want an iPad, this might be a worthy option for you to consider.