Acer's tablet: dawdle on software and die

Acer's tablet: dawdle on software and die

Summary: The Iconia A500 would have been more successful had it gotten its Honeycomb 3.1 act in order quickly.

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The Iconia A500 would have been more successful had it gotten its Honeycomb 3.1 act in order quickly.

Since late April, I've been in possession of an Acer Iconia A500 Android Honeycomb tablet. And you know what? For the most part, I like it, a lot.

So you may be asking, why did you wait so long to review this device? I'll get to that in a bit.

Android Tablet on the Cheap: Acer Iconia is the XOOM "Light" (April 2011)

First, let me talk about what I like about it and then I'll get into the issues that I believe which kept Acer from making any significant retail headway with this device, and why it took me so long to write this up.

Acer did a really nice job with the build quality and overall construction/design of the device. Like the iPad 2, the device uses metal (brushed aluminum) for the casing and most of the buttons combined with glossy plastic for the screen bezel. It is a sleek and fashionable-looking device, and in that respect, I have no qualms with it.

In terms of weight and thickness, it is comparable with both the XOOM and Transformer as well.

Like all current large-format 10.1" Android Honeycomb tablets, it is based off of the same basic Tegra 2 reference hardware as the Motorola XOOM, the Asus Transformer, the Samsung 10.1 Galaxy Tab and the recently introduced and value-priced Toshiba Thrive.

Like the XOOM and most of the aforementioned tablets, it sports a 2MP camera in front and a 5MP camera in the rear (The Galaxy Tab 10.1 sports a 3MP rear camera).

Aside from the basic flash memory configuration (16GB SKU only) I would say it was a comparable device to the Transformer and to some extent, the more expensive XOOM.

From a performance perspective, the Iconia is on par with all of the "Me too" Android tablets running on that same basic reference hardware.

There are some minor things about the Acer I would have like to see improved upon in terms of the tablet hardware. First is that while the device does support 802.11n high-speed Wi-Fi, it only supports the 2.4Ghz band.

This is in contrast with the XOOM and the Galaxy Tab 10.1 that support both 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz bands. However, since most of the transmitters on these tablets only have a single antenna, you don't really get the speed benefits of the 5Ghz 802.11n band if your home router supports it and has multiple antennae.

Second is the integrated MicroSD slot. I had several instances where the spring-loaded slot would shoot the tiny cards in an arc above my head when I was removing them and I had to go hunting for them in my cluttered office.

My recommendation is that the next version of their tablet use strictly a friction/clip slot like most cell phones do, or have the spring be less aggressive.

Third is the charger. I'm not going to single Acer out because Motorola and a few other tablet makers are also guilty of this -- like several of its competitors, it uses a barrel connector instead of a standard MicroUSB connector to charge.

The Iconia A500 does have a MicroUSB connector (as well as a full-size USB) onboard, but it's not used for charging. Instead, they supply an AC charger using the barrel connector with 1.5 amps of output.

In all fairness, the Iconia is not the only tablet with a unique connector and a higher charging requirement. Tablets such as the Iconia, the XOOM, the iPad 2, the BlackBerry PlayBook and HP's TouchPad need anywhere between 1 and 2 amps.

But the HP TouchPad (and the BlackBerry PlayBook) actually uses a MicroUSB connector to charge, even though it is supplied with a 2 amp charger. This allows you to travel with just a single charger or simplify your designated charging station at home or in the office, since MicroUSB phones can use the same charger. They just step down to accomodate.

I'd really like to see Acer and other tablet manufacturers conform to a 2 amp and MicroUSB charging standard, if possible.

As far as battery performance goes, I got anywhere between 6 and 7 hours of continuous use out of the tablet. Not horrible, but not great. But for a "value-priced" tablet, I wasn't expecting anything stellar.

But these are all minor nitpicks to the real issue I have with the Iconia A500 and why I waited so long to review it -- the software.

Back in April, I also looked at the Motorola XOOM. My biggest complaint about the product was the unfinished Android Honeycomb 3.0 software it shipped with. I had such a negative experience with the product that I decided to return it.

Up until very recently, the Acer Iconia A500 was plagued with the same software issues as the initially-shipping XOOM. I decided that I wasn't going to do another "Yeah this software sucks" review, because it would just be a repeat of what I wrote before.

Instead, I told Acer that I would wait until a Honeycomb 3.1 update was out, and then I would review it.

Originally, the update was slated for June. In that time, both the Motorola XOOM and the Asus Transformer received Honeycomb 3.1 updates, not long after the software was announced at Google IO.

All of June went by with a minor firmware update from Acer, but still no Honeycomb 3.1.

In that gap, Acer's competitors had a significant functionality advantage, and to make matters worse, the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 was only $50 more for the 16GB Wi-Fi version, sporting a much sleeker industrial design that rivals even the iPad 2 was now taking pre-orders and pending shipment to customers.

Suddenly, the $450 Iconia wasn't looking so great when compared with the Asus Transformer or the Samsung Galaxy Tab.

I did actually get Honeycomb 3.1 running a few weeks before Acer actually shipped its official ROM update last week by rooting the device and using an unauthorized port of the Asus Transformer's ROM called PRIME.

In my opinion, PRIME actually works better than Acer's official ROM, because I still have some stability issues with Android Market and a few other things that seem to have a bunch of unresolved quirks.

Still, an end-user should not have to resort to hacking and rooting in order to get the most functionality out of a device. When it comes to updates, vendors should get them out as quickly as possible, especially when the competition is being extremely responsive with theirs.

I don't envy Acer's position right now. They've got a tablet retailing at $450 when both the two "Premium" leaders in the Android space, the 32GB Motorola XOOM and the 16GB Samsung Galaxy Tab are only $50 more at $499. And the iPad 2 of course continues to dominate the tablet space as a whole.

At the entry-level, the 16GB Asus Transformer is streeting at $400 and Toshiba's utilitarian, Japanese-engineered full-sized ports with 11-hour replaceable battery workhorse, the Thrive, is now selling as low as $429 for the 8GB model.

Two months of dawdling on updates almost certainly caused Acer lot of sales. It also allowed its competitors to get their act in gear and attract pre-orders.

What should the company do now? Well, I think a price adjustment on the Iconia A500 is probably in order, at the sub-$400 level, in order to keep the device attractive.

[UPDATE: The Iconia A500 as of 7/15/2011 has been streeting at under $400, which makes it currently a very good tablet value]

The moral of the story is if you're an OEM/ODM in the Android ecosystem, if you dawdle on software updates, you die.

Do you own an Acer Iconia A500? Was it worth the wait for Honeycomb 3.1? Talk Back and Let Me Know.

Topics: Tablets, Android, Hardware, iPad, Mobile OS, Samsung, Toshiba, Web development

About

Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet, is a technologist with over two decades of experience integrating large heterogeneous multi-vendor computing environments in Fortune 500 companies. Jason is currently a Partner Technology Strategist with Microsoft Corp. His expressed views do not necessarily represent those of his employer.

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Talkback

23 comments
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  • RE: Acer's tablet: dawdle on software or die

    I love my A500. The price was so much better than the Xoom and I didn't want to wait for the other manufacturers to finally have a product to sell. The 3.1 upgrade is great, but I wasn't that unhappy with it at 3.0. My problem with the charger is not the type, it's the length. Too darn short!
    MsMetaP
    • RE: Acer's tablet: dawdle on software or die

      @MsMetaP
      I initially looked at the Xoom (returned) Acer (software - skipped) and ASUS (hard to get).
      I went with the ASUS and am glad I did (though I did prefer the look/feel of the Xoom).
      Acer needs to do something.... soon.....

      :|
      rhonin
  • RE: Acer's tablet: dawdle on software or die

    I own one too and also LOVE the thing (rooted with virtuous picasso). It was chosen specifically for the full size USB and sd card slot and was $450. The best deal at the time, it seemed, although I'd probably get a transformer if I was to do it over again - just because of the keyboard option. My employer made me pick one right then and there. I would not have bought it myself, just because I don't have that much cash to blow on a device I don't really need. I have a laptop and a phone. This probably is the view of the average consumer. Also, a stand of kind is mandatory in my view. I got the Acer case, which isn't great, too pricey, but does the job.
    deathjazz
  • RE: Acer's tablet: dawdle on software or die

    I love my A500 i just wish the charging cord was longer. and on the 3.1 update... I still have not gotten it due to Acer putting 3.1 out then pulling it the next day! if this is how they are going to be with updates i will never buy another Acer tablet regardless of how much i love it. I have to say the best selling point is the full size USB i can plug my 1TB external in and have my entire video library for plane rides.
    wutname1
    • RE: Acer's tablet: dawdle on software or die

      @wutname1 How do you power that 1TB external when your on a plane?
      ryanmc
      • RE: Acer's tablet: dawdle on software or die

        @ryanmc i believe at least some deluxe class on certain airlines have power jacks for each seat.
        logic103
      • RE: Acer's tablet: dawdle on software or die

        @ryanmc it is USB Powered, no external power cords. its a WD External i picked up at Micro Center.

        You do need to root as android does not support NTFS but there is a app called you guessed it "NTFS Mount" that will allow you to use large drives
        wutname1
  • RE: Acer's tablet: dawdle on software or die

    I have an A500...but I still haven't received the 3.1 update. Not sure what to think about that...
    Brookslike
    • RE: Acer's tablet: dawdle on software or die

      Read my comments below. There are some serious issues caused by the 3.1 update. You're lucky you haven't upgraded yet. Wait for Acer to fix the wireless problem. If, by the time of this post, you've already updated could you please let us know if you have the same problems with wireless access (strong signals are detected, then drop to zero as the unit tries to connect. Signals appear to go up again, then connection fails again, and so on and so on, in an endless cycle). Take care.
      DrBobb
  • where is my 3.1 update?

    I also have an A500, where is the update 3.1? Some friends of mine got it, ...some didn't! What's going on ACER? From Toronto/Canada
    tulo1979
  • where is my update?

    Hi

    Both myself and my girlfriend have Acer Iconia A500's, I am still waiting for my update. She got her 3.1 update on Thursday last week.... this sucks Acer!
    Bundy_Bear
  • RE: Acer's tablet: dawdle on software or die

    My 16gb Acer came with 32gb, and after Target discounts was just over $400. Can't beat that for value, and mine worked fine on 3.0. Also works fine with 3.1. I'll agree they should have been quicker with their update though. It would also help to have better retail support. Mine was hiding in a case with portable DVD players when I found it. They've since put up a non-working display. Can't see how they'll sell any without showing off what it can do.
    4dthinker
  • RE: Acer's tablet: dawdle on software or die

    I love my A500. I looked at the Transformer but I like to have the full size usb port directly on the tablet for connecting a hard drive or my 3G modem while commuting. I can use a bluetooth or USB keyboard if I need a keyboard but I have a laptop for doing the heavy work.
    redhaven
  • 3.1 update???

    I really like the tablet, but my primary concern is with the delayed 3.1 update that I have yet to receive. It's really gotten to the point that I'm thinking, "Is Acer even trying?" Why are they over a month behind the competition? Maybe their goal was just to grab early entry sales and could care less about the consumer.
    ForumDude
  • In Australia, Pondering returning my Acer

    I returned the Asus TF101 due to 3x Light leaking issues, and purchased the Acer. Now 1 week after the promise of 3.1, still nothing. To make matters worse, im now told that the Xooms are getting 3.2. This is bullshit, i love these android tablets, but i just want one that works, doesn't have defects, and 3.1+... is it that hard of a ask???
    Mrdavo
  • RE: Acer's tablet: dawdle on software or die

    I was just offerred a 379MB update on my A500 only to get a message that it was invalid upon proceding to install. Very frustrating. I don't so much mind the OS lag but am very disappointed that the apps I can access in the market from my HTC desire phone are nowhere to be found in the market from the A500. This is the software dawdle that will kill the device in my opinion.
    gplum@...
  • Acer To Fix problems with Android 3.1 update

    Although the Update to 3.1 yielded a few improvements (such as a 100-fold speed improvement on GPS locks) it didn't address many problems (such as ways to rapidly, and in a controlled manner, scrolling through long list -- of apps, for instance), and actually caused more (such as the 'bricking' of the machine by ruining its capacity to use wireless networks). For those without root access to the A500 the 3.1 update caused a severe problem with the unit in that the unit can't successfully connect to any network unless you have a permanently assigned IP address. Seems to be a problem with DHCP allocation. An immediate fix is required! People recommend a factory reset, but this is not an option for those of us with hundreds of installed and individually configured apps. Acer's technical support has handled complaints dismally. Time to pull their socks up and get to work!
    DrBobb
  • Acer Needs To Fix problems with Android 3.1 update

    Although the Update to 3.1 yielded a few improvements (such as an 100-fold speed improvement on GPS locks, her in Australia anyway) it didn't address many problems (such as ways to rapidly, and in a controlled manner, scroll through long lists - of apps, for instance), and actually caused more serious issues (such as the 'bricking' of the machine by ruining its capacity to use wireless networks). For those without root access to the A500 the 3.1 update caused a severe problem with the unit in that the the updated A500 cannot successfully connect to any wireless network (post-upgrade) unless you have a permanently assigned IP address. Seems to be a problem with DHCP allocation/setup file. An immediate fix is required! People recommend a factory reset, but this is not an option for those of us with hundreds of installed and individually configured apps. Acer's technical support has handled complaints dismally, as I can verify. Time to pull their socks up and get to work! PS: Have found problem with the headphone jack. Plug headphones in, all works OK. Pull them out, and nothing! The output is still directed to the headphone port and not reset. Pity (but only a minor oversight). PPS: Please get rid of the polished metal finish. The unit is hard to grip and just slides off surfaces if you wish to sit it up to view it. Tssk... Tssk!! :-)
    DrBobb
  • RE: Acer's tablet: dawdle on software or die

    Mine's been fine, I only have one gripe too, the power cord is crazy short!

    Fast
    fastdawg1
  • RE: Acer's tablet: dawdle on software or die

    I love my Acer Tab A500, except power cord is crazy short and it should be usb!

    fast
    fastdawg1