I keep thinking that somebody, somewhere, will finally step up and give the iPad some honest competition in the tablet-computing market. But so far, iPad alternatives like HP's problematic, since-shelved TouchPad have mainly served as a warning to others: Abandon hope, all ye who enter here.
Acer's Iconia Tab A100 series should have had better odds. By building this trio of Wi-Fi tablets around a 7.7-in. touch screen instead of a 9 or 10-in. display, Acer avoided committing the cardinal sin of iPad competition: charging the same or almost as much as Apple for a device no lighter or smaller than the iPad.
Instead, the A100 starts at just $329.99 for a model with 8 gigabytes of memory; the 16-GB model Acer loaned for this review sells for $349.99. At .9 lbs., it's notably lighter than the 1.3-lb. iPad 2. The A100 could be the paperback of tablets.
But this theoretically appealing device is betrayed by its software and its battery.
Like many other tablets running Google's mobile operating system, the A100 uses a version of Android called Honeycomb that was written for larger screens. (Acer's entry was the first 7-in. Android tablet to ship with this edition when it arrived last month.) But updates to Honeycomb since its debut on Motorola's deeply flawed Xoom have not cured its stability problems, to judge from the review A100's penchant for spontaneously rebooting.
Meanwhile, the selection of tablet-optimized apps continues to lag light-years behind the iPad's. On Apple's tablet, you notice the absence of iPad versions of a few high-profile programs; here, the presence of Honeycomb-friendly apps is more remarkable. For every Evernote that's been rewritten to make effective use of a tablet's expanded screen, dozens of other programs merely expand a phone interface to cartoonish dimensions.
Updates to Honeycomb and to Android apps could solve many of these issues. But I don't know if there's anything Acer can do to fix the A100's woeful battery life. While the review model lasted for almost seven hours of uninterrupted Pandora Internet-radio playback (with the screen left on all the time), its standby battery life was nowhere as good. Sometimes, simply leaving the device asleep overnight left it drained by morning.
Credit: Rob Pegoraro/Discovery