The Acer Iconia Tab A510 has a quad-core processor and 10.1-inch display. Photo: Ariel Zambelich/Wired
If you’re an Android device manufacturer in today’s crowded tablet space, you have bigger problems than worrying about how you’re going to compete with Apple. Before even addressing the iPad challenge, you have to kick, claw and bully your way through a field of tablet competitors also running Google’s mobile OS.
Samsung, Asus and Motorola: They’re all doing their best to sweep up that small universe of tablet-curious consumers who haven’t joined Team iPad. And now Acer is making another bid for relevancy in the 10.1-inch Android tablet space.
Does the new $450 slate make a compelling argument? No, it doesn’t. That’s our initial takeaway after about four hours of hands-on use.
As soon as I took the A510 out of its box, I noticed the back of the tablet is adorned with the familiar five-ringed logo of the Olympic games. It’s a fine logo. It always has been. But a simple branding tie-in isn’t a relevant “feature.” The A510′s physical design is much more germane.
The A510 measures 0.42 inches thick and weighs 1.54 pounds — heavier than the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1, Asus Tranformer Prime and new iPad, but not by much. There’s a soft, rubberized coating across the back of the tablet. It has an appealing softness to it, and also adds a bit of grippiness — welcome considering the tablet feels a bit hefty.
Indeed, this tablet is likely to get heavy after a couple hours of continued use if you had to hold it up yourself.
The Acer Iconia Tab A510 bears an Olympic pedigree. Photo: Ariel Zambelich/Wired
Unfortunately, the large screen didn’t impress me, despite its 1280×800 resolution. It’s an IPS display that offers solid off-axis viewing, but in this age of Super AMOLED screens and Retina displays, it’s not a stunner by any means. And all visual content — the home screen, apps, websites and photos snapped on the 5-megapixel rear camera — renders on the cool side of the color spectrum.
While I’m annoyed by competing screens that err toward over-saturation, the A510′s display is too pale for my tastes. And while, technically, the A510 has a high-definition screen (insomuch as it supports 720p), app icons look blurry upon close inspection. Text rendered on websites and throughout the OS looks sharp, but the screen doesn’t come close to wowing me.
THe A510 boasts 32GB of storage, a quad-core Nvidia Tegra 3 processor, and 1GB of RAM, which helps the tablet run quickly, at least on the lock screen. However, drilling down into features found in the OS itself — an Acer-skinned version of Android 4, a.k.a. Ice Cream Sandwich — presents a different sory.
Acer’s most obvious addition to ICS — and its biggest attempt at competitive differentiation — is the increasingly familiar “Acer Ring,” a user interface element that pins frequently used apps and content items on a touch-sensitive carousel.
Unlocking the tablet requires a swipe of a lockscreen ring. Swipe to the right, and you’re in, picking up wherever you last left off, whether on the home screen or in an app. You can also swipe to the left to go straight to your web browser, photo gallery, Google search or the camera app.
Once inside, you’ll find a pale green ring icon at the bottom of the home screen — tap it to bring up yet another ring. This new ring features a volume slider, a fan array of icons for bookmarked webpages, and quick-launch controls for the photo gallery app, the web browser, OS settings, and a screenshot tool.
The ring on the lockscreen reacts quickly. The ring summoned from the menu bar — not so much. Its rolling animation launches slowly. Launching into apps and moving the fan of bookmarked webpages is quicker, but Acer’s whole ring experience feels like a forced exercise in product differentiation.
Ice Cream Sandwich is Google’s breakthrough OS, and there’s really no need to re-skin it unless a manufacturer can add real value and innovation. But the Acer Ring doesn’t deliver this. Instead it just offers an second way to access elements that can already be exposed on a smartly configured home screen.
While the A510 offers competitive internal specs, its display isn’t anything special, and its Ring U.I. is more of an innocuous curiosity than a useful feature. And the Olympic rings logo, while full of history and import, is nothing more than window dressing.
Again, we only spent a few hours with the A510, but nothing about the experience told us this tablet is the 10.1-inch Android device to beat.