Acer rushed into the Android tablet market last year, claiming its place amongst the first tablets to run Google's OS in Australia. The resulting devices were far from perfect, though, with a heavy, uninteresting design and varied performance.
The A510 is the new big daddy of the Acer tablet range (the new Iconia A200 is also available), but Acer is wise to keep the weight of this new device down as low as its competition. At 680 grams, the A510 is roughly 10 per cent lighter than the original A500, thanks to its plastic design and the fact that this model is Wi-Fi only.
The display measures 10.1 inches diagonally, and sports a 1280x800-pixel resolution — again, in line with the industry standards at this time. Unlike the IPS screens in the Asus Transformer Prime, the A510 is a standard LCD panel. For the most part, this screen serves its purpose admirably. The touchscreen is responsive, and is capable of registering fast, light-pressure input, and it represents images well, with nice, strong colour and decent blacks and whites. We did spot some colour banding on images with gradients of colour, but we didn't notice this much when watching videos or web browsing.
Of particular interest, the Iconia A510 is a very comfortable tablet to hold. Although its plastic body might not seem like the most premium-quality material at first blush, its dimpled texture gives the unit grip, and its soft corners feel nice to hold during extended periods of use.
Most tablets require specially designed charging ports to support the higher amounts of power necessary to charge these batteries. The A510 is no different, but Acer has been clever in the way it has implemented this socket. The connection is like an enlarged micro-USB port, and the power adapter has a larger-than-normal connection. However, the port also takes a regular micro-USB connection, too, so you can use your regular cables for tethering and data connections, though you will need the charger provided to return power to the battery.
Aside from this proprietary port, the A510 also supports HDMI video out using a micro-HDMI connection, and you can expand the in-built 32GB of storage with a microSD card.
User experience and performance
We've been lucky enough to have the Asus Transformer 300T in the labs at the same time as the A510. Lucky, because these two tablets are technological counterparts — both run on Android Ice Cream Sandwich, and are powered by Nvidia's quad-core Tegra 3 processor, though the Acer runs slightly faster, at 1.3GHz. Comparatively, both tablets run extremely well, though the A510 had the advantage in the various benchmarks we ran in the labs. For everyday use, we found the A510 a pleasure to use, with only minor performance hiccups to report.
Acer and Asus approach Ice Cream Sandwich in much the same manner. Both companies offer an almost-stock experience with subtle interface tweaks on top. Acer calls its tweak the Acer Ring: a circular graphical overlay with shortcuts to the systems settings, browser bookmarks, the gallery and a screenshot button by default. The shortcuts are user customisable, though, with access to this function found in the settings. Functionally, the Acer Ring is fine, though most of its shortcuts can be reached in the same number of keystrokes without using the Acer overlay.
To define its position in market, Acer is relying on the tablet's battery life, claiming a whopping 15 hours of continuous use. Of course, to meet this goal, you'll need to turn off all connectivity and set the screen brightness to auto-brightness. Impressively, our review stretched beyond the 15-hour estimation when we simulated these conditions in the CNET labs, playing a 720p video file continuously for just under 17 hours. However, we should point out that the auto-brightness is extremely conservative, and, while we are happy to find Acer's claims to be accurate, they don't really reflect real-world use.
For that, we conducted our regular battery-drain tests and were surprised to find that the battery life halved with the screen turned up to its maximum brightness setting — clocking in at about 7.5 hours. We also ran an internet-connected battery test, and rated the A510 at just over six hours of continuous web browsing on a Wi-Fi connection.
|Acer Iconia A510||ASUS Transformer 300T||Motorola Xoom 2||iPad (32GB)|
|Nvidia Tegra 3
|Nvidia Tegra 3
|TI OMAP 4430
|32GB plus microSD card expansion||32GB plus microSD, SD card and USB||32GB plus microSD card expansion||32GB|
*Prices correct at time of writing, but likely to change.
There isn't too much to say about the camera on the A510. It works, of course, but the results aren't particularly inspiring. You get the usual suite of camera tools on offer in Ice Cream Sandwich, but the image sensor takes only passable shots, and its lack of a flash will limit when and where you can use it effectively.
On its own merits, the Iconia 510 is a solid Android tablet, with a comfortable design and good performance. Its quad-core Tegra 3 processor delivers a fluid user experience through what is, basically, a stock Android Ice Cream Sandwich interface. We were impressed that the tablet managed to fulfil Acer's 15-hour video-playback promise, though when we standardised the testing conditions, the A510 falls in line with the battery test results we see from other tablets, like the Asus Transformer 300T.
In fact, the major problem with the Acer A510 is that the 300T exists, is available for only AU$100 more and comes with its keyboard dock included in the package. Both tablets use Nvidia's Tegra 3 processor, have attractive plastic builds, run on Ice Cream Sandwich and offer comparable performance. But if you have money to spend on an Android tablet right now, wouldn't you choose the one with the very handy dock and the extra battery life that it provides? That, and the fact that you needn't choose an Android tablet at all, with Apple's new iPad ready to score your tablet dollars.
Ultimately, Acer hasn't gone far enough to break new ground with the Iconia and win fans from the competition. The Iconia is a paint-by-numbers tablet computer, and while this isn't a bad product, it's hard to recommend it with the other options available.