Toshiba's AT200 comes with a 10.1 inch screen and runs on the Android Honeycomb operating system.
AT200 is a 10.1 inch tablet from Toshiba that runs on the Android Honeycomb operating system. It’s built with 64 GB of memory built-in that is expandable with the microSD card slot. AT200s have Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity and a microHDMI out port. It has a 5 megapixel rear camera and a 2 megapixel front-facing camera. It does support Flash.
Review: The Acer Iconia Tab A500 boasts specs on par with many more expensive competitors, but picks up weight in exchange for its low price tag.
It’s a season for new operating systems. Last week, the BlackBerry PlayBook hit shelves and now the Acer Iconia Tab A500 is bringing Android 3.0 (Honeycomb) to a sub-$500 price point. But how does Acer’s new tablet compare to the iPad, G-Slate, Xoom, and Galaxy Tab? Pretty well, actually.
Acer has had a tough time breaking into the Android smartphone market, but its background in PCs and laptops is a strength when developing a larger tablet like the 10.1-inch Iconia Tab. The tablet isn’t as sleek as the iPad or PlayBook, but it looks a lot more useful from the get-go, with a full-size USB port on the side, a MicroSD slot, two rear speakers, a mini HDMI port, two cameras, an LED flash, a high-speed charging port, a stereo headphone jack, and a standard MicroUSB port. Its power button is also in a good spot and easy to press (unlike the PlayBook’s).
The volume rocker and screen-locking toggle are less exciting. It’s a bit difficult to know when you’re pressing volume up or down on the unit, and the button for it is hard to press, in general. While the PlayBook has a prominently placed menu item for locking the orientation of the screen (if you don’t want it shifting whenever you rotate the screen), the Iconia Tab’s iPod-style locking switch seems a bit unnecessary and in the way. The same goes for its bulbous docking port, for which you’ll get no use unless you plan on coughing up another $80 to dock your Iconia Tab.
The Iconia Tab A500′s design is two-toned. If held horizontally, a shiny black border surrounds the screen and extends out to the left and right edges. A plastic case with a brushed-metal design covers the back and clamps the top and bottom of the unit, giving it a nice tapered edge that, while not as sexy as an Apple product, does make it easier to hold.
It’s a good thing that the A500 is easy to hold too, because it’s the heaviest tablet on the market so far, weighing 730 grams — slightly more than the Motorola Xoom. Fortunately, the Iconia Tab, while heavy, has a more balanced weight distribution than Motorola’s tablet. The A500 also has competitive enough stats to justify its weight with 16GB of built in storage, a 1GHz dual-core Nvidia Tegra 2 processor, 1GB of RAM, a 5-megapixel rear camera, a 2-megapixel front camera, and all those ports.
The Iconia Tab’s screen is a standard 1280 x 800 resolution, though its colors seem a bit washed out compared with the iPad 2 and PlayBook. The touch sensitive grid is also more visible than we would like. However, these problems are minor, at most.
Most problems we’ve had with the Iconia Tab aren’t hardware issues. Most of them are caused by the still buggy and unintuitive Android 3.0 (Honeycomb) OS. There were a lot of complaints about BlackBerry’s tablet, but the PlayBook’s operating system and iOS run circles around Android 3.0 in usability, design, and stability. Instead of looking forward, Google seems to have taken a step back in intuitive design, making the touch-based Honeycomb more like Microsoft Windows than anything else. And if you’ve ever tried to use Windows on a touchscreen, you know how much we just insulted Android 3.0. The PlayBook and iPad have operating systems that are built around a consistent user experience and universal gestures. Google’s first tablet OS is a chore to set up and forces users to build their desktops from scratch. Worse, it has an ugly, bland Tron-like design scheme to it that actually makes the experience less exciting than if it had no style at all, like previous versions of Android. Actions and gestures are inconsistent and the placement of items is baffling, at times. While Android has always lead the pack in multitasking and notifications, the PlayBook may have it beat. Android 3.0′s multitasking elements are not well implemented.
We’re not huge fans of Android 3.0, but it is still the only real option for a manufacturer like Acer. For its part, Acer’s assortment of apps and widgets do not make Android any worse or slower than it already is. The unit comes preloaded with a couple new media players — nemoPlayer and Clear.fi — which are both probably better than Google’s default player. Several nice-looking bookshelf organizing folders are also included for different app types. There’s a folder for eReading, Games, Multimedia, and Social. A SocialJogger app that combines your Facebook and Twitter streams is also available. Most of these weren’t really our thing, but none are harmful. It’s nice that Acer includes Docs To Go as well, since Google has failed to develop its own mobile or tablet versions of Microsoft’s Office suite.
The tablet also comes with two games: Lets Golf HD and Need For Speed: Shift. Both are a fun diversion and make use of the system’s 3D capabilities (no, not the kind of 3D with glasses).
Downloading apps is easy with the Android Market. We downloaded about 20. Running these apps, most of which we’ve used before on mobile versions of Android, wasn’t very fun. While some apps have updated interfaces that take advantage of Android 3.0′s features, most do not, and there is no way to know if your favorite app has made the leap. Running old apps is usually okay, but the menu buttons are in a different place (perhaps better) than updated apps. Others, like Jewellust, are completely broken. Google needs to start requiring developers to adhere to better menu standards inside apps. There are plenty of app, but they are all messy on a tablet.
This is another category that falls on Google’s shoulders. The Web browser in Honeycomb is not up to par with the iPad or BlackBerry PlayBook. It isn’t as good as the Android 2.2 browser running on the Samsung Galaxy Tab. At best, the browser renders Web pages in a blurry and ugly way. At worst, it crashes when you try to load complex sites. Oddly, Google’s tablet browser also tends to load mobile versions of sites, which tend to look rather odd when stretched over a 10.1-inch screen. Webpages also don’t reorient themselves particularly well when switched from landscape to vertical mode. Many apps also crashed when switching orientations. Acer’s dedicated orientation lock is making more sense now.
Though the Iconia Tab’s speakers certainly aren’t anything grand, they are great for a tablet. Acer’s decision to include Dolby sound is one of the best things the tablet has going it. It’s remarkable how much deeper and less tinny music can sound with headphones or from the speakers using Dolby’s technology. We almost didn’t discover this difference, either. For some reason, Acer disables Dolby at first. It’s up to you to dig into the Settings and turn it on. You’ll really notice the difference when you wear headphones. It seems like computer makers are taking sound more seriously these days. We couldn’t be happier.
The A500′s battery life is slightly less than the 10-hour standard Apple has set for the category. According to Acer, the unit’s battery lasts about 8 hours if you’re watching nothing but movies. For Web browsing, the number is a bit higher. This is about on par with what I’ve been seeing. The battery definitely doesn’t last as long as the PlayBook or iPad, but eight hours isn’t bad.
Acer’s Iconia Tab A500 is one of the, if not the, best Android 3.0 tablets on the market. We prefer it to the Xoom and at $450, it is most definitely a hell of a lot cheaper than the G-Slate ($750) or Xoom ($800), yet offers almost identical, if not better, specs. It’s even cheaper than the PlayBook and iPad 2 by a cool $50 as well.
The two big downsides to the Iconia Tab are its weight and its operating system. At about 1.7 pounds, it is heavier than the Xoom, so if you’re looking for a mobile tablet, this may not be the one for you. Its OS, Android 3.0, is still a bit too unstable and quirky for our tastes, especially when pitted against refined experiences like Apple’s iOS or even Android 2.3. We hope Google takes a good hard look at Android 3.0 and fixes it up in the next few months.
However, if you’re looking at a larger tablet and know all about Android 3.0 (we recommend you get yourself to a retailer and try it out), the Acer Iconia Tab A500 is the best deal around. It has specs that compare with the best at the lowest price. Win.
Description: The Xoom is an oldie, but a goodie. It got a bad rap for not destroying the iPad and failing to deliver LTE and Flash out of the gate, but since then it’s been the most reliable tablet for updates and has equal specs to most tablets and a basic, but acceptable design.
Samsung is hell bent on beating the iPad at its own game. Apple may not appreciate the Korean manufacturer’s dedication to attacking the tablet market, but we do. Unlike Apple, Samsung has been experimenting with every screen size imaginable from 4 inches all the way up to 10.1 inches. With the Galaxy Tab 8.9 though, we think they may have hit the sweet spot. While a lot of Android tablets feel slightly too large and heavy at 10.1 inches, the Galaxy Tab 8.9 is just thin enough, light enough, and small enough to work as a tablet. While we like the Galaxy Tab 10.1, the 8.9 proves that sometimes size does matter.
Design and feel
Like the Galaxy Tab 10.1 before it, Samsung’s 8.9-inch tablet is the best looking tablet outside of Apple’s iPad 2. It bests Motorola’s Xoom, Toshiba’s Thrive, Acer’s Iconia Tabs and everything else in almost every area (except price and ports). The 8.9 is only 8.6mm thick and weighs just about a pound (15.98oz, 453g). It is 0.2mm thinner and a third of a pound lighter than Apple’s tablet. The savings in weight come from the use of a plastic shell in lieu of the aluminum shell the iPad uses, but as with the Tab 10.1, we think the company did a good enough job bringing a premium feel to the tablet, despite its plastic shell. This feels much more high-end than some of Samsung’s very plasticy, shiny phones. If you only glance at it or encounter it in passing, you’ll likely think it is made of metal.
The slightly smaller screen size compliments the weight and thinness of the Tab 8.9 perfectly. Unlike 10.1-inch screens, this 8.9-inch display sacrifices no detail or resolution (it’s still 1280 x 800 pixels like the 10.1), but manages to be just small enough to allow thumb typing across the screen when in landscape mode, among other benefits. Combined with Samsung’s improvements to Android 3.1 (Honeycomb) — which we delve into below — the 8.9 is perhaps the most comfortable tablet to use. It has enough screen space to use as a media player, e-book reader, or full Web browser, but is also small enough to thumb type on and casually carry with you. 10.1-inch Android tablets have been too large and heavy by comparison, and 7-inch Android tablets are almost too small, feeling more like a smartphone than a full-fledged device. If there is a sweet spot, this is it, or very close to it.
Unfortunately, the Galaxy Tab 8.9 shares the same downside as the Galaxy Tab 10.1: There is only one port on the whole tablet. It’s a proprietary port on the bottom, and it looks just like the Apple iPad and iPod port. If you want to connect up a computer via USB, or a TV via HDMI, you’ll need to buy an adapter. We definitely wish that Samsung had used Micro USB for its charging solution, but the lack of a port is not a deal breaker for us. If it is for you, you should also know that the battery is not removable and there is no microSD card slot.
Power and battery life
Under the hood, Samsung has packed in the same specs as the Galaxy Tab 10.1, meaning the same specs that almost all Android tablets have. That includes a 1280 x 800 pixel touchscreen, 1GHz dual-core Tegra 2 processor, 16GB or 32GB of internal storage, and 1GB of RAM. Samsung’s 3-megapixel rear camera is fairly weak when compared to some competitors, but its screen makes up the difference. It’s brighter, more vivid, and has a wider viewing angle than most other tablet screens we’ve used.
As for raw power, the units Quadrant score (a benchmarking app) is about 2,450, or about 450 better than the Galaxy Tab 10.1. We’re not sure how it outperformed the 10.1, but it did consistently. For reference, a Droid X (1GHz single-core Android phone) gets a score of about 1,300 and the original Droid has a score of about 300. This test measures CPU, memory, I/O, 2D graphics, and 3D graphics.
As for battery life, we’ve been using the Tab for several weeks now and have only charged it twice. Thanks to Samsung’s built-in battery-saving software, it runs longer between charges than any tablet we’ve seen. We have no complaints about the 8.9′s battery life. We can only hope that more tablets are able to do what Samsung’s done here.
The size and weight of the Galaxy Tab 8.9 are half of what makes it a better tablet to use than some of the competition, but Samsung’s modifications to Android 3.1 (Honeycomb), collectively called TouchWiz, account for most of the other half. Many tablets use Google’s default design, which looks a lot like an interface from Tron: Legacy. It’s cold and lacks personality.
We can’t say that Samsung’s tablet has more personality, but it sure feels much warmer and more pleasant to use. Glowing edges have been replaced with thin edges, colors, and whites. Samsung has replaced the ugly navigation buttons and clock with a slick, almost Windows Phone-like design. Useful new widgets for weather, email, social networking, calendar, and clock are also pleasant and look much cleaner than Google’s designs. Samsung has also added hot buttons to turn on and off Wi-Fi, notifications, GPS, rotation, and sound without having to enter settings. Occasionally, Google’s default theme creeps in, like when turning up and down the volume, and its an unwanted distraction, but luckily this is rare.
Most of Samsung’s apps are so-so. For some reason, manufacturers seem hell bent on replacing Android’s built-in email app and music player, and Samsung is no different. You’ll find Samsung’s attempts here somewhat underwhelming, as is Samsung’s app store. We like the built-in file manager and memo app, but that’s about it for built-in software. Some apps are able to be removed, but not core Samsung apps.
The most interesting change up to Android Honeycomb in the Galaxy Tab is Samsung’s addition of six Live Tile widget apps. The task manager, calendar, world clock, pen memo, calculator, and music player are all available as miniature apps via a tray at the bottom (just hit the arrow pointing up in the center). These apps come up as movable, windowed applications with an X in the upper right, much like what you’ve been used to in Windows and Mac operating systems for 20 years now. They aren’t resizable, and they don’t honestly serve a huge purpose, but we like the concept. Moving forward, we hope Google makes Android apps more flexible like these, allowing apps to take up less than the full screen.
The Galaxy Tab 8.9 will not get famous for its camera. At 3 megapixels, it’s not nearly as good as the camera on the BlackBerry PlayBook or some other tablets—though it may be comparable to the iPad’s anemic camera. It has a decent flash, but the camera’s focusing speed and time-to-shot is quite slow. You can auto focus on anything by tapping on the screen, but again, it’s slow. We found that shots had a decent amount of color, but low and moderately lit shots came out quite grainy. Video is equally weak. The front-facing camera is 2 megapixels.
With Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich) just around the corner, the entire interface of the Galaxy Tab 8.9 may change soon, but from the looks of it, Google’s new OS appears to take some cues (like the font) from Samsung’s TouchWiz UI. We hope that the interface will remain vibrant and the widgets will stay through the transition, but regardless, today the Galaxy Tab 8.9 is a fantasticAndroid-based tablet and quite possibly your best alternative to the iPad 2. By manufacturing a tablet at every size, Samsung has stumbled on a great medium between the hefty 10.1-inch tablets and the diminutive 7-inch tablets. We’ve had the Xoom, PlayBook, and other tablets sitting around our office all year now, but the Galaxy Tab 8.9 is the first device we’ve used on a daily basis. It’s just more comfortable to hold and operate than anything else outside of the iPad. We only wish, at $470, it was a bit cheaper.
Sony’s Cybershot series have been popular point-and-shoots, with their sleek build and—dare we say iconic—sliding front panel. Fans of the lineup will approve of the Tx55‘s upgrades and incredibly small packaging (it’s the thinnest Cyber-shot yet). It includes a host of features that point-and-shoot buyers are expecting more and more, including a touchscreen, face detection, and sweep panorama.