It's official, tablets are now bigger than God. At January's CES consumer electronics extravaganza in Las Vegas, every technology vendor, their hairdresser, cat, dog and pony were shouting about tablets to a tablet hungry tech media who couldn't get enough tablet related news. Now its our turn, and Acer has launched the Iconia Tab A500 running Android 3.0

First Impressions

The tablet market is rapidly becoming a crowded place, however, the Iconia tab A500 is more than able to hold its own, thanks in part to a combo of well thought out features and rock solid build quality.

With a 10.1-inch screen, The Iconia mightn't be the smallest tablet on the block, but its screen was just right for gaming, knocking out emails and the odd spot of surfing as well as media consumption.

Looks-wise, the Iconia is pretty stylish - its glass display sports has black bezel, complete with silver edges and a brushed aluminium backing that hints at the sophistication to be found within.

As with other tablets, the Iconia isn't a featherweight, but in use, it felt surprisingly good thanks to a sensible design that carefully distributes its weight to make the Iconia a manageable handful.

Lurking under this tasty exterior is some serious computing power. Kitted out with a 1GHz Nvidia Tegra 250 dual-core processor it also packs 16GB or 32GB of storage.

This makes the Iconia a wickedly good games machine, and its 1280-by-800 16:10 display is also perfect for movie watching.

As with most Android devices, the Iconia also has an accelerometer, a gyroscope, GPS, and compass which makes using motion-based games or augmented reality apps a breeze.

Add in Bluetooth 2.1 and 802.11 'a/b/g' and 'n' Wi-Fi and pretty much every connectivity option has been covered. Access to music and video on my home network hard drive was easy, thanks to the Iconia's DLNA support.

Taking things a step further, the Iconia also supports Micro SD memory cards and USB gadgets. This allowed me to hook up a USB keyboard, a flash drive, and even a USB memory card reader (which was ideal for transferring holiday photos from my camera to my Flickr account). All told there is a lot to like about the Iconia's features and spec.

Multimedia

The Iconia's built-in cameras also impressed - its rear facing five-megapixel camera worked fine for snapping quick photos and making video calls with its 2MP front facing camera using Skype was also a reasonably seamless experience.

On the audio front, the Iconia's small twin stereo speakers managed to box well above their weight thanks largely to the inclusion of Dolby Mobile audio, meaning that they could deliver surprisingly big sound.

About the only quibble was that they were located at the bottom of the Iconia's back, which meant my hands frequently covered them, muffling audio. This said, rotating the Iconia so that its speaker grills were at the top rather than the bottom easily remedied this issue.

On the HD front, the Iconia also played 720p video with no glitches, and its Micro-HDMI port can also theoretically output video to HDMI-equipped gadgets, however indications are that 1080p over HDMI will require a future update.


Android 3.0

Specifically designed for tablets, Android 3.0 (also known as Honeycomb) is a pretty impressive beast. Where other smartphone and tablet makers have heavily customised the Android interface, Acer have sensibly opted for the less drastic option of adding their own desktop widgets and leaving Android relatively untweaked.

In use, the Iconia's desktop looked great was both responsive and intuitive to use. Unfortunately a limited supply of Android 3.0 apps meant it wasn't really possible to test Honeycomb to its full potential, but this is expected to change quickly as the deluge of Android 3.0 tablets continues.

At the end of the day, fancy features are only ever going to be as useful as the Iconia's battery life is long. According to the specs, the two batteries can last for up to eight hours of medium to heavy use, or 10 hours lighter use. This was echoed in practice with the Iconia requiring a wall socket after just under eight hours of average everyday use.

Verdict

It's hard not to be impressed with the A500. Having used my fair share of tablets, slates and pads in the past and been relatively dissatisfied, the Iconia's stylish design, functionality and well thought out features saw it frequently used over and above any nearby notebook PCs.

Additionally, its ability to work with a wide range of USB peripherals also greatly extended its usability. Priced at approximately $750 to $900 depending on which version (16 or 32GB), the Iconia's sharp pricing marries a great design up with the strengths of Android (flexibility, customisability and access to a huge pool of awesome apps). If you're considering a tablet, I recommend you give the Iconia some serious thought.

SPECS
Acer Iconia Tab A500
$750/900 (16/32GB)
OS: Android 3.0 'Honeycomb'
CPU: NVIDIA Tegra2 dual-core processor with GeForce (1Ghz)
Touchscreen: 10.1-inch capacitive (1280 x 800, 80 deg viewing angle)
Cameras: 5 MP rear, 2 MP front
Memory: 1GB RAM, 16GB internal
Connectivity: Mini HDMI, USB, MicroUSB, Bluetooth 2.1, Wi-Fi 802.11a/b/g/n
Extras Gyroscope, accelerometer, compass, GPS