Acer Iconia Tab A510 £400
14th Jun 2012 | 13:33
An affordable entry to the high-end quad-core tablet party, but lacking in any stand-out features
Acer is the latest manufacturer to gatecrash the Nvidia Tegra 3 party, with a tablet that it teased way back in January at CES – the Acer Iconia Tab A510 – now finally ready to hit the shops.
Looking a lot like its predecessor, the Acer Iconia Tab A500, but with the quad-core grunt that Nvidia's Tegra 3 system-on-a-chip provides, the Acer Iconia Tab A510 is a tablet that will hit the upper echelons of the tablet hierarchy.
But Acer's new toy has a trump card over its main rivals – it's lowly price-tag.
While you'd need to splash out almost £480 to pick up a 32GB third-generation iPad, or a penny-shy of £500 for Asus' flagship tab – you won't need to spend more than £350 to take an Acer Iconia Tab A510 home.
It's even £50 cheaper than Asus' budget Tegra 3 option – the Transformer Pad 300 (although you don't get the 300's keyboard dock).
Priced up at £349, the A510 is a 10.1-inch tablet boasting the same resolution as the A500, the Transformer Prime and the Transformer Pad 300 - an HD-tastic 1280 x 800.
Running the latest version of Android 4.0, aka Ice Cream Sandwich, the Acer Iconia A510 is actually the official tablet of the 2012 Olympic Games. At least, the special edition one is.
Our review sample sadly lacked the famous Olympic rings on the back, but this is the only discernible difference between the two.
Tablet design is difficult, we get that - it's hard to be original.
But that still doesn't make it cool for manufacturers to churn out the same design over and over again.
We wouldn't accept that with smartphones so there's no reason we should with tablets.
But that's exactly what Acer has done with the Iconia Tab A510.
To say it looks a lot like its older brother – the Iconia Tab A500 – would be an understatement.
Sure, it's lost the brushed aluminium back and the silver trim, opting instead for a rubberised, dimpled, matte backing.
And while this feels more comfortable to hold for long periods of time, it's not original either – it's very similar to what we saw on the Iconia Tab A200.
It would be easier to forgive Acer for its predictive tablet composition if it had set new benchmarks for svelteness and slenderness.
Unfortunately it hasn't, with the A510 weighing a fairly chunky 680g and measuring a hefty 10.92mm at its thickest point.
All negativity aside, though, and despite the slight, added bulk, the Acer Iconia Tab A510 isn't a bad-looking device and we had no issues in holding and using it for long periods of time.
We just wish the design was a bit more unique - but perhaps with the price-point as it is, we're being a bit harsh.
The top and bottom edges are nicely curved with the matte finish and the two side edges feature an attractive silver trim.
Up top you'll find the reassuringly sturdy volume rocker and lock switch, which is prime position for your right thumb if you're operating the A510 in portrait mode.
There's also a light sensor for the auto-brightness option – which we always prefer to switch off.
Down south there's a Micro-USB port and a hard-reset button.
The A510 lacks the full-sized USB of the A500 but there is an adaptor supplied in the box and we had no issue getting it to recognise our USB drives.
On the left-hand side you'll find a 3.5mm headphone jack as well as the power button, and on the opposite edge there's only a Micro HDMI port on show.
Hidden behind an awkwardly large flap, you'll find space to pop in a SIM card (on the 3G version) or a microSD card.
The 10.1-inch display is of the TFT variety, a technology that lacks the wow factor of the Asus Transformer Prime's Super IPS+ panel, and doesn't come close to the ridiculously startling Retina Display on Apple's new iPad.
However, we keep coming back to the price and at less than £350, an HD display - even one lacking IPS technology - is not to be shunned.
It may be a bit overly-glossy with quite a bad glare-reaction to bright light, and the colours may appear a little faded and washed out but, overall, viewing is a pleasant experience on the A510, with decent angles and bright images.
As mentioned, the action is all powered by a quad-core 1.3GHz Nvidia Tegra 3 processor, which is backed up by 1GB of RAM, and there's a healthy 32GB of on-board storage for all your digital files.
This can be increased up to 32GB more by making use of the microSD expansion option.
Acer is promising 12 hours of video playback from its impressive 9,800mAh battery.
We'll go into detail as to how we got on with battery life later on in the review.
Google designed Ice Cream Sandwich to be as intuitive on a larger tablet form as it is on a smaller-screen smartphone and, as such, is the best version of Android so far in its 'vanilla' form, i.e. untouched by the manufacturer.
And, unlike Samsung and HTC, Acer seems to agree as it has left the Android 4.0 experience about as native as it gets, with only a few minor tweaks – all of which we're in favour of.
The first tweak you'll see is from the lock-screen, which is HTC Sense-esque by providing four apps that you can automatically open upon unlocking.
The apps can be customised by the user to whatever they wish to have quick access to, and the shortcuts are presented in a wheel formation with different coloured highlights indicating which app is selected.
This lock-screen tweak is our first look at Acer's big ICS customisation job – the Acer Touch Ring.
The Touch Ring, in unlocked mode, provides an easy-to-use carousel platform for quick launching into your favourite apps or web pages.
It can be fired up simply by tapping the prominent green circle button found in the middle of the bottom bar between the regular ICS tablet software buttons and inclusions (back, home, task manager, clock, connectivity and battery) and, like the lock-screen circle, can be customised to fit your tablet needs.
It also provides quick access to the volume setting, and a universal search client that will scan the web, your contacts and your installed apps.
The usual array of ICS widgets are on offer, which you can decorate any of your five homescreens with.
There's no 'hold and place' option on the homescreens though, you'll need to access the widgets through the app menu.
Switching between and loading apps is a breeze with the Acer Iconia Tab A510, with the Tegra 3 platform gliding through any task that we threw at it with relative ease.
The standard ICS multi-tasking button is on offer, making it easy to kill open apps with a swipe of a finger.
However, it's not all lightning fast. The Acer Iconia Tab A510 is slow to boot up from power-off, with more than a minute's wait from the time you push the power button to when the homescreen appears.
It is super speedy once it's come to life though, and there are no issues waking it from sleep.
The keyboard is of the regular Android variety, with plenty of space on offer, making it easy to type in both portrait and landscape modes.
Haptic feedback is nice, although the default key-tones annoyed us within a couple of minutes and had to be switched off.
You can, of course, install your own preferred keyboard such as Swype if you prefer.
Hitting the web is obviously going to be a key aspect of your tablet experience and, luckily, the Acer Iconia Tab A510 doesn't disappoint on this front.
The standard Android browser is on board, complete with Flash support (after a quick visit to Google Play to grab the latest version) and Google's app emporium has a wealth of browser alternatives such as Chrome and Dolphin HD, if you're not a fan of the native offering.
However, we saw no reason to stray from the default path.
Although, you may want to change the settings to avoid mobile sites as the A510's 10-inch display handles the real deal without issue – complete with text reflow, inverted rendering and pinch-to-zoom.
Zoomed pages look great and navigation is smooth without a hint of a delay or stutter when scrolling through long articles.
The 1GB of RAM seemed to do the job when it came to seamless multi-tab browsing as well, with page refreshes being an infrequent nuisance.
If you're looking to surf on the go then you'll be pleased to know that a 3G version of the A510 (labelled the A511) will be landing as well – although prices have yet to be revealed.
The A510 boasts 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi and also has Bluetooth 2.1 connectivity as well.
Movies, music and books
While the TFT display isn't mind-blowing in any way, a dud it is not and watching back videos, or reading ebooks on the Acer Iconia Tab A510 is a pleasure.
The Tegra 3 CPU means that HD video is handled with aplomb, with even 1080p content played back with a buttery smoothness.
You may need to visit Google Play in order to grab a video player, such as MoboPlayer, or MX Video Player, that's compatible with some file types if you encounter difficulties with the stock Android player – but this is easy enough to do.
The music player is also of the stock Android variety, albeit with an iTunes-like album carousel wheel on the front page.
Sound quality is good, although the position of the speakers - on the right and left edges of the bottom curve – means that it sometimes becomes distorted when playing stuff at full volume.
However, Dolby Digital Plus tech is on board, so there are a wealth of EQ options at your disposal for getting exactly the sound that you want.
Sound quality using speakers or headphones and the 3.5mm jack is very impressive.
Throwing your digital media onto the Acer Iconia Tab A510 is a cinch, as the device supports drive mounting and drag-and-drop with your PC or Mac.
A lot of people get annoyed with the iTunes side of the iPad to manage their digital media, so the drag-and-drop function, and the presence of a microSD slot is a welcome relief.
You can, of course, decide to load up your device directly through Google Play, which offers movies from 99p (new releases cost around £3.49, or £4.49 for HD titles) and electronic books.
Acer has also pre-loaded the Iconia Tab A510 with the LumiRead app, an eReading app complete with full-colour reading, a library and access to two online bookstores – FeedBooks and epubBooks.
It also supports ePub, PDF and TXT files and you can add shortcuts to other bookstores using URL links.
There is, of course, a certain other ebook platform you may wish to consider, beginning with K. We're pretty sure it has its own dedicated Android app as well.
Apps and games
Acer hasn't gone into overdrive installing 'bloatware' onto the A510, which is a relief after spending countless hours cleaning up the software it pre-loads onto its laptops.
LumiRead, we've already mentioned in the previous section and, sitting alongside this is the Astro file manager app, which we're big fans of as it makes it easy to find your stuff using a familiar explorer-like setup.
SoundHound is great for tagging music.
Polaris Office, which is one of the most popular Android office suites (complete with Microsoft compatibility).
And McAfee Virus Scan, which is probably overkill – but that's down to personal preference.
This being an Olympic-focused tab – the A510 also comes with the Eurosport Player app installed and you'll get free access to the live summer of sport as part of a promotional trial with your tab.
Grabbing any other apps is a breeze using the artist-formerly-known-as-the-Android-Market, Google Play, and there's also the Tegra Zone on board which provides links to games that are optimised for Nvidia's quad-core CPU.
In terms of gaming, the Acer Iconia Tab A510 is up there with the likes of the new iPad and the Asus Transformer Prime.
The Tegra 3 chip smashed through any game that we loaded up with ease including graphic-heavy titles such as Zen Pinball THD, Temple Run and Tiki Kart 3D.
The last couple of apps that we should mention are Acer branded ones: Acer Print and clear.fi.
The former is a print client that easily found our Wi-Fi enabled HP printer and made printing from the A510 a piece of cake (it also works with USB printing) and the latter is Acer's DLNA platform, which makes sharing media across other Android devices simple.
It also doubles up as a none-too-shabby media browser.
The camera setup on the Acer Iconia Tab A510 is as native ICS as you can get.
And by that we mean it's as basic as you can get.
Don't expect too many bells and whistles when it comes to this aspect of the A510, although 5-megapixel stills and Full HD 1080p video is on offer.
In terms of settings you have the option to play around with the white-balance a bit, with four pre-set configurations on offer (incandescent, daylight, fluorescent and cloudy) and you can also slightly tweak the exposure level.
But that's about it – no macro mode, no touch-to-focus and no flash. Just an autofocus snapper and that's about it.
On the video front there a few effects thrown in, such as comedy-face animations and 'wacky' backgrounds but, let's face it, you're hardly likely to use them.
Battery life and benchmarks
Battery life on the Acer Iconia Tab A510 is great, thanks to the 9,800mAh that it's packing.
This may not match the 12,000mAh power pack of the latest iPad, but it blows the 7,000mAh of the Asus Transformer Prime out of the water and, in our stress test, also outshone the Asus Transformer Pad 300's battery too.
Acer is stating a video playback life-span of around 12 hours and we're not going to argue with that.
We got a solid 10 hours of general usage out of the A510, including streaming, gaming and browsing – with the brightness turned right up.
In our test, which involves streaming HD video with all the settings cranked up to the max, it managed an impressive 444 minutes, almost 7.5 hours of solid action.
However, there is a downside to all this battery power.
The Iconia Tab A510 takes an age to fully charge – we're talking 10-12 hours.
And don't expect to have any fun with it during the initial hour or so when charging from dead – it won't respond until it's at least 20 per cent full.
When it came to gathering benchmarking scores the Acer Iconia Tab A510 really showed its clout.
It outshone its similarly priced Tegra 3 rival – the Asus Transformer Pad 300 – and came pretty close to matching Asus' top dog in the market right now, the Transformer Prime.
- Antutu – 10,935
- SunSpider – 1,847
- PeaceKeeper – 355
The Acer Iconia Tab A510 could be the perfect tablet for you if you're looking to score a powerful Android tablet without breaking the bank.
It may cut some corners to achieve its lowly price-tag but is still a decent performer and is a great way of getting in on the Ice Cream Sandwich fun.
We're big fans of the native Android Ice Cream Sandwich experience and so we're delighted that Acer has decided to keep things relatively untouched on the software front.
Performance is also brilliant, with the Tegra 3 chip purring inside, and breezing through apps, video, music and games without any worries.
It's a hardware setup, with a few cutbacks admittedly, that rivals anything at the top of the Android pile – with the benchmark scores to back that up.
The lack of originality when it comes to tablet design is not a crime the Acer is solely guilty of but the A510 isn't shy with its brazen 'borrowing' of design features from previous models in the Iconia Tab family. It's also a bit of a bulky tab.
The display is one area where Acer has obviously had to compromise to keep the price-tag below £350, with the TFT display looking slightly dated and sub-standard, despite its HD resolution, compared to some of its higher-priced rivals.
The camera quality, both for stills and video, isn't great – with grainy images and washed-out moving pictures. However, this is not a problem solely laid at Acer's door – tablet cameras are never brilliant as a rule.
For your financial outlay, the Acer Iconia Tab A510 represents a shrewd investment, especially for people willing to accept a few minor flaws.
There are cheaper tablets out there running Ice Cream Sandwich, such as the Scroll Extreme Tablet PC and the Disgo 9104, both of which will cost you around £150 less, but these budget offerings do not offer the sheer power of the Tegra 3 platform, and the lightning-fast Android 4.0 experience.
Yes, the design is a little tired and yes, the display isn't startling, but these are two minor quibbles for what is a very impressive and attractive offering from the Taiwanese giant.
If you're looking to score the best tablet in town then there are still only two viable options – the latest iPad and the Asus Transformer Prime.
But the Acer Iconia Tab A510 sits just below those lofty kings, alongside the Asus Transformer Pad 300, on the 'next-best' shelf.