The Acer Iconia Tab A501 is a massive 10.1 inch tablet that's powered by Android 3.0 (well, 3.0.1 to be exact) AKA Honeycomb. Since this was my first dalliance with Google's tablet OS, it took a little while to get used to it.
However, by the end of the one week period that I used it, I started really liking Honeycomb and how nicely the Acer tablet used it.
The Acer Iconia Tab A501 has a 10.1 inch display with a resolution of 1280x800 pixels. It is powered by a dual-core 1GHz Nvidia Tegra 2 processor and a GeForce GPU and has 1GB of RAM. The Iconia Tab comes in 16GB and 32GB variants (I was testing the 16GB one) and also supports microSD cards up to 32GB.
The Iconia has both GPS and Wi-Fi and also 3G but can't be used to make or receive calls. Other connectivity options include a microUSB port to connect to the PC and a miniHDMI port to output HD content to an external display. The Iconia also has a primary 5MP camera with auto-focus and an LED flash and a 2MP front-facing camera.
Android on tablets done right
While plenty of tablet manufacturers were happy shipping new tablets running Android 2.2 or 2.3, it's clear Google wasn't. As a result, early this year Google revealed that they were indeed coming out with a version of Android meant entirely for tablets, named Honeycomb.
If you were expecting Honeycomb to look very similar to Froyo or Gingerbread, then you're in for a surprise. It took some time for me to get used to the interface but once I got the hang of it, Google's design decisions with the new interface became clear. Honeycomb basically takes a lot of what worked on Android on smartphones and revamped it to work on much bigger displays.
Designing for a larger display means that Honeycomb requires no hardware/touch-sensitive navigation buttons outside the actual interface. Google has also added a permanent icon that lets you see and access the last couple of apps you used. It also allows for a larger notifications taskbar which now displays notification icons that can be tapped to get further information, removing the need for it to be pulled down to understand what a notification meant. Also, the notifications bar now exists on the bottom of the display area.
Homescreens still work the same way and you can customise each homescreen with shortcuts, widgets and folders. The entire interface has also received a snazzy facelift with new fonts and cool sci-fi looking colour schemes (that appear heavily inspired by the new Tron movie). Google has also incorporated panes (similar to that on the Apple iPad) to make use of the screen area.
Overall, with Honeycomb, Google has created a solid new interface to work on tablets with plenty of room to evolve on new devices in a similar manner to Android on smartphones. It may not be as groundbreaking, but it's definitely a step forward.
Design & usability
The Acer Iconia Tab is one of the first devices to be powered by Nvidia's dual-core Tegra 2 processor. As a result, I didn't come across any serious performance hassles. The interface still doesn't feel as smooth as the Apple iPad's but is quite usable. The virtual keyboard is also accurate and painless to use in both landscape and portrait modes.
The Iconia Tab looks great and is built to be very sturdy. A downside is that on account of using metal in its construction (probably) and its large size, the tab is very heavy. It weighs almost 750 grams making it one of the heavier tablets in the market. If you don't mind the weight then you'll be happy with the way the tablet is designed.
Although large, the Iconia Tab's 10.1 inch display looks uncharacteristically dull. It's also very glossy which means that if you're reading text on a dark background or watching a movie that is primarily gloomy, you will be seeing your face on the screen a lot. The glossiness also accounts for the display being a glutton for fingerprints and smudges.
Browsing & multimedia
The Acer Iconia Tab stands right up there as one of the best tablets to browse the web on. The browser responds brilliantly to touch input and even with a Flash video playing, handles web pages smoothly.
Multimedia performance on the whole is inconsistent. Audio playback is very good but volume on earphones is low but is clear and loud through the stereo speakers. Also, the tablet doesn't have an FM receiver. Video playback was also inconsistent and the tablet's default Nemo video player (and others from the Android Market) had problems playing some of our test 720p and 1080p videos. The default gallery also refused to recognise any video apart from those with a .MP4 extension. DVD quality DivX/XviD videos played well though.
As expected the Iconia Tab's 5MP camera isn't really meant for still photography. However, the camera does manage to shoot good looking 720p videos and the secondary camera is also good enough.
Overall, the Acer Iconia Tab A501 is a good device and probably the first Android tablet I would recommend. It still has some issues but also does a lot of things well.