We have the new Acer Iconia A1 tablet in hand. It was announced last month as going on sale in June for $199. So we're going to keep that pricing in mind as we review it. The Iconia A1 is one, if not the first, tablet using a 4:3 ratio. Now we are normally used to 16:9 and 16:10 ratios. Honestly, this is my first time really using an Acer tablet. I've used their hardware before, just not their Android hardware. I've used a netbook of theirs and their Chromebook in the past and I wasn't amazed by it, but I also didn't think they were horrible devices. Now the Iconia A1, is another 7.something inch tablet that is looking to take on the Nexus 7. With the Nexus 7's recent lag issue, which even my Nexus 7 faces (sad face), it's making it a bit easier for the competition. Since the Iconia A1 costs the same amount as the 16GB Nexus 7, I'll be comparing them side by side further down in the review. At the time of writing this, the second generation Nexus 7 is no where in site.
Before we get to far into the review, we like to show you the specs of the device. So without further ado:
- 7.9-inch XGA TFT LCD Display at a 1024×768 resolution – which is 4:3 aspect ratio
- 1GB of RAM
- MediaTek quad-core 1.2GHz processor
- 16GB internal storage; includes a microSD card slot
- 5MP camera on the back; 0.3MP camera on the front
- Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n, GPS, Bluetooth 4.0
- 4960mAh battery
- Android 4.2.2
I have to be honest. When I received the Iconia A1, I expected it to come with Android 4.1.2, especially with the specs it shows on the box. It was a nice surprise to swipe down from the top and see quick settings pop up.
Iconia A1 Hardware
It's a $199 tablet. So don't expect "high-quality" hardware. But I certainly do expect to have adequate hardware to where it can be used daily for at least 6 months without noticing performance changes. MediaTek usually makes some "low-end" processors. Which is why you don't see them all that much in devices here in the US. In fact, I believe this is the first device I've reviewed with one of their chips. So far, not too impressed. I've noticed a few stutters when doing normal tasks on the Iconia A1, like browsing the Google Play Store. In addition to the processor, at this rate I think 1GB of RAM should be the minimum. Most tablets and phones need to have at least 2GB of RAM. After using so many devices that have 2GB of RAM inside, it's become a necessity to me. I haven't had any real problems with the 1GB of RAM inside the Iconia A1, but it would be nice to have an extra gig inside.
The Iconia A1 has a XGA TFT LCD display which has a resolution of 1024×768. Now when you're used to reviewing devices with 1920×1080 resolutions and higher, this just seems so very bad. But I have to say, after using it for a few hours I got used to the lower resolution. On the bright side, it means the battery lasts forever. Since it is a significantly bigger battery than the Nexus 7, with less pixels, it lasts for days. But enough about the battery we'll be getting more into that later in our review.
On the front of your Iconia A1 you've got the 7.9-inch TFT display along with the 0.3MP camera above it. Now onto the right side, you have your volume rocker, microSD card slot and HDMI port. Down at the bottom you have a microUSB port and a headphone jack. Going around to the left side there is absolutely nothing. At the top is your power button. Flip it over to the back and you'll see the 5MP camera in the upper left-hand corner. There is no flash with this camera. In the lower left-hand corner you see a relatively small speaker. I really wished it had front-facing speakers, but then this isn't a "flagship" tablet, but rather a budget tablet.
Iconia A1 Software
There's not much to talk about here. But the Iconia A1 is running Android 4.2.2. Which is, at the time of writing this review, the most recent version of Android. Which is a pretty big deal. In fact only the Galaxy S4 has launched on the most recent version of Android. Now the Iconia A1 joins that elite group. All your favorite Android 4.2 features are there, including quick settings. But what is interesting is that the settings app is set up in tablet format while the rest of the system is in "phablet" mode which you see on the Nexus 7 and the Nexus 10. Rather interesting indeed.
Acer's custom "skin"
I'm not sure you can really call it a "skin" There is almost no differences between stock Android and what Acer has on the Iconia A1. There are a few small differences, for instance the quick settings are in a different order, have slightly different icons and different settings. The Notification bar also has slightly different icons, but they are still ICS blue. Or is that Android 4.x blue? The only real differences I can really see are the pre-installed apps and the widgets Acer adds on the Iconia A1.
This tablet does come with some bloat. If it didn't, it would be a Nexus or maybe a Google Play Experience tablet? But on the bright side, it's not a ton of bloat like you see on flagship devices like the Galaxy S4, or the LG Optimus G Pro.
Depending on how you use this Iconia A1, it can last you anywhere from 12 hours to a week on one charge. The image above shows you my average battery life. Which is from about a week of use. That includes all the testing, benchmarking, and taking pictures of the device I've done during that week. Even some Netflix and YouTube watching going on as well. I was quite impressed by the battery life with the Iconia A1. It easily lasted me a full day, even on what I'd consider "heavy usage".
The camera is well, a camera. It does have a 5MP camera on the back, which is adequate but not the best. But how often are you going to be going out and taking pictures with your tablet? The pictures above and below show how great or not so great the 5MP camera is on the Iconia A1.
Iconia A1 vs Nexus 7
Comparing the Nexus 7 to the Iconia A1 is pretty hard since the specs are so different. The Iconia A1 has a slightly larger screen, but putting them side by side, the Iconia A1 looks much larger. The Iconia A1 does have better battery life, but it's basically the same battery powering less pixels, so that's kinda expected. The 4:3 aspect ratio for the Iconia A1 is a bit odd, at least to me. It is pretty easy to read on with that ratio but the display quality just kills that for me. The Iconia A1 is much lighter than the Nexus 7 though.
- Android 4.2.2: Yes, it's pretty sad that this is a good thing. But getting a device that is on the latest version of Android used to be reserved for Nexus devices only. But that seems to be changing pretty quickly, and that's a great thing.
- Battery Life: Like I stated above, the battery life is phenomenal on this tablet. I just wish the specs were a bit higher.
- Minimal Custom Skin: Acer's custom "Skin" is very minimal on this tablet. Meaning you are virtually getting a stock Android experience when using the Iconia A1. Which is definitely a good thing. I wish more manufacturers did this.
- 4:3 aspect ratio: This is somewhat of a double-edged sword. Why? Well it's a good thing because you can use it one-handed, it's also a bit "different". Which could be both good and bad. We all know that many people "hate" change. Just look at Windows 8.
- 4:3 aspect ratio: like I said above, this is a double-edged sword here for Acer. I wasn't sold on having a tablet using a 4:3 ratio. But I use my tablet mostly for watching Netflix and YouTube and playing games like Beach Buggy Blitz and Riptide GP. Which seemed a bit awkward at that ratio.
- Pricing: It's cheap, we get that. And if it weren't for the Nexus 7, I probably wouldn't say anything about the price. The fact is that the Nexus 7 set the bar really high for "budget" tablets. At $199, it's "why pay for a tablet with sub-par specs when I can get the Nexus 7 for the same price with better specs and support from Google?"
- Display: You probably saw this coming from the beginning of the review with the spec list. It's not the best looking display. But I have seen worse displays at this same resolution. Once you get used to it, you should be fine though.
Should you buy the Acer Iconia A1-810? Well, that depends on what you use your tablet for. If you want a tablet to read magazines, news, books, etc., on then this is a pretty good choice. The 4:3 aspect ratio is really good for reading. But if you're like me and use your tablet for entertainment, then you're going to want something like the Nexus 7, Galaxy Note 8.0 or even the Nexus 10. I think that if Acer had priced this tablet at about $150, then I would recommend it hands down. Especially given the Nexus 7's age right now. It's much lighter than the Nexus 7 as well, so if you're browsing the web while you're in bed, it'll hurt less when you drop the tablet on your face. C'mon we've all done it, now haven't we?