GCN LAB REVIEW
Acer's tablet is fast-acting -- and long-lasting
The standard rule of portable electronics has always been: You can’t get more battery life without sacrificing performance. This “more power needs more power” outlook has been a way of life since we have had electronic devices we could carry away from our desks.
The Iconia Tab A501 from Acer definitely shows how far we’ve come from the old way of thinking. Its small casing belies the fact that it has a 10.1-inch 1280x800 widescreen multi-touch display. And its weight of only 1 pound, 11 ounces would have you underestimate what it has packed inside.
We found the A501 to be quite suited to the Android Honeycomb operating system. It seemed very responsive when sliding from one window to the next. It opened applications with ease, and with no discernible delay. Its NVIDIA Tegra 2 dual core processor and 1G of DDR2 memory was more than enough to handle any task we threw at it.
Acer Iconia Tab A501
Pros: Comfortable size; long battery life.
Cons: Limited preloaded software; short cables.
Ease of Use: A-
Tools could be Androids, iPhones on government networks
BlackBerry enterprise system supports iPhones, Androids
We were pleased to find a lot of ports packed into that small, thin frame on the A501. In addition to the headphone jack that you would expect on any mobile device, it had a micro-HDMI port and two USB ports — one normal and one a micro port. It also had a port on the bottom for a separately sold docking station for those of us who get tired of typing with one hand on the thing that is being held by the other. The rear-facing 5MP digital camera was perfect for either taking high-resolution photos or shooting good-looking movies, while the front-facing 2MP camera is just fine for videoconferencing. There was even a MicroSD slot hidden behind a panel in the back. That’s a lot of expansion options for such a small tablet, and users can consequently do a lot with an A501 at the heart of their portable mini-network.
The sensors that controlled orientation were very responsive. When the device was turned from horizontal to vertical and vice versa, the display transposed the image without any delay. Any attempts to fool the A501 in this capacity were thwarted by the fast-reacting sensors. A lot of tablets tend to get stuck in certain orientations, but hundreds of tests on the A501 revealed not even one delayed screen flip.
And speaking of screen, the A501’s big 10.1 inch display is impressive. The screen delivered a clear, bright image, even at rather oblique angles. This was complimented with a good, rich sound (for a tablet anyway) being put out by small speakers around back. A headset is still something you will want to carry, but it is not completely necessary.
Best-ever battery performance
Acer claims that this Iconia Tab has up to eight hours of battery life. This concerned us, as many companies tout a figure that is based on optimal conditions, such as running in standby mode or with reduced power going to screen brightness. As our regular readers know, our battery test sets up some tough but real-world conditions that give a good-worst-case scenario. We run a video in a constant loop at 80 percent brightness and sound with all power management applications disabled. Then we unplug it and time how long it takes to completely die. So when a company says “eight hours,” it usually translates to less than four under our rigorous conditions.
So you can imagine how particularly pleased we were that the A501’s somewhat tiny two-cell battery lasted six hours and 12 minutes in our test. This is longer than any tablet we have tested in our lab, especially with a two-cell battery. This battery can outlast all but the longest cross-country flights. It will give you enough power to get your work done or watch a couple movies if you don’t like what the airline is offering — which, let’s be honest, who does?
Everything has its weak point, and in the case of the A501 it is software and utilities. There didn’t seem to be anything beyond the bare minimum needed to control its components and peripherals. This bare-bones setup might be just what you need, but many people in the market for a tablet expect a lot of bells and whistles in the way of software, especially if they are just getting into the world of tablets and don’t really know how to surf the app stores to find everything needed. On the flip side of that logic, the A501 is being sold for a very reasonable price, which could be partially due to the lack of extras.
Acer is retailing the Iconia Tab A501 for $550. This is a really good price for any tablet, and doubly so for one with such a long battery life and good overall performance. It’s a really good all-around tablet and should fit the needs of people who have to do their jobs on the go but don’t want to lug around a notebook all the time.
Acer America, www.acer.com