This week I was invited to try the new Acer Iconia A1 tablet at an event at London’s W1 Hotel.
The tablet is best described as Acer’s competitor to the hugely successful Nexus 7. It features the latest Android 4.2.2, a 7.9 inch 4×3 IPS screen, MTK, quad core, 1.2 GHz processor, 1 GB RAM and 8 or 16Gb of storage. It also features front and rear facing cameras, a Micro SD slot and Micro HDMI for video out.
Acer are pricing the tablet competitively, starting at around £149 for the 8Gb model. That’s £10 cheaper than the base level Nexus 7.
Small But Chunky
Holding the the Iconia A1, the first thing you notice is how chunky it feels in the hand. Despite being just 0.65mm thicker than the Nexus 7, it feels much thicker in the hand. This is probably because the Nexus tapers slowly to its widest point while the Acer is much boxier.
At 11.1 mm compared to 7.2mm, it is significantly thicker than that other 7.9 inch device, the iPad Mini though. Despite being easy to mistake for each other front-on, the difference is obvious the moment you pick them up. The Acer’s plastic back feels cheap and almost toy like in comparison.
For a budget tablet, the Acer stands up quite well. It lacks NFC, but features pretty much everything else the Nexus 7 has and more. The most useful addition is probably the 5 Megapixel front facing camera. I tend not to use tablet cameras very much, but there have certainly been times when I’ve wished the Nexus had one. There’s no flash, but quality is pretty good as long as there’s sufficient light.
The 1.2Ghz quad core processor is no speed demon, but it’s perfectly adequate for every day use and the occasional game. I haven’t tried to push it, but general responsiveness is snappy.
The biggest departure from most Android tablets is the screen. The 7.9 inch 1024×768 IPS screen is the real differentiating factor from similar tablets. It’s a lower resolution than the Nexus 7’s 1280×800, but that 4×3 ratio gives you a little more width to play with. It’s clearly no retina display, but it’s bright and relatively sharp.
Battery life is good. Acer claim up to 8 hours of HD video playback. I didn’t get quite that much, but it in every day use, it seemed to outperform the Nexus by at least an hour. Being able to get a full day’s use out of the tablet means I’m much more likely to carry it around during the day as an alternative to a laptop, so that little bit extra went a long way for me.
One of the best things about this tablet is that it features an almost-stock Android Jelly Bean 4.2.2. Of course, there’s no telling if Acer will update this promptly with future Android updates, but it makes a refreshing change to have an almost untouched and up-to-date operating system out of the box.
I say almost untouched, because there are a few pieces of uninstallable bloatware on there, but they can at least be disabled.
The main addition to the OS seems to be Acer’s ‘Touch Wakeapp’, which lets you wake the device and launch a configurable app by touching all five fingers on the screen. By default, a five finger touch wakes the device, and touching both thumbs on the sides of the screen wakes and launches the camera. it’s a handy little addition, although I’m not sure it’s strictly necessary.
One thing I really appreciate is the simple fact that when you put the tablet in landscape mode, the volume up & down rocker reverses, so Volume Up is on the right and Volume Down is on the left. The fact that the Nexus 7 doesn’t do this has always been an annoyance to me.
In summary, this is a great little tablet from Acer. It’s low cost, but not low end.
I’ve been using it a couple of days now, and I’m quite torn between the Acer Iconia A1 and the Nexus 7. Which you choose probably comes down to what you want to use it for. The Acer’s 4×3 screen is great for reading and browsing the web, but not so good for movies. In every day use though, I found the extra physical size more won out over the Nexus 7’s higher resolution.
The SD card slot is nice, but external storage isn’t particularly useful on Android Jelly Bean. The HDMI port is a nice addition, although I did’t have a chance to test that.
It’s certainly not a groundbreaking device, but if your budget is around £150 and you want a decent all-round tablet, then Acer Iconia A1 is certainly worth considering.