Acer Iconia A1: Small Android tablet for tight budgets [Review]

acer-iconia-A1-830-front_fullwidthAcer is probably not the first company you will think of when you start pondering tablets -- but in fact it has quite a pedigree. It has forayed into Windows-based tablets, with recent examples being the Iconia W4 and the Iconia W700 -- an attempt at an all-in-one/tablet combo. And its Android-based tablets are plentiful with A and B series lines alongside the more recently announced Tab 7 and One 7. ITProPortal actually reviewed the predecessor to this new model, the Iconia A1-810, last summer.

As tablets go the 16GB Acer Iconia A1-830 is a bit of a baby. It has a 7.9-inch screen, just a bit larger than the 7-inch Kindle Fire HDX and Nexus 7, and the same as the iPad mini. Its price marks it out as a budget buy at £140. For reference, the Nexus 7 16GB and 16GB Kindle Fire HDX 7-inch are both £199. The 16GB iPad mini is over £300.

So, with the Kindle and Nexus being obvious rivals for Android fans, Acer has to do some fancy footwork to win plaudits and make its £60 lighter price tag feel like good value rather than excessive corner cutting.

First impressions are quite positive. Yes, there's a lot of screen bezel on the short edges, but actually that can be a good thing. Holding the Acer Iconia A1-830 in widescreen mode, there was no danger of my fingers accidentally tapping at the screen's edges.

The screen itself is not too bad. The 1,024 x 768 pixels might not win any prizes up against the Nexus 7 and Kindle's 1,920 x 1,200 resolution, and the iPad mini's 2,048 x 1,536 -- but it is good enough for text to be readable and not fuzzy.

There's no auto brightness setting. This is always a bit of a nuisance, but at least you can pull down the brightness control from the notifications area to make manual adjustments. I had to rack brightness up to full whack to feel comfortable, but once that was done, I was happy. Acer talks up the screen's wide viewing angles -- they are indeed pretty good, though when you get to quite a sharp angle the reflectiveness of the screen cuts in to obscure what you're looking it.

The build is remarkably nice considering this is a low cost tablet. The white and silver colour scheme is an obvious homage to Apple, and it looks appealing. The matte metallic finish to the aluminium backplate looks nice, and it wraps around three of the four edges of the tablet, finishing in a shiny silver strip tying the front to the sides. On the non-metallic top edge a lozenge of white plastic provides slots for the charging cable and headphones. While this tablet is a little on the thick side, the whole build feels quite sturdy.

The power and volume rockers are white buttons sitting on the right edge. The overall look is pretty nice, though a couple of things let it down. There's a microSD card slot on the right edge which is uncovered and makes a rather ugly gash on the chassis. The microUSB, headset and microSD card slots are identified by symbols or words. Really, Acer, I don't think that's necessary and it just adds visual clutter.

acer-iconia-A1-830-rear-angle_originalThere are two speaker grilles on the back. They're nicely located as they are not easily covered while you're holding the tablet. Sound quality isn't great, but it is pretty loud. There is also a 5 megapixel camera on the back and a 2 megapixel one on the front. Neither is particularly remarkable and there's a lot of shutter lag -- you'll need a steady hand to get passable results.

One big surprise with the Iconia A1-830 is its processor: A dual-core Intel Atom 1.6GHz Z2560 is not exactly a popular choice for Android tablets. It has 1GB of RAM in support, and the good news is that it proved to be a decent performer.

There's always a certain irritation about response speeds when using lower-powered tablets. Whereas with higher-powered tablets, apps appear to run immediately when you tap, here there is a microsecond delay. The wait is longer and more noticeable when the Iconia A1-830 has to resolve a fair bit of data, performing tasks like zooming into a Google Maps location or presenting a web page after you've selected it following a search. These are not deal-breaking problems, though, and many people unaccustomed to using top tier products probably won't even notice an issue.

On board storage is set at 16GB and 11.25GB of this is free for your use. In conjunction with that microSD card this should be enough. A big irritation with this tablet is that it comes with Android 4.2 installed. That's now so far behind the times that it's a deal breaker. It is unskinned, and has been augmented by lots and lots of apps, some from Acer like AcerCloud, but many from third parties. Here's a list of a few: Amazon app store, Astro File Manager, Audible, Barcode scanner, Evernote, Kindle, Kobo, Life Image (an image-based journal type app), and more. There are various Amazon apps, actually -- and they are the only ones you can delete manually.

acer-iconia-A1-830-side_fullwidth

Battery life is reasonable, with the 4,000mAh cell seeing me happily through a day's browsing, gaming, reading and whatnot, though anecdotally I don't think it would last as long as that of my everyday Nexus 7. Indeed if weighing up between these two models, I'd advise anyone to try to save a bit more cash and go for the Nexus. Still, if the budget is really tight and you just can't wait, the Acer A1-830 should be serviceable.

Verdict

You might not immediately think of Acer when looking at tablet options, but if you are on a really tight budget and want to give a 7.9-inch Android tablet a go, it would be worth glancing in the direction of the Acer Iconia A1-830. Its biggest problems are poor cameras and the old version of Android on board, but if you can see past these issues, this isn't a bad buy.

Manufacturer and Model Acer Iconia A1-830
Processor 1.6GHz Intel Atom Z2560 dual-core
Ram 1GB
Memory 16GB
Memory expansion microSD
Display 7.9in, 1,024 x 768 pixels, 162ppi
Connectors MicroUSB, MicroSD, headphones
Main camera 5 megapixel
Front camera 2 megapixel
WiFi 802.11 b/g/n
Battery 4,000mAh
Size 138.4 x 8.2 x 203mm (WxDxH)
Weight 380g
OS Android 4.2

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