Apple has adopted a one-size fits all approach with its iPad 2, but there seems to be a demand for smaller, compact tablets. Acer has responded with the Iconia A100, a smaller and lighter version its 10.1in Iconia A500 Android tablet. Unfortunately, this one is best avoided — a poor quality display, mediocre battery life and a chunky design detract from its appeal.
Acer Iconia A100: Design and display
The Acer Iconia A100 is constructed largely from plastic, but it does feel reasonably well built. A glossy, black bezel flanks the LCD on the front while the back gets a blue, almost grey finish. There's also some sort of fancy swirl imprint on the back: it's an attempt by Acer to give the Iconia A100 a bit of personality, but we think the tablet would have looked more attractive without it.
The Iconia A100 is a surprisingly heavy device at 470g. To put this into comparison, the 9.7in iPad 2 is 600g and the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 is just 565g — less than 100g heavier than the Iconia A100 despite a much larger footprint. RIM's BlackBerry PlayBook — also a 7in tablet — weighs in at 425g. The Iconia A100 is much thicker than we expected: its footprint may be smaller than larger-screened tablets, but it still feels chunky and heavy.
On the top of the Iconia A100 you'll find a power button and a standard headphone jack, while a rotation lock slider, external volume buttons and a flimsy, plastic flap concealing a microSD card slot are on the right. On the bottom are the Iconia A100's ports: a mini-HDMI port, a proprietary dock port for accessories, a micro-USB port and a dedicated charging port is a pretty comprehensive package considering the 7in screen size. The Iconia A100 won't charge via its micro-USB port, but the power connector means you'll get a much quicker charge — it took us just over an hour to fully charge the battery from almost empty.
Acer parades the Iconia A100's 7in screen as a key feature but it sadly disappoints. In addition to attracting fingerprints like bees to honey, the display suffers from extremely poor sunlight legibility and could almost act as a mirror at times. It has poor vertical viewing angles and isn't as bright as most other Android tablets we've reviewed. Strangely, the viewing angle is ridiculously poor when looking at the screen from the bottom, but better when looking at other angles: particularly from either side.
Acer Iconia A100: Software
Acer claims the Iconia A100 was the first 7in Honeycomb tablet to natively run the latest 3.2 version of Google's Android software. Though the claim may be true, it's hardly worth crowing about: all tablets will eventually be updated to this version, there are no critical changes from the previous 3.1 version and there's a new version of Android software for tablets and smartphones just around the corner (Ice Cream Sandwich). Given Acer originally announced that the Iconia A100 would launch in mid-April, only to push it back until October, the 3.2 version of Android on this device becomes even more irrelevant.
What's more important is performance and the Acer Iconia A100 holds up pretty well. We encountered the odd app force closing, the home screens still jitter when swiping through them and the Android Market is sluggish and still lacks a wide variety of apps designed specifically for tablets. However, these are all issues with the Android platform as a whole rather than the Iconia A100 itself. Web browsing performance is excellent and the games we played worked smoothly and without problems.
The Android software on the Iconia A100 is a "vanilla" version of the Honeycomb 3.2 OS, though Acer does include a few small hubs to store and sort downloaded apps. These include social, eReading, Game Zone and Multimedia; they are merely a fancy bookshelf background where you can group application shortcuts. Acer also includes a media player called Nemo Player and the clear.fi app that allows you to stream multimedia content (photos, videos and music) to compatible devices over a shared Wi-Fi network.
Acer Iconia A100: Internals and battery life
Aside from its size the Acer Iconia A100 offers little difference to most other Android tablets under the hood. It's powered by the popular dual-core, 1GHz NVIDIA Tegra 2 processor that’s found on many of its competitors and comes with the almost industry standard 1GB of RAM. The Iconia Tab has just 8GB of internal memory, but the microSD card slot means you can add up to 32GB more if needed.
The Acer Iconia A100 is a Wi-Fi only tablet, but the company will also sell a Wi-Fi + 3G model called the Iconia A101. It's identical to the A100 with the exception of a SIM card slot that enables 3G connectivity. Australian availability of the Iconia A101 is yet to be confirmed.
The Acer Iconia A100 has dual cameras: a 5-megapixel rear camera with single LED flash and a front facing 2-megapixel camera for video calling. The camera snaps reasonable, but not outstanding photographs. The LED flash tends to wash out images in low-light and when enlarged the images suffer from excessive image noise and poor colour reproduction.
In theory, a smaller screen should benefit battery life as it requires less power to run, but this is sadly not the case with the Iconia A100. Acer has equipped the tablet with a dreadfully small 1530mAh battery and it's clearly not enough: the tablet lasted just over four hours during testing. To put this into comparison, the 7in BlackBerry PlayBook has a 5300mAh battery. Why Acer has skimped on the battery of a tablet designed for portability is difficult to understand, but the result is the poorest battery life we've tested on an Android tablet.