We had our first chance to get up close and personal with Acer’s slim and shiny new tablet-based products amongst the bulky, low-tech relics of our country’s seafaring history within the Maritime Musuem at Darling Harbour, Sydney. Acer are serious about this category and had many variations on show – a 5 inch smart phone, a 7 inch and 10 inch Honeycomb tablet, a 10 inch Windows 7 netbook with detachable touch screen, and a dual 14″ touch screen notebook that deserves a blog piece on its own.
The product that we’re focussing on in this blog is the one that Acer will be launching as their first foray into the highly prized tablet market. This one is the A500, a 10″ tablet with the Android 3.0 operating system. This is exciting for us, as it’s the first iteration of the tablet-specific OS from Google that we’re playing with.
First, the product itself. It weighs 700 grams and feels quite sturdy and solid in the hands. Acer have definitely not tried to emulate the iPad design, with a more notebook inspired form – it actually appears like a monitor off a classy netbook, which isn’t a bad thing. It has a nice streamlined design that keeps the overall aesthetic simple and easy to handle. In landscape, the top and bottom edges are framed by a brushed metal finish that continues all the way around the back, where the logo sits in centre.
To the right of the logo is the 5MP camera that is also capable of taking 720p video. At the top of the unit are the volume controls and orientation lock. Next to them are the micro SD card and 3G slot, the latter of which is available if the model is a 3G variant.
There are plenty of I/O ports – on the right there is a full sized and mini-USB port, on the bottom a docking connector for an upcoming accessory that charges and connects to other devices. On the left hand side there is a headphone jack and a mini-HDMI. The front frame also encases a front facing 2MP camera. The capacitive screen is bright and smoothly responsive.
To make it easy for users to start using the Iconia without delay, Acer have designed a group of 4 areas where there are preloaded apps and more can be added. These are labelled eReading, Game Zone, Multimedia, and Social Network, these being the most obvious groupings for common activities on the tablet. The plus sign on each page allows you to add more apps into each area as you see fit.
Now, the big question, how does Android 3.0 perform on the 10″ Iconia? Honeycomb, as Android 3.0 is commonly known, is an exciting alternative to the benchmark tablet system. As an environment to manage apps, which is really what you want in a tablet offering, Honeycomb is highly customisable. Widgets are a defining feature for this version of Android, with enough landscape for many of your favourite widgets, which are similar to those on a desktop, offering dynamic, updated information in small, bite-sized panels.
At the time of publication, there were still only a small but growing number of tablet-specific apps on the Android marketplace. Developers have most likely been waiting for Android and manufacturers to release new products so they can see some return in creating these new apps. So far, I’ve tried a few – Flixster, CNN News, Google Body and DrawFree. They all make good use of the screen real estate and are intuitive in layout and touch-use.
Of course, tablet apps are huge business for Apple, and the massive installed consumer base they have means developers are falling over themselves to deliver apps of every kind. As the likes of Acer, Asus, Toshiba and others begin to roll out their Android tablet products, we should see a snowball effect in tablet-optimised apps to deliver even more value to users.
Android 3.0 opens up a huge world of possibilities for different form factors, OS skins and customisation that will provide users with choice and innovation. Each manufacturer has an opportunity to make a big technology statement here, not just for development’s sake, but for the customer’s touch screen experience. Acer are first out of the gates and it’s an impressive start to a year of Honeycomb launches.
We’ll be doing a full unboxing demo video of the Acer A500 Iconia in the near future, so thanks for reading and we’ll be back soon.