Editor's note: As of April 2012, the Acer Iconia Tab A500 is upgradable to Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich). For details on the advantages ANdroid 4.0 offers over Honeycomb, check the Ice Cream Sandwich section of the Asus Transformer Prime TF201 review.
Motorola made a splash in early 2011 when it released the first tablet to run Google's tablet-optimized Android 3.0 operating system (aka Honeycomb). But enthusiasm for Google's tablet OS didn't translate into Apple iPad-level success for Motorola's Xoom tablet, which was hampered by a high price and thick design. At the time, though, Motorola's exclusive agreement with Google made it the only game in town when it came to Android 3.0. Fortunately for tablet fans, those days are over.
The Acer Iconia Tab A500 doesn't stray far from the Motorola Xoom's formula. Spec-for-spec, the two tablets are nearly indistinguishable. The most important distinction is price, with the Iconia Tab coming in at an iPad-besting $449.
In spite of the $50 savings over an iPad 2, Apple doesn't have much to worry about when it comes to the Iconia Tab. Like the Motorola Xoom, the Iconia Tab is nearly twice as thick as the iPad 2, making it less comfortable to hold and less sexy in general. Acer's tablet also has the unfortunate distinction of being the heaviest Android tablet we've tested, weighing in at a beefy 1.69 pounds.
As with any decent tablet, the centerpiece of Iconia Tab's design is the screen. Measuring 10.1 inches and boasting an LED-backlit 1,280x800-pixel resolution, the tablet's screen does the Android experience justice. And because Honeycomb moves the Android navigation controls off the hardware and into the touch screen, a crisp, accurate screen is more critical than ever.
Flip it over, and you'll find a 5-megapixel camera on the back with an integrated LED flash. The back is covered with gunmetal-finished aluminum, with the exception of two strips of plastic that meet your hands at the edges. Near the bottom you'll see a pair of stereo speaker grilles cut out from the aluminum. We worried that our hands would naturally cover up the speaker--and they did--but oddly, it had no effect on the sound quality. Sound seemed to project through the screen more so than the speaker grilles, which is ultimately fine, if a little illogical.
A camera is also located on the front, near the upper left corner of the screen. Meant to be used for video chatting (using the included Google Talk app) or impromptu self-portraits, this camera uses a lower 2-megapixel sensor, but can still be used to record standard-definition video.
On the sides of the Iconia Tab you'll find a number of logically placed ports and buttons. A volume rocker and orientation lock switch are available on the top edge. On the left you'll find the power button, headphone jack, and Micro-HDMI. The right side supports the included power adapter, and offers Micro-USB sync, and a full-size USB host port for connecting keyboards or thumb drives. A dock connection on the bottom sticks out like a wart on an otherwise attractive design. Unless you feel like shelling out an extra $79 for a charging cradle that doesn't even offer an HDMI connection, the dock port is a waste of space.
Like we mentioned at the start of this review, the Acer Iconia Tab is nearly a spec-for-spec clone of the Motorola Xoom (Wi-Fi). Inside, both devices take advantage of a dual-core Nvidia Tegra 2 processor and 1GB of RAM, and each boasts 802.11 n Wi-Fi, an integrated HDMI output, support for Bluetooth 2.1, an accelerometer, a gyroscope, GPS, a digital compass, and memory expansion via MicroSD.
But, for all their similarities, there are some differences between the Xoom and Iconia Tab. One notable difference is the amount of onboard storage. The Xoom includes an integrated 32GB whereas the Iconia Tab offers only 16GB. In Acer's defense, the Iconia Tab offers a useful full-size USB host port, while the Xoom (not to mention the iPad) does not. And though it's a small thing, we're glad to see that Acer included a dedicated screen-rotation lock instead of burying the feature in the system menu tray.