Acer Iconia A1-810 review

Tablets have exploded on to the tech scene quite unlike any other product in the last few years. The Acer Iconia A1-810 can't perhaps be awarded with the same explosive level of anticipation compared to the levels raised by the announcements of the iPad mini or the Nexus 7, but the 8-inch Iconia A1 is rather like those two competitor models combined into one unit.

READ: Google Nexus 7 review

The Iconia Tab A1-810 comes complete with an 8-inch screen which places it firmly in the smaller-scale tablets category. Just like the iPad mini - as the A1 shares the same screen size and resolution, although they're not the same screens - the Iconia A1-810 will appeal to those seeking that ideal on-the-go size, but with a nearer-to-Nexus-7 sized price tag. Does Acer's Android-OS tablet deliver the goods for its £175 asking price?

Design

From the front the A1 looks much like the iPad mini. Size and bezel width are much the same between the two devices. So it's off to a good start. But that all changes in the hand - the plasticky finish doesn't feel as luxurious, while the 410g weight and thicker 11.1mm height make it heavier than the competition. All in all, it's a fair front-on package given the price tag - it is almost £100 less than the iPad mini with like-for-like Wi-Fi and 16GB storage, which is reflected fairly in the build materials.

READ: Apple iPad mini review

To the side that 11.1mm is made up of around two thirds silver-like plastic, with a join-line connecting to a white plastic rear. Similar build quality as above is ample, but it's more what can be found around the sides that pleases: namely, the inclusion of a microSD port. That means  it's possible to pop in up to 64GB of extra storage in the A1. That's a whole lot of extra movies, files and whatever else you may need to carry around on the go.

We've been using the Iconia over the course of a week and found that in both portrait or landscape mode the front border-bezel provided enough space for thumbs resting to the edge whether holding with one or two hands. That makes for an open view of the 8-inch, 4:3 aspect ratio screen. That latter point is a critical one in itself: 4:3 isn't the typical format of many multimedia devices and the 160 x 120mm (approx) screen has a more eReader feel to it than the common 16:9 HD displays of many models.

Resolution, too, isn't great. The 1024 x 768 pixel panel may match up to the iPad mini's so-so display, and while it succeeds in delivering a good enough visual experience - colours are bright, viewing angle is quite reasonable - we've found the bright British summer sun combined with the reflective screen are not a good combination. 

The A1 also has a mini-HDMI out port to its right side should you want to output to another device; a mini-USB in to the base side for file transfer and charging from powered devices or the mains; a 3.5mm headphones jack also to the base side to prevent obscuring wires getting in the way of the screen when in use; finished up with a volume up/down control to the right side and an on/off switch to the top. The usual stuff, pretty much, positioned well for use and responsive to the touch in every case.

Performance

The A1 has made its getaway with us on planes, trains and just around the office for various tasks - so we've given it a good run for its money.

Under the hood of the A1 is a 1.2GHz quad-core processor and 1GB of RAM. The quad-core part makes that sound rather nifty - and while you can't anticipate next-gen graphics to bound around your screen we did find the latest 3D app titles - including Despicable Me's Minion Rush - to run with minimal fuss and a decent frame rate. Of course there are no HD graphics to be had as the screen is not able to reproduce such a resolution.

Watching movies on the plane worked just fine, with a decent amount of volume available through the headphones. The screen is hardly exceptional in terms of delivering that truly top-spec experience, but it was preferable to the shabby in-flight entertainment's awful viewing angle, screen size and quality.

The battery does a good job of holding out too. The 5280 mAh battery has a larger capacity than that of the iPad mini's, and was delivering somewhere in the region of 8-hours playback and usage time depending on what we were doing. Constant gaming, for example, will suck the power up a lot quicker. 

As an Android device the touchscreen is a very important element. We found the A1 responded well to our taps, pinches and swipes and while fingermarks are present, they rub off with relative ease. The usual trio of soft keys is illuminated at the screen's base when in operation too - back, home and display all app windows - which is a staple of navigating around Android.

The Acer rendition of Android is slightly different from other devices:in addition to the typical all-apps Android screen, there's an immediate home screen that displays the time, date and temperature alongside select apps which can be added to this page by pressing and holding on to their shortcuts. If you've got loads of apps then multiple screens can cater for these - without the time, date and temperature stamp using up half the space. To the base of the screen are the usual mainstay apps, such as Google Play store, calendar, Google Maps and Google Mail for quick access to those most-used products, it's all very Android and it all runs well.

If you're the kind who likes to use your tablet to take pictures then the Acer A1 can cater for those needs too. Just about. The 5-megapixel rear camera and 3-megapixel front cameras have their uses, but stills photography isn't going to blow anyone away - they're useful for sharing quick snaps or real-time face-to-face chatter, but that's as far as it goes. An essential to have but essentially average.

Verdict

Even though the Acer Iconia A1-810 connects via Wi-Fi only - for 3G connectivity look at the A1-811 - it delivers plenty for its £175 price tag.

It's that price point that really works its magic, as this tablet is much like an Android-version of the iPad mini on a stripped-back budget in many respects. If you're content with a plasticky, rather than more luxury build quality then the Iconica A1 gets plenty right, and goes a step further than the locked-down competition by offering a microSD card slot for expanded storage with minimal fuss.

But the so-so screen resolution and overall quality are limiting and the device didn't quite wow us - with competitors such as the slightly smaller, 16:9 aspect ratio Nexus 7 available for a few quid less the A1 has its work cut out, even if it is a decent all-rounder.