Acer Iconia Tab A700 review
The good: The Acer Iconia Tab A700's high-res screen sharpens text and graphics to near-iPad Retina levels. Also, it's comfortable to hold and includes both Micro-HDMI and microSD.
The bad: The base version of the Tegra 3 can't keep up with the high-res display, resulting in frequent hangs and stutters while navigating. The cameras are unimpressive.
The bottom line: The Acer Iconia Tab A700 overreaches with its high-res screen and is ultimately outclassed by tablets that offer better experiences for the money.
With the A700, Acer essentially took its Iconia Tab A510, slapped in a 1,920x1,200-pixel resolution screen and gave it a new name. Unfortunately, Acer failed to compensate for the extra bandwidth a high-res screen requires. The result? Stuttery performance that periodically hangs or (in one case) freezes completely.
Acer made a good decision to go with a high-res display. It's sharp and the benefits to text are unmistakable. It's just too bad it seemingly only goes halfway in its efforts to implement it well.
The A700's left and right edges are adorned with silver plating; the back feels like a mixture of rubber and leather (in a good way), making the tablet easy to grip; the corners are well-rounded, and much like the Nexus 7, it just feels comfortable to hold. In fact, it's one of the most comfortable tablets I've ever had the pleasure of holding, with the leathery back (available in either silver or black) reducing the likelihood it'll accidentally slip from my hands.
From a purely aesthetic standpoint, however, the A700 looks dull and sort of boxy compared with more elegantly made tablets like the Transformer Infinity.
On the left edge sits the power/lock button and a headphone jack. On the opposite edge is a Micro-HDMI port and a door covering a 64GB-capacity microSD slot. In the middle of the bottom edge is a Micro-USB port next to a reset pinhole, with speakers on the far right and left sides. On the top edge, from left to right, lies a volume rocker, a rotation lock switch, and a microphone pinhole. A 1-megapixel front camera sits in the middle of the top bezel with an ambient light sensor to its left. Directly opposite the front camera, on the back, sits a 5-megapixel rear camera.
The A700 comes preinstalled with Android 4.0.4 (Ice Cream Sandwich). Check out the Ice Cream Sandwich section of the Iconia Tab A200 review for detailed info on the improvements Android 4.0 makes over Honeycomb (Android 3.0). The A700 is the first tablet to ship with version 4.0.4 and while Google purportedly included improvements to screen rotation speed and smoothed out Web page zooming, I didn't notice any difference compared with other tablets running 4.0.3.
With the A700, Acer includes a number of custom software features that those familiar with previous Acer tablets should recognize. Chief among them is Acer Ring. Ring is an app shortcut and carousel-like bookmark hub that appears after you tap the green ring symbol at the bottom of the screen. Each bookmark or app that appears is completely customizable, allowing you to include up to four apps and seemingly as many bookmarks as you like.
While this would seem useful, accessing apps the normal way is already so quick and easy that adding an extra step like tapping the ring puts you that much farther from your goal. To be fair, we're talking about mere seconds here, but it does affect the overall experience. Though overall, I feel its usefulness is limited, it can come in handy if you're already in an app and want to quickly switch to another already in the carousel. If Ring holds no interest for you, a quick trip to the settings gives you the option to disable the feature.
Acer Print is a built-in setting that allows you to add printers either through your network or by bar code scan, and then print directly from the tablet. Even more useful is Acer Files, which gives you direct access to the tablet's file system through a simple and well-designed interface.
Clear.fi has been split into separate Photo, Video, and Music apps, but all still work to aggregate media on your network and stream media to and from the A700. The A700 also comes with a free Polaris Office app that fairly successfully approximates Microsoft Office, allowing users to create PowerPoint, Word, and Excel docs.
The A700 is Acer's second tablet, after the A510, to house Nvidia's quad-core processor, the Tegra 3. It includes a 1.3GHz version of the processor, compared to the 1.2GHz version found in the Asus Transformer TF300 and the 1.6GHz version found in the Transformer Infinity. For memory, the A700 includes 1GB of DDR2 RAM -- as opposed to the faster DDR3 RAM the Infinity uses. The A700 also has 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi support, Bluetooth 2.1, a gyroscope, an accelerometer, and GPS. Only one 32GB-capacity configuration is currently available
The Acer Iconia Tab A700 is the first Android tablet to sport an 1,920x1,200 resolution screen. The Transformer Infinity's screen has the same resolution, but that tablet doesn't go on sale until mid-July. The A700 is available now. While the tablets share the same resolution, there is a disparity in the quality of each screen. The Infinity's screen has a higher brightness (even without IPS+ mode enabled), wider viewing angles, more accurate and vibrant color, and the contrast just feels more dramatic and "poppy."
Also, unlike the A700, the Infinity compensates for the extra bandwidth demands a higher resolution screen puts on a processor by adding a 1.6GHz CPU and DDR3 RAM. The A700 keeps the same 1.3GHz Tegra 3 processor and DDR2 RAM found in the A510, resulting in periodic performance hiccups when swiping through screens or navigating menus. The tablet also froze on me, requiring complete power down and restart. This only happened once, however.
The 5-megapixel back camera likely won't inspire you to take pictures with your A700. Not the worst thing in the world especially given the inherent douchebaggery of being seen committing such an act.
That said, purely from a perspective of sharpness and clarity, the A700's screen matches the TF700 and yes, even rivals the new iPad. Text is noticeably (once you get close enough) sharper than 1,280x800-pixel tablets, especially on the Web and in e-books.
Riptide GP looks sharper at its highest resolution compared to tablets with 1,280x800-pixel screens; however, its frame rate is somewhat disappointing next to the Transformer Infinity, which is smooth even with the game's resolution cranked. Not all games seem to benefit from the extra pixels, however. Games like Max Payne Mobile look identical, from a sharpness perspective, to the game running on a 1,280x800-pixel tablet, even with the resolution set at maximum.
I like the idea of these powerful, quad-core (or more) processors in tablets and feel there's an opportunity here to make some incredible-looking games that take full advantage of the Tegra 3's 12 GPU core architecture. Six months into Tegra 3's life, though, and I'm disappointed by what we've seen. There just isn't enough native game development going on by studios willing to put in the time and effort to do this right. Ports from iOS with extra effects are nice, but they'll never look as good as games built for Tegra 3 from the ground up. Not that I can put much blame at the feet of game studios alone: the money is definitely in iOS right now. Hopefully with cheaper Tegra 3 tablets like the Nexus 7 hitting the market (and assuming people buy them in droves), this will change soon. Tegra 3 needs a few showcase killer apps. I just hope they don't come too late in its life.
One of the two speakers located along the A700's bottom edge. Ironically, employing dual speakers didn't make the sound any less muffled.
1080p and 720p movies from outside sources ran smoothly on Dice Player, and I noticed no big advantage (other than sharper subtitles) to running these movies on a higher-resolution screen.
Here are our official CNET Labs-tested battery life results. More tablet testing results can be found here.
The 1-megapixel front camera and 5-megapixel, non-LED-supported back camera don't perform beyond typical Android tablet cameras. Even with ample light, pics and video taken with the back camera produce grainy backgrounds and foreground assets look murky compared with the same assets shot with the Transformer Infinity's exceptional back camera. With much better cameras available on newer phones and the inherent douchebaggery of taking photos with your tablet, I have to wonder: if you're not going to implement your camera on a tablet at least as well as Asus does, why do it at all?
App download speeds were identical to the Infinity, downloading a 218MB version of Deer Hunter Reloaded in 122 seconds. This score was averaged over three iterations with the closed network router about 5 feet away from the tablets.
Acer placed dual speakers along the A700's bottom edge. Unfortunately, however employing dual speakers does nothing to clear up the muffled sound, especially when held in your hands. Sound improves when laying the tablet down on a flat surface, but even then, it's not as full-sounding as the Transformer Infinity's single speaker.
The Acer Iconia Tab A700 isn't in the same league as the Transformer Infinity. Asus smartly used an upgraded version of the Tegra 3 to compensate for the bandwidth demands of a high-resolution screen. Acer seemed to have simply swapped in a 1,920x1,200 screen into the A510 without much thought as to how that would affect usability. From a pure performance perspective, even the cheaper TF300 and A510 offer faster, smoother performance for less.
That's not to say A700 isn't capable of meeting plenty of tablet needs. The screen looks great and Micro-HDMI and microSD are welcome inclusions; however, there are other tablet choices out there that are worth more for the money. If a high-res Android tablet is on your wishlist, go with Transformer Infinity. If something lower-priced, but still powerful is what you long for, seek out the Transformer TF300.
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