When you're drowning in a sea of Android tablets, all you want is someone to throw you a life-preserver of awesome. Sadly, what looks like it might be a life-preserver often turns out to be yet another bucket of water.
Why It Matters
The Iconia A100 is Acer's 7-inch follow-up to its kinda-not-really popular Iconia A500 tablet, which was a full 10.1 inches. It's the first 7-inch tablet to run Android 3.2 (Honeycomb) which opens the doors for myriad screen sizes.
The 7-incher is a bit confusing for the senses. Its size makes it fit pretty well in my hand, and if I were reading an e-book, I'm confident that one-handed operation (thumbing through pages) wouldn't be a problem. I loved that I could fit it in my pocket. At only 0.92 pounds, it's lighter than the super-light Galaxy Tab 10.1 (at 1.45 lbs.), but here's the weird thing: its smaller size makes it feel heavier, denser. It's a trick of the mind, but it's worth noting.
The Iconia feels plasticy (because it is), but pretty solidly built, with the exception of the micro SD card cover, which is held in place only by the wishes of children. If you drop the tablet, it's probably going to crack. For ports, you've got mini-HDMI, micro-USB, a dock connector, a standard headphone jack, and a dedicated charging port (it won't charge by USB). You can install a micro-SD card, which means you can add a ton of storage on the cheap. The guts of this thing include a more-or-less standard NVIDIA Tegra 2 1GHz dual-core processor with an integrated GeForce GPU, and 1GB of RAM. The battery performed alright, though not as well as I would have liked.
The Iconia A100's most glaring problem is, well, glare. Its screen is like a mirror. This might not be such a huge problem if it weren't for the fact that the screen is also insanely DIM. I'm talking boning-a-member-of-Motley-Crue-without-a-condom dim. Seriously, on a moderately sunny day, don't even bother taking it outside as you won't be able to see a thing (see the video for an illustration of this). It's a fingerprint magnet, too, which doesn't help. Also, puzzlingly, its viewing angle is absolutely terrible from one side, then it's pretty good from the other three. No comprendo.
I was excited to take Android 3.2 for a spin on a 7-inch tab, but then the bugs came for it like spilled Kool-Aid at a picnic. I had a lot of force closes, which is never a good thing. Apps that should have worked, didn't, and I encountered weird anomalies with programs misreading the accelerometer and/or the touch screen. There's a lot of good in Honeycomb, but the glitches are casting a big shadow. Here's hoping Ice Cream Sandwich brings the goodness in Android 4.0.
The Iconia suffers from the same syndrome that all Honeycomb tabs do: most of the time they go like a bat out of hell, and then suddenly, they go like your grandpa out of an early-bird buffet. The Iconia actually seems to suffer from this less than most of its brethren. It's certainly faster than the Motorola Xoom, but the Galaxy Tab 10.1 seemed to have less slowdown overall.
Sight & Sound
The main camera on the A100 is sub-par. Like, double-bogey sub-par. Images lacked crispness, even in solid outdoor light. Colors were muted, too. Video suffered from the same problems, plus motion-blur, and it just didn't stack up to the quality that Sony, Samsung, and Motorola are delivering on their (much smaller) phones. That said, I don't think that's such a big deal as a tablet doesn't make a very practical camera, but then again, options are nice.
The speakers come from Dolby Mobile Technology, which I was excited about, but they didn't live up to the hype. They have virtually no low-end at all, and snares sound like brief hits of static. Please send tiny bandages for my ears.
Price & Availability
The Iconica Tab A100 is available as of today. The 8GB model will retail for $330 USD, and the 16GB will go for $350. Those prices are pretty good compared to other Honeycomb slates, and 20 bucks to jump from 8GB to 16GB isn't bad, but remember that you can install a micro SD card and get even more space for your money. The "P.O.S." protective case (shown in the video) will cost you $30 to protect your tablet experience while ruining it.
This was a tablet that I wanted to like, but couldn't. The screen is the reason you invest in a tablet: you want more real estate. Unfortunately, the screen is the A100's Achilles heel. While he 7-inch size feels nice in-hand, once you're used to looking at a 10-incher, it just seems kind of cramped. Hopefully, Android 4.0 will fix the software bugs, but even the Jesus Christ of software updates can't do anything about that screen. Check out the video above for some highs and lows.
2 out of 5 Stars. Save your money for something better around the corner.