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The Acer Iconia Tab A500 has a less appealing, more traditional design than the Motorola Xoom, which is all-black with a power button on the back. With the Iconia Tab A500, the buttons are a bit harder to find. It's easy to forget (or get all turned around in orientation) and fumble for the power key, which is on the left. The headphone jack and HDMI port are also on the left. There's a docking port underneath as well.
On the right, there's a USB port (presumably a vestige of the W500 model) that only worked with a standard keyboard, not a mouse. You can also attach a USB keydrive into the port, but the Iconia Tab A500 only lets you access files using a file manager, not directly.
There's also a standard microUSB port and the charge port. On top, there are two volume control buttons and a screen lock switch. You'll also find a covered port for the microSD slot, which Acer says will be used for adding an LTE card at some point.
The 1280 x 800 TFT display on the Acer Iconia Tab A500 measures 10.1 inches, like the Motorola Xoom, and is bright and clear. The screen isn't a weak point but isn't a differentiator either. In a side-by-side comparison to the Apple iPad 2, with the brightness for both devices turned all the way up, the iPad 2 looked brighter and easier to view from a side angle. Compared to the Xoom, the Iconia Tab A500's screen looked remarkably similar.
Some of the hardware differentiators on the Acer Iconia Tab A500 might not be obvious at first. Like the Motorola Xoom and the Apple iPad 2, the speakers for playing movie audio and music are just average – about what you might expect on an entry-level netbook.
There's very little bass response but average clarity. Yet, Acer added a slight tweak: the Iconia Tab A500 uses Dolby Mobile technology that did seem to make the movie Fair Game sound a bit more life-like – you actually hear some shuffling feet or background audio more distinctly.
Some graphically-rich sites such as GamesRadar.com and CNN.com pulled up a hair faster on the Iconia Tab A500 than the Motorola Xoom, even over the exact same Wi-Fi connection, although oddly, the Google Earth app ran a hair faster on the Xoom.
Acer includes a content sharing system called Clear.fi that is essentially a low-cost way to build a home entertainment streaming network. That's a good thing, since the Iconia Tab A500 doesn't offer any way to purchase or rent videos from the device (Motorola just recently added this capability to the Xoom).
Clear.fi works like Windows Connect in that you can set up a media server and stream music, videos and photos to the device. In an age of Hulu, YouTube, and even apps such as HBO Go in the US, the idea of a media server seems a bit redundant – we'd prefer at least an option for streaming mainstream videos from the web directly to the device.
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John Brandon has covered gadgets and cars for the past 12 years having published over 12,000 articles and tested nearly 8,000 products. He's nothing if not prolific. Before starting his writing career, he led an Information Design practice at a large consumer electronics retailer in the US. His hobbies include deep sea exploration, complaining about the weather, and engineering a vast multiverse conspiracy.