I've never been a big fan of low-end Android tablets. In the past, they haven't performed well and they usually don't provide a good experience for the user. Some of the problem is with Android's bleak tablet app offering, admittedly. I was hesitant to review the Acer Iconia 8 A1-840 because it falls squarely into that budget tablet space, but come to find out Acer has a decent tablet here. Let's take a closer look at the newest Acer Iconia 8.
The previous Iconia 8, the A1-830, looked quite a bit like an iPad Mini. This time around Acer has slimmed down the design and offered up a tablet that isn't quite as wide. The white bezel and silver back are still reminiscent of an Apple device, but the 8-tablet fits better in your hand than its predecessor. The white plastic on the front is glossy and attracts fingerprints. The silver back is metal, adding a nice premium feel that should hold up well over time. The 5-megapixel camera on the back sticks out a bit with a metal ring around the lens, preventing the tablet from sitting flat on a table or desk. It's not a big deal, but it did annoy me a bit that the Iconia 8 would rock slightly when I bumped the leg of my desk. The rear camera is centered while the 2-megapixel camera on the front is slightly to the right on the front. The microUSB charging port, 3.5mm auxiliary jack, and HDMI port are all located on the top of the tablet. The power button and volume rocker are on the right side, with a microSD card slot on the left side. The Iconia 8 A1-840 stands 8.5 inches tall and 5.1 inches wide, with a thickness of just 0.3 inches. It weighs 12.6 ounces and is light enough to hold for a long period of time without wearing out your wrist.
One of the areas that really shines on the new Iconia 8 is the display. The 8-inch display has a good looking 1900 x 1200 resolution. This is a big step up over the A1-830 that had lackluster 1024 x 768 resolution. It's good to see Acer putting a good looking LCD panel in this tablet. Colors look good, the display is bright, and HD and photos look great. I'm happy to see Acer stepping up the display resolution on this entry-level tablet.
There rear-facing speakers on the Iconia 8 are lacking in quality sound and low-end bass. Most sound comes out tinny and the overall volume isn't very loud. This is one of the areas that Acer compromised in order to keep the cost of the tablet down. I would have liked to have better sound that what is offered, but it's an acceptable cost-cutting measure when you look at everything else Acer has done to provide a good experience for us.
Software and Apps
Acer ships the A1-840 with Android 4.4.2 KitKat. It's basically stock Android with a handful of Acer applications pre-installed. There's an AccuWeather widget that's on the home screen when you first start up the tablet. Other apps include Acer's suite of 'ab' apps like abMusic, abPhoto, abFiles, and abDocs. These are Acer's take on standard applications. They also pre-load Several Amazon apps, including the Amazon AppStore, Kindle, and Amazon Music on the tablet. WildTangent Games gives you an alternate gaming market to the Play Store, and iStoryTime is a children's ereader app that comes on the tablet, too. Acer also provides you with McAfee Security suite to keep your tablet free to malware.
Performance and Battery
Performance was the second area where I was pleasantly surprised by the Iconia 8. It's running on an quad-core Intel Atom Z3745 processor clocked at 1.33 GHz and 2GB of RAM, with 16GB of internal storage and a microSD card slot to expand it if you want. The bump up to 2GB of RAM is a good one and adds that little extra that the tablet needs to provide decent performance. Very rarely did the tablet stutter or hiccup, even when playing HD games or streaming HD video via Netflix. Based on my previous experience with Intel processors in tablets, I can't tell you how happy I was that this that was fast enough to handle what I wanted to do. That's but to say it was perfect. There was occasional lag, but not very much. Hats off to Acer for creating a tablet with a low price point but good, if not great, performance.
The battery is 4,600mAh in size and is rated for a maximum of 7.5 hours of video playback. I wasn't able to get that much out of it. In fact, the battery life left a bit to be desired. I don't know if it's because of the Intel processor sipping juice faster than some other processors might, or if it's the fault of the higher resolution screen, but the battery didn't last as long as some other tablets I've tested. I could get about 6 hours of screen-on time. Stand-by time was fine, lasting a few days or more when I wasn't using it. Just don't expect this tablet to last you all day if you're keeping the screen lit up.
The 5-megapixel camera on the back of the tablet is decent in good light but poor in low light situations. Colors are pretty accurate. The camera also shoots video in 1080p. I'm not a big fan of taking pictures with my tablet, but it will do the job if it's all you have. The 2-megapixel front-facing camera is pretty much only good for video chatting via an app like Hangouts or Skype. I wouldn't even use it for photos because the pictures come out grainy. Acer has their own camera app that offers standard camera features. It will let you change from the front to the rear camera, turn the mic on and off, and adjust the settings like white balance and resolution. It's all typical camera fare, but again you're not buying this device to use it as your go-to shooter.
The Acer Iconia 8 A1-840 is a pleasant surprise in a sea of sub-par Android tablets. It's not high-end, but it does offer a good user experience at a low cost. The screen and performance are high points when you consider what you are paying. The battery life and camera weren't as good as I would have liked, but sacrifices have to be made when you want to avoid paying top dollar. Acer has the newest Iconia 8 on their website for $199. I found it at Best Buy for $139. Give it a look if you are in the market for a new tablet this holiday season.