Acer Iconia A1 review
7.9 in 1,024x768 display, 410g, 1.2GHz MTK 8125, 1.00GB RAM, 16GB disk, Android 4.2
Acer's budget Android tablet takes some design cues from the iPad Mini, in that it has a 7.9in 4:3 display, rather than the 16:9 widescreen displays found on most Android tablets. It also has an impressive specification for a £160 tablet, but Android is notoriously picky when it comes to screens that don't stick to the tried and tested 16:9 aspect ratio.
With a plastic body that's a little on the chunky side, the Iconia A1 still manages to make an impression thanks to its unfussy white and black finish and rounded edges. There's a surprising selection of ports around the sides, with a microSD card slot for adding extra storage and a Micro HDMI output to connect the tablet to an external display. Both are rarely found on budget tablets, so are welcome inclusions. You'll also find the Micro USB charging port on the bottom of the tablet, next to the 3.5mm audio jack.
The A1's 7.9in display has a 4:3 aspect ratio, which sets the Iconia A1 apart from nearly every other budget Android tablet on the market. This squarer ratio means the screen is around a third bigger physically than the Nexus 7's, so you may find this makes web pages easier to read. However, the screen's 1,024x768 resolution means it falls behind the Nexus 7's in terms of pixels per inch (PPI) and therefore sharpness. Colours are fairly vibrant and screen brightness isn't bad either, as long as you use the tablet indoors – take it outside and it can be difficult to make out what's on screen. This is partly down to average viewing angles and the overly reflective screen. Fingerprints quickly build up, too, leaving more marks than on other tablets. Finally, the slightly grainy finish leaves much to be desired, especially compared to the Nexus 7.
The single rear-firing speaker, meanwhile, only manages to produce basic audio which lacks any real presence. There's no sign of any bass and the high-end is immensely tinny. Volume isn't that great either, so you should really use the tablet with a pair of headphones.
The Iconia A1 has a five-megapixel rear camera as well as a 1.3-megapixel version on the front for video chat and selfies. A rear camera is a rarity in a budget tablet, although the sensor is still only capable of taking basic stills. The lens is a fixed-focus affair and there's no flash, so low light shooting it practically out of the question, and even in bright light there's a lack of detail. It also had a tendency to over-expose images, even with just a small amount of light, making indoor photography a challenge.
Acer has abandoned its attempts to tweak Android, and stuck with the default version of Jelly Bean 4.2.2 for the A1. It's the latest version of Android, so you get access to features like multiple user accounts, separate pull-down drawers for settings and notifications and the Google Now search assistant. The only major addition is a set of programmable gesture commands, which can wake the tablet from standby and launch right into a particular app. We used it for jumping straight into the web browser, but snap-happy Iconia owners could set it to load the Camera app instead.
There aren't many pre-installed apps, which should be welcome news to anyone that appreciates a clean OS on their new device. You do get AccuWeather, a file manager app and AcerCloud, which lets you save content to Acer's cloud servers. This leaves as much room as possible on the 16GB of internal memory, which has around 12GB of internal storage available to the user. With access to the Google Play Store, you can quickly add your own selection of apps.
Performance comes from a quad-core MTK processor running at 1.2GHz, paired with 1GB of RAM. The tablet is fast enough to render Android's multiple home screens and widgets smoothly, but it can take a while to load certain apps or generate thumbnails if you've filled the Gallery app with high-resolution photos from a digital camera.
We could play most 2D and some 3D games smoothly, but the PowerVR SGX544 graphics chip struggles in intensive games such as Real Racing 3. Android still doesn't properly support the 4:3 aspect ratio either, so many apps don't render correctly. Games would only fill part of the screen, for example, but the touch-screen controls would stretch to fill the whole display area.
We expected the quad-core processor to have a negative impact on battery life, but the Iconia A1 managed to surprise us by lasting 8h 44m in our video rundown test. It's not the best we've seen from a budget tablet, but it's still an impressive result.
At just over £160, the Iconia A1 is a little bit too expensive for us to recommend, despite being a budget tablet that arguably punches above its weight. The processor is quick enough for most tasks, and the microSD card slot and HDMI video output are useful, but the Google Nexus 7 is still a better buy thanks to its superior screen.
|Processor clock speed||1.2GHz|
|Memory slots free||0|
|Viewable size||7.9 in|
|Graphics Processor||PowerVR SGX 544|
|Graphics/video ports||micro HDMI|
|Total storage capacity||16GB|
|Optical drive type||none|
Ports and Expansion
|Wired network ports||none|
|Wireless networking support||802.11n|
|PC Card slots||none|
|Supported memory cards||MicroSDHC|
|Other ports||3.5mm audio output|
|Operating system||Android 4.2|
|Operating system restore option||restore partition|
|Warranty||one year RTB|