Acer Iconia A100 Honeycomb Tablet – First Look


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In a couple of weeks, Acer will be releasing their latest Honeycomb tablet, the Iconia A100. This model was shown off at their tablet launch earlier in the year, but at that stage only had Froyo (Android 2.2) on board.

Honeycomb now available in bite-sized packages!

I’ve had a chance to look at a sample this week, and although the software is a beta build (as Acer has warned me up front), it was still good to have a play with the latest in major manufacturer Honeycomb releases.

Acer were one of the very first to release a Honeycomb tablet, and they’ve succeeded in setting another milestone with the A100 being the first 7 inch Honeycomb tablet.

The A100 compared to the Samsung Galaxy S II. Note the physical home button on the bottom panel.

Spec wise, it follows other Honeycomb tablets by using the now-familiar Tegra 2 processor by Nvidia. The sample shown here has 8GB storage with 1GB RAM and it appears they will have a 3G variant as well as higher capacity models available. The capacitive screen has a 1024 x 600 resolution, lower than its 10” brethren.

Even though it’s a much smaller model, it still retains many of the inputs and outputs that made the original Iconia a very user-friendly model, with Micro HDMI, Micro SD, Micro USB (see a pattern here?) as well as standard 3.5mm jack for headphones, a pretty comprehensive connectivity suite considering its size.

HDMI, USB, docking port, power and speakers

The A100 is also the first to come with Android 3.2 pre-loaded, which means a few improvements for both end users and app developers. Firstly, this update actually allows apps to be compatible and optimised to different sized tablets, so it’s a welcome update for this 7 inch model. Also, SD card support has been improved, with apps being able to access content directly from the SD card. Sounds sensible, but it has been an issue for some tablets up to this point. Then there’s the app zooming feature, which handles non-honeycomb apps in a much better way to fill the screen without looking stretched or highly pixelated.

Back to the tablet itself, from a design point of view it’s definitely small and light enough to carry in one hand for long periods of time. This size tablet does lend itself more to being carried in a small handbag or even a jacket pocket. Unfortunately the cameras weren’t operational on this model but they are 2MP on front and 5MP on back. I’m sure we’ll be revisiting this at a later stage.

Camera and wave pattern on back panel.

Flash content on websites worked well; I visited the video section of the smh.com.au website and was able to play videos directly on the page, one of the big drawcards for Android.

Flash video playback was quite smooth.

Google Body, one of the first Honeycomb apps to appear on the Android Marketplace, presented and responded well to zooming and rotating. The AccuWeather app seemed to have some issues with resizing to fit the smaller screen, but as Acer did explain that this was very much a preproduction unit, I’ll take another look when a retail unit becomes available.

Do 7 inch tablets have a place among all the other mobile entertainment and communication alternatives we have? At the right price in comparison to 10 inch models, I think they do. They are more mobile as opposed to portable, and offer a good screen size for reading, are very easy to carry and hold for extended periods, and are a better gaming/movie watching experience than a smaller smartphone. As with anything else in this category, content is king, and I’m sure we’ll see manufacturers and developers come up with some enticing reasons to use a 7 inch tablet in addition to a smartphone, which many would argue is really a smaller version of a tablet in function.

Full back panel of the A100.

While I haven’t had the opportunity to take the A100 solidly through its paces yet, it is another indication of the diversity that Android can bring to the table when it comes to hardware design and size.

Are you interested in a 7 inch tablet? Would you buy one for yourself, or as a gift for someone else? Feel free to comment below.

Ritchie’s Chat Room: Intel Director Makiko Eda

As the director of Intel’s marketing and sales division for Asia Pacific, Makiko Eda can talk with authority about her company’s current and future position in a world now dominated by daily tablet announcements. Hailing from Japan, Eda was in Sydney to meet retailers and get an update on the Australian arm of the Intel business.

After the worldwide recall which affected all PC manufacturers, Intel is preparing to re-launch its second generation Core processors commonly known as Sandy Bridge. Eda is under no illusion that the recall did not affect business for both Intel and its customers, admitting there was “pain in the supply chain, delay, and missed opportunities in the market.”

Eda notes that they have strengthened their verification process in the production and testing areas, saying there is definitely a need for “an extra step at the factory”. After the success of the first generation of iCore models, Eda noted there was a “military” push to get the new chips to market, and when they did find the issue that sparked the recall, Intel “had to make a quick decision.”

That recall left much of the market starved of higher value product, particularly in the quad core notebook range. The challenge now is to make enough noise about a category that has been overwhelmed by the interest in tablets. “We hear a lot of concern, that computers are kind of boring”. The new range, Eda says, “has a lot of new capabilities and can bring more excitement into the category. As Intel we have to do a better job of communicating that excitement and experience that Sandy Bridge brings to the market.”

So how does Intel feel about the impending onslaught of tablets? “Tablets are a great device, but they’re not going to replace computers.” says Eda. “It’s going to be a secondary device, but it is getting a lot of attention in the market.” With NVidia becoming well known for their tablet processors, Eda says Intel will have their own offering in the second half of the year. “Our products will focus on energy efficiency, performance and added value to the tablet.”

In the meantime, Eda says that netbooks remain a viable alternative in the near future as a second device, and that Intel are working with manufacturers on innovations to keep the netbook category relevant. “We’ll come up with interesting form factors, like hybrids. You’ll get the goodness of tablets, ease of access and thinness but at the same time you have the convenience of the keyboard.”

Intel have set their sights on the lounge room as well, with a host of manufacturers showing off Intel-embedded Smart TVs at this year’s CES exhibition in Las Vegas. Said Eda, “We’re working with some partners to enable the internet experience on TV more seamlessly. We want to make it an out-of-the-box experience.”

With cloud computing also on the horizon from a consumer perspective, Eda believes that the enterprise space will derive the most benefit at this stage, where “the internal cloud makes more sense”. Consumers may not be ready to make the leap because “you rely so much on the communication infrastructure. You may still want to have a photo on your hard drive; you may have videos you want to see, without thinking ‘do I have an internet connection here’?”

Security will be foremost in the minds of end users when products like Chrome notebooks begin to make their way into the retail space, and to that end, Eda says that Intel are “working on hardware-based solutions”. Intel’s acquisition of McAfee may be part of that plan, with Eda hinting that Intel intends to “extract some of the (McAfee) goodness to integrate into the core business with security features in the future.”

With the computer industry evolving quicker than ever, Intel faces challenges from many corners, but Eda is confident of her company’s ability to repeat the successes of last year’s Core processor launch. As Eda explains, there’s more to computers than talking about speeds and specifications. With the marketing focus on the “experience”, rather than the product, Intel is “trying to put a little bit of the human side into it.”

Interview courtesy of Intel Australia.