The tablet market is in a state of rapid change. It became the hot new stuff at the beginning of 2011 with the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas and Apple’s new iPad, but just a year later with the entrance of Google’s Nexus 7 and Amazon’s Kindle Fire, the bottom has fallen out of the market.
Manufacturers are now competing for a budget $200 price point as well as that $500+ premium bracket that’s typically been occupied by the iPad. Just as 10″ tablets make up the majority of the $500+ market, 7″ tablets have become the new norm for a $200 machine.
The Acer Iconia A210 is Acer’s attempt to capture a point between those two markets, with a £234 (~$350) asking price. Will the new tablet help carve out a third price point with its mid-range features, or is it destined to fall behind its more popular brothers? Let’s find out.
Features and Specifications
- Operating System: Android 4.0.4 “Ice Cream Sandwich”
- Chipset: Nvidia Tegra 3 T30L
- CPU: Quad-core 1.2 GHz
- RAM: 1 GB
- Internal Storage: 16 GB
- Display: 10.1″ IPS LCD, 1280 x 800
- Wireless Connectivity: Wireless N, Bluetooth, a-GPS
- Wired Connectivity: micro USB, USB, micro SD, 3.5mm audio jack
- Audio: Mono mic, stereo speakers
- Battery: 3260 mAh
- Dimensions: 260 x 175 x 12.4 mm
- Weight: 711.6 grams
Let’s have a look at the box the tablet comes in first, just to give you that unboxing “I feel like I was there!” experience. First of all: the front of the box. There’s a nice picture of the A210 on the home screen, a classly black and white stripe, and a look at the back of the tablet as well. The front of the box also has a Netflix logo.
On the back of the box we’ve got some specifications, leaking with ‘Android’ (!) and including the Tegra 3 CPU, 16 GB of memory, 10.1″ 1280 x 800 display, 2 megapixel front-facing camera, GPS, Wi-Fi N, Bluetooth 2.1, micro SD slot, 3260 mAh battery and the dimensions. Got all that?
Taking off the cover of the box, we see some helpful instructions on plugging in and turning on the tablet, as well as using your fingers to type on the screen.
Taking out these instructions, we get our first glimpse of the tablet itself, hidden behind a temporary screen protector.
Now we get a look at the goodies below, all very nicely stored in the cubby holes in the box.
We’ll take them out and have a look. It’s pretty simple stuff, really – There’s a micro USB to USB cable, a charger, a UK adapter plug and a couple of manuals and other information.
Now let’s have a look at the tablet, unfettered for the first time. It’s pretty standard, but it looks nice with the Acer logo at the bottom and the model name in the upper right. Neither are too obtrusive. The 10.1″ dominates the front, as expected, and there are no physical buttons here. The webcam is noticeable in the top centre of the tablet.
Now we flip the A210 over and have a look at the back. We see there’s a soft, textured back similar but not quite as nice as the Nexus 7’s, with the Acer logo again in the centre. There are also two speakers here, which seem like they’ll be covered up by anyone holding it.
On the top we’ve got a volume rocker (confusingly volume up is two buttons, and volume down is one) and an orientation lock switch – very useful!
On the left side, we’ve got quite a few buttons and ports. There’s a full size USB, micro USB, a headphone jack and the power / lock button. There’s also a flap that can be pried open to reveal a micro SD card slot and a recessed reset button.
On the right side of the A210 there is almost nothing – just the proprietary power connector.
When the machine’s turned on, it’s quite nice – the background is interesting, and the widgets not too overpowering. There are a fair amount of preinstalled programs featured here, including Netflix (which was foreshadowed by the box), Polaris Office, Zinio, eBay, Games, Netflix and Acetrax Movies.
If we compare the size of the A210 to the Nexus 7 and the Galaxy Nexus, we see that the Galaxy Nexus is about a third the size of the Nexus 7, and the A210 is between two and three times the size of the Nexus 7.
- Quadrant (CPU/web/graphics performance)
- Vellamo Web (for web performance) and Metal (CPU/IO performance)
- GLBenchmark (graphics performance)
- Sunspider (web performance)
- Linpack (CPU performance)
- Browsermark (web performance)
But of course, it’s not all about synthetic benchmarks. We’ll also see how well the A210 has fared in everyday use over the last two weeks, in typical use cases like gaming, media, web browsing and writing. Without further ado, let’s get into the results.
The Acer Iconia Tab A210 was curious to use after spending a few months with the Nexus 7. As you’d guess from two tablets that share a chipset, they feel almost identical in performance. Tegra 3 is still a brilliant chipset in my book, although the novelty of quad-cores has been slightly lessened over the past year. I’d say that the Nexus 7 has the edge in terms of snappiness thanks to Android 4.1, but Android 4 is still a massive improvement over its predecessors and works well enough on the A210.
When you look at the two tablets in terms of hardware, they’re pretty much dead even – with two exceptions. The first is in connectivity – the A210 has microSD storage, which you can use to augment the tablet with an addition 32 GB. That’s brilliant for things like music and movies, as you can quickly copy your files from your PC onto the card, and you don’t have to worry about filling up the internal storage. The A210 also has a full size USB port, meaning you can plug in a USB drive or peripherals like a mouse, keyboad or joystick. While the Nexus 7 could do this via an adapter, having a full size USB port is a welcome convenience. Sadly, there’s no added HDMI-out or MHL port – this was missing from the Nexus 7 and hurt the tablet’s use as a media device, and the omission is similarly felt here.
The A210 also uses a proprietary connector to charge rather than accomplishing the feat over micro USB. That’s a mixed bag to be honest, as while having a dedicated power port means you’ll never have to choose between connecting a peripheral or charging, you also can’t use a wide range of cables and other accessories. This is aggrevated by the charger supplied in the box, which is ridiculously short – perhaps two feet long. If the tablet charged over micro USB this wouldn’t be a problem; you could easily swap the cable out for a longer one or plug in an extension. As it stands however, I simply can’t charge my tablet and use it at the same time in my bed, at my desk at work or in the hostel – there simply isn’t a socket near enough.
The next big difference is that of form factor — fairly obvious, but it makes a different to how you use a tablet. The 7″ Nexus 7 weighs little and fits easily in almost any bag, where the A210 demands the laptop space in my backpack and is noticeably heavier when I’m hiking around. The two tablets have remarkably similar chassis, with both sporting a soft touch back that makes holding onto it easily. With the Nexus 7 this is actually something you can do one-handed, buit with the A210 the weight fairly demands two hands for extended use. Thankfully though, the A210 does feel equally well constructed without feeling massively bulky.
Despite having a screen nearly triple the size of the Nexus 7’s, the A210 still has the same resolution – 1280 x 800. That’s, in my eyes, the first acceptable resolution for a device these days, as it means you can watch 720p HD content at a 1:1 pixel ratio (albeit with black bars). While the pixel density is accordingly much lower, the quality of the screen is about the same and the extra size makes watching from a distance easier — while the Nexus 7 is a one person device, you can and should use the A210 to watch a video with a group of friends. While it would have been great to see a proper 1920 x 1200 display, you can see why Acer are reserving that particular stat for their premium A700 flagship. Overall, I wasn’t as much of a pixel density snob as I thought and I generally picked the A210 when I wanted to watch a video.
For gaming, I found the A210 a bit hit and miss. While more laid back games like Plants vs Zombies fill the screen nicely and you can proceed at a leisurely pace, anything frantic like Dead Trigger, Strikeforce Omega or Marbles in Wanderland is much more tiring to play on a larger display – your swipes need to be much bigger and faster to keep up. Still, the Tegra 3 chipset still performs admirably in even the most graphically intense titles, making the A210 a good choice for gamers.
Surprisingly, when you look at the A210 in software it’s close to that Nexus ideal. The tablet runs Android 4, which is again the first good version of Android and the minimum I’d expect to see these days, and unlike HTC and Samsung Acer have shown remarkable restraint in adding their own rubbish. Indeed, almost all of the changes are meaningful additions.
Probably the most obvious is the Acer Ring, which is activated by clicking on the circle icon in the middle of the toolbar at the bottom. This pops up with a ring that allows you to launch your favourite applications or visit your bookmarks. It’s a nice visual flourish that I actually found myself using, particularly as it was accessible within applications as well. The ring even includes a screenshot function by default, which is dead useful when you’re reviewing a tablet!
The lock screen has seen similar changes – from here, you can swipe right to unlock, and left to launch one of four custom applications. All of these options are customisable, and it’s a useful extension.
Finally, Acer have bundled in their own special brand of shovelware applications. While there are a good half-dozen extra applications layered on top of vanilla Ice Cream Sandwich, one or two are useful and all of the rest can be disabled if not uninstalled. Of course, rooting your tablet will solve these problems but I didn’t feel like crossing that particular bridge over the course of this review.
So yeah – while Acer haven’t added anything particularly ground-breaking, they’ve kept the overall look and feel pretty close to stock Android, and that’s how I like it. The biggest feature request I have is an upgrade to Android 4.1, but Acer have traditionally been pretty okay at upgrades so hopefully we’ll see that extra speed boost sometime in the future.
Now that we’ve had a look at the tablet in the real world, it’s time to see how it measure up against its fellows in synthetic benchmarks. We’ll be looking at some tablets and phones that are equipped with similar chipsets – for example, the One X, Transformer Prime and Nexus 7 all have Tegra 3 processors like the A210. The HTC One S, with a Snapdragon S4 processor, is also competitive. The rest of the devices, including the Kindle Fire, Galaxy Nexus and Galaxy Tab 2s have weaker processors and should take the lower spots. Now, let’s get started!
In Quadrant, the Acer Iconia Tab A210 got a score of 3519 overall. That breaks down into 10299 for the CPU, 2983 for the memory, 1567 for I/O, 222 for 2D and 2524 for 3D. That’s good enough to beat out the Transformer Prime (which has always scored curiously poorly here) and the non-Tegra 3 tablets and phones – overall, a fine result and one that you’d expect from the device.
GLBenchmark (Egypt Standard, 2.1.5)
The graphical benchmark GLBenchmark is always interesting, and here it’s no exception. In the standard on-screen benchmark (which runs at the tablet’s native resolution, 1280 x 800) the A210 gets a score of 52 fps, which is marginally better than the Nexus 7 and considerably better than the crowd of lesser devices. We’d expect better results from the off-screen 1280 x 720 test, and that pans out with a score of 62 fps, which again equals the Nexus 7 and eclipses the lesser devices and the HTC One S. That indicates that the A210 will handle all of the current generation of graphical titles with aplomb, particularly the Tegra 3 optimised titles found in the Tegra Zone.
Vellamo is an web benchmark suite that includes a number of other tests, including Google’s V8 and Sunspider. It’s a test designed by Qualcomm, and their S4 processors (represented by the One S in our comparison) always do well here. It’s no surprise that the A210 takes home the fifth spot here, after the One S and Galaxy S III in the lead, and pretty close to the Nexus 7 and One X. An upgrade to Android 4.1 might improve this score in the future.
Vellamo also added a ‘Metal’ benchmark recently. While I didn’t have time to get results on this new benchmark from all of the devices on our list, we see that the A210 gets a score of 385, which compares decently to the scores of 475 and 557 of the HTC One X and Galaxy S III, respectively.
Linpack is a CPU-focused test with two components, a single-threaded test and a multi-threaded test. In the single-threaded test we see that the A210 gets a score of 45.9 – precisely the same as the Nexus 7, and just a bit behind the One X and Galaxy S III. In the multi-threaded test it’s not quite as positive, with a score of 87.8, which puts it significantly behind the Nexus 7 at 127.4. It’s not clear what’s behind this lower multi-threaded performance.
This isn’t really a benchmark in the traditional sense, but still one well worth including. We see that the A210 isn’t as amazing value as the Nexus 7, but still trounces many other tablets at a similar price level, most noticeably the Galaxy Tab 2 10.1 which is the same form factor but has much worse performance thanks to the Samsung tablets’s underpowered chipset.
The Acer Iconia Tab A210 is a tablet that exists in an awkward place. It doesn’t have the big name appeal or premium features of a £499 iPad or Transformer Prime, but it’s £65 more expensive than the equally powerful and overall more impressive Google Nexus 7 – it’s just this low-priced 10″ tablet. There’s definitely a niche there, but the A210 isn’t the disruptive force that the Kindle Fire and the Nexus 7 were for that 7″, £159 space.
Ultimately, the A210 is a good option if you considered the Nexus 7 for its low price and clean Android, but wanted something a bit bigger for a small premium. For most though, I’d suggest accepting the advantages of a smaller form factor or moving up to the big leagues by picking up a popular 10″ tablet like the iPad 3.
- Good build quality
- Inexpensive for a 10″ tablet
- Tegra 3 is as strong as ever
- Uninspiring screen and speakers
- No video out capabilities
- Proprietary power connector