Acer's latest Android tablet brings fast performance and a great screen to the market.
At 10.2 x 6.8 in., the A700's rounded case is slightly longer and narrower than that of the third-generation iPad, despite having a 10.1-in. screen vs. the iPad's 9.7-in. display. It's a slim 0.43 in. deep, which is in the ballpark for most 10-in. Android tablets, as is its weight of 1.47 lb. A small AC adapter and power cable adds just 0.19 lb. to that.
Available in matte silver or black, the tablet's case features a textured plastic back, making it easy to grip and carry. In addition to the power switch, the A700 has a rocker switch for raising and lowering the volume as well as a button that locks the controls.
The tablet is powered by Nvidia's 1.3GHz Tegra 3 quad-core processor. The A700 includes 1GB RAM and 32GB storage (non-upgradeable); it also offers a microSD slot on its side that boosts the A700's total storage potential to 96GB.
While the A700's display can't touch the iPad's phenomenal 2048 x 1536 resolution Retina display, its 1920 x 1080 screen is a big improvement over the 1280 x 800 resolution displays used by many other tablets. It has a secret weapon: Nvidia's GeForce 12-core graphics hardware that puts its competition to shame.
The multitouch capacitive screen, which can handle up to 10 simultaneous finger inputs, responded accurately. I used multifinger touch to rotate images and to zoom in and out. In addition, the display worked well with a Wacom Bamboo Stylus.
As with other tablets, the connection potential of the A700 is basic at best. It includes a micro-HDMI port for driving a projector or TV, a headphone jack and a microUSB port; it comes with a short USB connector cable. While it has a SIM card slot for a mobile data network, it is inactive in this model; according to Acer, SIM cards will work on the upcoming A701 model.
Like just about every other tablet, the A700 has two cameras: a 1-megapixel front-facing camera and a 5mp back-facing camera. It adds a dual-microphone array and Dolby Mobile 3 audio. I was surprised by the system's high-quality sound; it did an excellent job when I tried out some Skype video chats and made some experimental videos.
Based on the latest 4.04 update of Google's Android Ice Cream Sandwich operating system, the A700 is responsive and can run several apps at once without bogging the system down. A green bull's-eye that appears at the bottom of screens opens Acer's Ring software, an alternate interface that only covers a small part of the screen. Ring adds the ability to scroll through a circular array of large thumbnails of the system's running apps; you can also adjust the volume or jump to the Internet search screen with a single tap. (These links can be customized.)
The A700 also ships with Amazon's Kindle eBook reader app, McAfee's VirusScan Mobile and Polaris Office 3.5 for viewing Word, Excel and PowerPoint files.
Tests and benchmarks
I worked with the A700 on a daily basis for a week, and used it for a variety of tasks, from listening to audio files and viewing images and video to working with Acrobat files, playing games and reading an e-book. The tablet's 802.11n Wi-Fi connected easily with my office LAN, a mobile hot spot and -- while on a four-day cross-country trip -- several Wi-Fi networks along the way. It also offers Bluetooth.
Overall, its screen was the brightest I've seen on a tablet, and its video was smooth and well synchronized. Using the Kindle software, the A700 had enough contrast to read in sunshine.
To check its performance, I used an Android benchmark app called AnTuTu. The A700 rated a performance score of 10,644. That's more than double the results I got from two competing tablets, the Iconia Tab A200 (which scored 5,066) and the Asus Eee Pad Transformer TF101 (which scored 5,051).
My only real complaint is that the tablet heats up after prolonged use. At one point, I measured a peak temperature of 110 degrees Fahrenheit in the left back of the unit (probably where the CPU is). That being said, I never felt that it was uncomfortably warm.
The 9800mAh hour battery powered the system for 5 hours and 17 minutes of continuously playing YouTube videos over Wi-Fi. That should be enough to watch two movies (unless one of them is Lawrence of Arabia). The battery life dropped to 4 hours and 46 minutes when I watched videos by connecting its HDMI port with a TV. What this all means, however, is that the tablet should easily last through a full day's normal usage.
At $450, the A700 is priced on a par with the current crop of 10.1-in. Android tablets. That fact, along with its fine performance, great screen and long-playing battery, makes it one of the best high-tech bargains around.
Brian Nadel is a frequent contributor to Computerworld and the former editor in chief of Mobile Computing & Communications magazine.
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