Acer Iconia Tab A700 Quick Review

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Acer unveiled its Iconia Tab A700 tablet back at the CES in January, where it instantly caught our attention due to the inclusion of a 10.1 inch, higher-than-1080p 1920 x 1200 resolution display. Employing a quad-core Tegra 3 processor with GeForce GPU to help fill those pixels, the A700 sounded pretty darn impressive on paper. Now that the hardware’s finally become available, we’re able to take on hands-on look at just how Acer’s effort comes together. Will it impress, or does it fail to live up to the hype?

Specs · Hardware · User Interface/Software · Benchmarks · Battery Life · Camera · Purchasing · Conclusion · Scored for Me

Specs

So many pixels…

Obviously, the first thing we’ll want to look at when it comes to the A700 is its super-high-res screen. The 10.1-inch 1920 x 1200 display is an IPS component, with an 800:1 contrast ratio, and claimed viewing angles of 89 degrees from all directions. As you can see above, the result is a crisp, clear screen with none of the subpixel issues we see on Pentile displays.

The tablet runs an NVIDIA Tegra 3 T30S chip at 1.3GHz, and comes equipped with 1GB of RAM. We’re getting to the point where 2GB isn’t unheard of and gives apps a little more wiggle room, but we won’t hold its absence against the A700. Considering some of the performance issues the tablet faced (we’ll get to that in a minute), a slightly higher clocked SoC might have been a nice touch.

Storage options include both 16GB and 32GB of on-board flash, with expansion easily available via microSD. Officially, that microSD support only extends up to 32GB SDHC cards. I didn’t have any SDXC 64GB cards on-hand to test and see how those would work, as well, but there’s probably a good chance of getting the tablet to recognize them, especially if you were to reformat one.

The A700 features dual cameras, with a modest five-megapixel sensor on its back, and 1.3-megapixel component up front. The rear will handle 1080p video, while the front-facer maxes-out at 720p; really, you’re probably not going to need any higher resolution support from a tablet.

If even the A700’s high-res screen isn’t enough for you, there’s HDMI output for connection to a larger, external display. Acer includes the mini-HDMI adapter you’ll need right in the box.

With these powerful components under its hood, the A700 is going to be hungry for a capable battery; Acer obliges with a beefy 9800 mAh cell. That’s significantly lower than the iPad 3’s 11,560 mAh component, but marks a big step up from other 10.1-inch models like the Galaxy Tab 10.1.

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Hardware

While the A700 is a pretty sizable tablet, Acer manages to keep it relatively slim at 10.95 millimeters; it’s no iPad, but it doesn’t feel uncomfortably thick. The tablet’s face measure 10.23 inches across by 6.89 inches tall. It’s fairly heavy, weighing-in at 1lb, 7.45oz.

On the left side, we’ve got a 1/8-inch stereo headphone jack, as well as the power button. There’s a built-in LED to alert you of power and charge status. Up top, you’ll find the volume toggle, with some nicely-raised pips to let you feel which direction is which without looking. The only problem there is that they’re not exactly intuitive; you’d think two pips would be volume up, and one pip volume down, but the reverse is true. Next to that control is a hardware lock switch, to keep any craziness from inadvertently happening while carrying the tablet in a crowded bag. You won’t see that on every tablet, so it’s a nice touch to find here.

Over on the right, there’s the Micro HDMI output for connecting the A700 to full-sized monitors. Below that, a little flap protects the microSD slot as well as the SIM slot, for cell-enabled versions of the hardware (this is WiFi-only). The flap feels reasonably well-made, but being so long, thin, and plastic, there does seem to be the potential for damaging it if you don’t keep it properly snapped shut.

The A700’s bottom edge reveals its Micro USB port for PC connectivity and charging, as well as recessed slots for the tablet’s stereo speakers. The port is slightly non-standard, set to match the included AC adapter. The rear panel, despite its silvery appearance (the A700 is also available in black), is very much plastic, a fact that’s hard to forget when handling the tablet. Despite a bit of texturing, it feels slightly too smooth, and sweaty hands will quickly find themselves sliding all over it. It also has a bit of give in the middle, which doesn’t do much to suggest very high build quality.

While rounded on its long edges, the short edges of the A700 are flat.

The tablet’s display is just beautiful, like we’d hope for, but it’s not without its own issues. While very bright, and generally consistent across the expanse of the screen, on the tablet we checked out there was a noticeable drop-off in brightness a couple millimeters from one edge of the screen, as if the backlight just didn’t extend far enough. It ultimately didn’t detract from the A700’s usability any, but it’s not the sort of thing you’d expect from a well-made screen.

There’s also quite a noticeable heat issue with the A700, and one side of the tablet’s back becomes noticeably warm even after just short periods of use. Some users have worked out a fix that involves applying some extra thermal compound, which seems to make a big improvement. Unfortunately, it’s not exactly easy to just snap the tablet open and perform the mod, nor can it be done while keeping your warranty intact.

A tablet this big isn’t for everyone. While I found it more or less comfortable to use, if you’ve got smaller hands, or limited space in your bag, a 10.1-incher might not be for you. As you can see when we compare the A700 against the 8.9-inch Galaxy Tab, the Samsung model itself is only a tiny bit larger than the actual screen area on the A700. That only gets us thinking about how sweet it would be to see the bezel size really shrink down on some of these Android tablets; sure, you need somewhere to hold them, but we don’t need an equally-thick bezel along all the tablet’s edges.

The Galaxy Tab’s more contoured design makes it trickier to directly compare its thickness against the A700’s. Granted, we’re only talking about a difference of two millimeters, but the combination of that and the smoother design make the Galaxy Tab 8.9 feel substantially thinner than the A700, more so than the measurements themselves would suggest.

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User Interface/Software

The Iconia Tab A700 currently runs Android 4.0.4. We’d love to see what Jelly Bean would do to help improve on a few things, but for the moment, while other Acer models like A500 are seeing unofficial Jelly Bean ports, the A700 hasn’t received the same level of independent developer support.

Acer tweaks the standard ICS UI with its Acer Ring quick-launch system. Tapping on the yellow circle at the bottom of the screen pulls-up this menu, giving you a volume control slider, quick access to a few apps (you can customize the selection in system settings), and a thumbnail display of bookmarked websites to visit.

Acer tries to do a little Cover Flow impersonation with those thumbnails, but the implementation misses the mark a little; there’s not the proper sense of momentum, and individual thumbnails tend to suddenly pop to the foreground without a graceful transition. On the other hand, the built-in screenshot control is a welcome presence, although if you’re trying to capture a fleeting event, the nature of the Ring, and how it can take a small moment to appear, can make you miss the mark.

The tablet’s lock screen gets some quick-launch apps like on the Acer Ring, also customizable from with the system settings menus.

With the kind of hardware that’s inside the A700, we had some pretty high expectations for its performance. Unfortunately, it’s not quite all the way there when it comes to the Android UI. Scrolling is by-and-large fast and responsive, but there is some barely-perceptible lag with touch input, and things can tend to stutter a little; you can almost sense when the tablet is trying to read data as it updates the screen. We’ve got our fingers crossed that Jelly Bean’s “Project Butter” enhancements could be the saving grace the A700’s UI performance needs, but that’s just not an available option at the moment. Acer has reportedly confirmed an official release of Jelly Bean in the works for several of its tablets, so we’re hoping it comes through soon.

The A700 arrives without any really objectionable bloat, and the pre-loaded software titles are overall quite decent. The file explorer, for one, is a nice touch, and is the sort of app we’d hope to standard on all Android models. The games are a mixed bag; Monopoly looks and plays great, while Real Racing 2 seems to struggle to keep up its frame rate even on this Tegra 3 hardware. It’s worth mentioning that these games aren’t really pre-loaded, and require substantial downloads upon first running them. Real Racing 2, after retrieving the data it needed, kept crashing on us until forcing a device reset; not exactly the experience you want from software that ships with a device.

That questionable gaming performance speaks to one problem with 1080p devices; they demand proportionally more processing power to run at such a high resolution. As a result, frame rates were very inconsistent throughout our tests. Again, this is something we’re hoping might see improvement with the release of Jelly Bean.

To the tablet’s credit, games can look beautiful with all these pixels adding up to lush, fully-realized environments. The problem is just a seeming inability to get all those pixels updated at the sort of brisk pace we’d expect from a quad-core machine. It’s clear that the hardware is trying very hard – I wouldn’t necessarily describe any of the games I checked out as jerky to the point of being unplayable, but for really demanding titles, you can kiss the hope of a silky-smooth frame rate goodbye.

On the other hand, less demanding apps can be absolutely fantastic on the A700. If you’re more an Angry Birds guy than a FPS fan, Angry Birds Space plays like a dream on the tablet. It’s not like we’d expect anything else, but the high resolution really shines in titles like this, giving you a full view of even large playfields.

 

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Benchmarks

We can talk all day about impressions of the A700’s performance; how does the tablet actually stack-up when we run some proper benchmarks?

Quadrant scores are respectable, like we’d hope to see from a quad-core device, but not all such Androids are created the same, and as you can see the A700 is a far cry from leading the pack. Looking at just where it failed, it seems that the tablet is running into an I/O bottleneck, which may be keeping it from performing as well as it otherwise possibly could.

The A700’s AnTuTu score of just under 11,000 puts it slightly above models like the ASUS Transformer Prime (unlike thos Quadrant scores), while it falls short of the Galaxy S III with its Exynos 4 Quad; here, at least, there really aren’t any surprises, and the small differences in rankings compared to Quadrant can be explained by differences in testing routines.

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Battery Life

While the A700’s battery capacity is sizable, the tablet’s also quite demanding with its power requirements. Even with screen brightness turned all the way, down, the display is still quite the power thief.

We didn’t end up running the battery all the way down during testing, but just a couple hours’ use can easily knock 40% off a full charge. When in standby, with WiFi off, you can probably expect a fully-charged A700 to hold its charge for just under two weeks.

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Camera

Unfortunately, the camera on our A700 was seriously messed-up, to the point of being non-functional. The corrupted camera output, apparently reading data from the wrong parts of memory, seems to speak to a software glitch, rather than a hardware problem. Despite this, the issue remained even following hardware resets and a firmware upgrade.

If we’re ever able to get a proper assessment of the A700’s camera performance, we’ll be sure to update our review.

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Purchasing

The Acer A700 is available now from US retailers. That includes both brick-and-mortar stores like Best Buy, as well as online sellers such as Amazon. You should expect to pay between $430 and $450 for the 32GB edition.

We’ve heard that the A700 was set to become available in Europe last quarter, and sales are reportedly open in some markets already, but we have yet to see it arrive with major retailers like Clove or Carphone Warehouse in the UK.

Pros

      • + Big, beautiful, high-res display
      • + Dolby Mobile audio surprisingly effective; big, full sound
      • + Excellent responsiveness to screen rotations
      • + Small but decent selection of pre-loaded apps

Cons

      • – Frame rates not as smooth as we’d hoped
      • – Build quality issues with backlight, overheating
      • – Our model’s camera was on the fritz
      • – A bit on the heavy side, but it’s not a dealbreaker

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Conclusion

The A700 feels like an ambitious device that maybe was released a little too early. With some more time spent finalizing engineering issues, perhaps some of those hardware problems we spoke of could have been adequately addressed. The heat problem, especially, is one that seems like someone really should have taken the time to investigate prior to the tablet’s release. This isn’t Acer’s first tablet by a long shot, so it’s hard to have much sympathy for the company; ultimately, the A700 should have been much more impressive than the tablet we ended up with.

It’s not a bad tablet, though, and eventually once it drops a little in price and gets Jelly Bean, we’ll be rethinking things. We also know that Android’s got its work cut out for it if it wants to be seen as the platform for superior tablets, so we’re holding its high-end tablets to some pretty lofty standards; if your expectations are a little more relaxed, the A700 might be a good fit for you.

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About The Author
Stephen Schenck
Stephen has been writing about electronics since 2008, which only serves to frustrate him that he waited so long to combine his love of gadgets and his degree in writing. In his spare time, he collects console and arcade game hardware, is a motorcycle enthusiast, and enjoys trapping blue crabs. Stephen's first mobile device was a 624 MHz Dell Axim X30, which he's convinced is still a viable platform. Stephen longs for a market where phones are sold independently of service, and bandwidth is cheap and plentiful; he's not holding his breath. In the meantime, he devours smartphone news and tries to sort out the juicy bitsRead more about Stephen Schenck!