Hands-on with the Acer Iconia Tab A100: First 7-inch Honeycomb tablet

Summary:Google proclaimed Honeycomb the official version of Android for tablets, and until now it has been unavailable in a 7-inch form. The Acer Iconia Tab A100 brings the sweet goodness to the small slate.

The new Acer Iconia Tab A100 is not the first 7-inch tablet in the U.S., that honor goes to the Samsung Galaxy Tab. The Galaxy Tab was followed by other models, among them the HTC Flyer. All of those tablets shipped with either Android Froyo (2.2) or Gingerbread (2.3), so the Acer A100 is the first 7-incher shipping with the latest version of Honeycomb (3.2). The A100 has lots of ports for such a small tablet, and running Honeycomb makes it compatible with apps optimized for the tablet format.


Image Gallery: Acer Iconia Tab A100 Tablet, the first 7-inch Honeycomb tablet. See it compared to the Samsung Galaxy Tab and Galaxy Tab 10.1
Image Gallery: Charge
Image Gallery: Charge
Hardware

Specs as reviewed:

  • OS: Android 3.2 Honeycomb
  • CPU: NVIDIA Tegra 2 dual core mobile processor (1.0GHz)
  • Display: 7” Multi-Touch Capacitive-Touch Display, 1024 x 600 resolution, 16:10 aspect ratio, NVIDIA GeForce Graphics
  • Memory: 8GB eMMC storage (16GB available), MicroSD up to 32GB
  • Cameras: 5MP rear-facing camera with auto focus with single LED flash; 2MP front-facing camera
  • Connectivity: 802.11b/g/n Wireless (802.11n 2.4GHz only), Bluetooth 2.1+EDR
  • Ports: Micro USB 2.0 port, Micro-HDMI out (support for 1080p and dual-display), 3.5mm combo jack, DC-in jack for AC adapter, docking station port
  • Battery: 1530 mAh Li-polymer battery with up to five hours of battery life X 2
  • Measurements: 7.68(w) x 4.6(d) x 0.50(h)-inches
  • Weight: 0.92 pounds
  • MSRP of $329.99 (8GB model at Walmart only)

Acer has constructed the A100 out of black plastic designed to keep the weight down, and put an attractive back imprinted with a nice design and the Acer logo. The tablet has a 7-inch display running at 1024x600 with a small bezel around the screen. It is clear from the Acer packaging and the position of the Home button that the normal screen orientation is portrait.

The A100 has a Home button that is touch sensitive, a rarity on Honeycomb tablets. There is a 2MP front camera for video chatting and a 5MP camera with flash on the back. Taking a tour around the A100, on the top (home button on bottom) finds the power button with blue LED indicator inside, and the 3.5mm headphone jack. On the right side is the screen rotation lock switch, volume up/down buttons and a door. Under this door is the 3G SIM card slot for models so configured, and a microSD slot for expanding user memory up to 32GB. Moving to the bottom of the A100 (under the home button) is a reset pinhole, stereo speakers, HDMI, microUSB, proprietary dock jack, and the power jack. This power jack is a single pin proprietary model.

The Acer A100 feels light and comfortable in the hand in either orientations. The screen can rotate to any of the four orientations, and the lock allows stopping auto-rotation when convenient. The Home button on the front of the tablet is a smooth circle with a home icon inside, and lights up as a notification received indicator. This button is not active when the device is in standby so it cannot wake up the device.

The 5MP camera is nothing fancy but has taken decent pictures in my testing. The shutter lag is not as noticeable as on other tablets and the flash works as expected. The A100 can record video or stills using either camera via a toggle switch in the camera app.

Software

Acer is proudly pointing out the A100 is the first 7-inch tablet in North America running Honeycomb. The tablet ships with Android 3.2, the most current (and stable) version of Honeycomb. Acer has done a good job keeping the installation a stock Android version, and it runs as expected. Honeycomb runs fine on the lower resolution (1024x600) of the 7-inch screen compared to the bigger tablets on the market.

There are a few apps preinstalled to add value to the buyer, including a Planner app that aggregates PIM functions into one information screen. There is also an app for facilitating using the DNLA feature for wireless streaming to other devices with the capability.

The Android Market comes on the A100 and all of the apps are accessible including tablet-only apps requiring Honeycomb. I was wondering how these apps designed for higher resolution screens would work on 7-inch tablets running Honeycomb, and the answer is it is a mixed bag.

Also: CNET: Acer Iconia Tab A100

Acer Iconia Tab A100: How 8GB could be enough for a tablet

A couple apps that I use heavily on both Honeycomb and earlier tablets will not run on the A100. These are Plume, my favorite Twitter app, and the Kindle app. Both of these apps are written to install on both Honeycomb and earlier versions of Android. They present a different display and user interface depending on if it is a "tablet" running Honeycomb or a "phone" running an earlier version. The installation of them on the A100 with the tablet OS seems to conflict with the lower "non-tablet" resolution of the display (as determined by Google), and the signal that Honeycomb means a tablet; while the apps run OK it is impossible to use them. There is no way to access the settings and in some cases other key functions, rendering the two apps unusable. Google needs to figure this out with Honeycomb now supporting 7-inch displays, and offer an update pretty soon.

Impressions

While I have enjoyed the 7-inch form factor of my Galaxy Tab for a long time, I wasn't sure how I would find the A100 as I am not a fan of the Honeycomb interface. I am surprised that I like this tablet, and enjoy using it. The form factor is easy to handle, and the build quality (while plastic) is very solid. The starting price of $329 (at Walmart only) makes this tablet a good value in my view, and Acer may have a hit on its hands.

The only corner that Acer cut on this budget tablet is with the battery, as they quote 5 hours of life using Wi-Fi. This is accurate in my experience, and is due to a relatively small 1530 mAh battery. According to Acer the A100 has two of these small batteries which work together to supply the quoted battery life. The Samsung Galaxy Tab in comparison can easily run over 12 hours on a charge due to its 4000 mAh battery.

During my testing the performance of the A100 has been good as expected. The Nvidia Tegra 2 processor moves things along nicely, and is actually a bit zippier than Honeycomb tablets with bigger screens as the lower resolution display of the A100 is less tasking on the Tegra.

Acer sent its protective leather case along with the A100, and it is a nice case for $29.99. It is a portfolio style case the protects the tablet while keeping it accessible. It also can be used as a stand for the tablet with multiple viewing angles possible.

Related:

Topics: Hardware, Laptops, Mobility, Samsung, Tablets

About

James Kendrick has been using mobile devices since they weighed 30 pounds, and has been sharing his insights on mobile technology for almost that long. Prior to joining ZDNet, James was the Founding Editor of jkOnTheRun, a CNET Top 100 Tech Blog that was acquired by GigaOM in 2008 and is now part of that prestigious tech network. James' w... Full Bio

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