In the end, the Acer Iconia Tab A500 fits in the middle of the pack. We weren't that impressed with the HTC Flyer, mostly because of its high cost and the fact that it doesn't use Android 3.0, so that some apps don't format correctly for the bigger screen. The BlackBerry PlayBook has a serious app problem.
Yet, given the hard choice between the Motorola Xoom and the Acer Iconia Tab A500, the Xoom gets the slight edge. One reason is that we prefer the sleeker design. There's no reason for the Iconia Tab A500 to be so much wider, although some users will prefer the more rugged design.
App selection on the Apple iPad 2 is far more advanced, and the Apple tablet gets the edge in terms of multimedia playback (especially on-device movie rentals), games and video chats. The PlayBook is the oddball challenger, and we trust the HP TouchPad will also enter the mix with an alternative OS that gives Google something to think about.
The Acer Iconia Tab A500 doesn't improve Android 3.0, and the categorisation system that places apps in buckets isn't that novel. We also have to mention battery life – the Iconia Tab A500 just didn't last as long as the Xoom or the iPad 2 in our tests, especially for movie playback.
The Acer Iconia Tab A500 gets some extra credit for its more rugged design. The aluminium back can take a bit more abuse than the plastic used on other tablets. There's more heft to the device and it has a wider footprint so you can get a good grip on the tablet – we could see a restaurant that wants to use a tablet for customer orders choosing the Iconia Tab A500 over the Xoom because it's wider and more rugged.
Operationally, the Iconia Tab A500 only had one or two minor bugs and a few touchscreen issues, but these same problems also arise on the iPad 2. They don't dramatically alter daily usage.
The bulky design is an acquired taste on the Acer Iconia Tab A500. It's not for everyone – the tablet has a faint reminder of the Windows Tablet PC days, and that's not a good thing. In daily use, when we had the Motorola Xoom and the Acer Iconia Tab A500 sitting side by side, we found that we reached for the Xoom more often just because we perceived it as being more portable, even though both tablets weigh the same.
The Iconia Tab A500 had a few minor bugs with some apps, including Google Maps and Gmail. A hard reboot of the device solved most of the minor bugs, though.
We also weren't able to use the Iconia Tab A500 with an Apple MacBook.
Other issues seem more like minor annoyances: the short charger cable, the faint pixel grid on the screen, the shorter than expected battery life. None of these are major issues alone, but they add up to a less than perfect experience compared to another tablet, the Motorola Xoom, that has about the same specs.
The Acer Iconia Tab A500 ultimately beat the BlackBerry PlayBook, which still has an app problem and is smaller for viewing videos and pictures. The Motorola Xoom is a hair better because of its trendier design.
Overall, the Iconia Tab A500 is a very good tablet that falls out of the running quickly compared to the Apple iPad 2 with its boatload of apps, video chatting, games and superior media handling.
Review sample kindly provided by Saveonlaptops.co.uk