Acer’s Honeycomb Tablet Priced to Kickstart Sales

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Acer’s Iconia A100, a 7-inch Google Android Honeycomb tablet, has appeared for pre-order on Amazon’s U.K. site with a £299 ($483 USD) price tag, reports Netbook News. This marks the lowest Wi-Fi tablet cost to date from a top-tier manufacturer and also the first 7-inch slate to run Google’s latest operating system specifically optimized for tablets. Acer’s tablet is priced £80 less than the Asus Eee Pad Transformer and £100 below that of Apple’s cheapest iPad 2 in the U.K.

Such pricing gives the tablet a chance to compete. Although the device has no mobile broadband connection, is smaller than most tablets and includes only 8 GB of internal storage, tablet cost is a key decision point for consumers. A recent survey of customers who were already interested in tablets indicated the mean price point that consumers “would definitely buy” is $351. That’s less than the Iconia A100’s pre-order price, but devices are often priced differently in various regions of the world. Astraight currency conversion isn’t often used, and U.S. pricing typically comes in less than the converted price. That means Acer’s new tablet could be seen in the U.S. for $399 or less, which would make it appealing and provide a turning point for Android tablet sales when compared to Apple’s $499 iPad 2 or Motorola’s $599 Xoom; both Wi-Fi models.

As the owner of a 7-inch Android tablet now (I have a Samsung Galaxy Tab on T-Mobile’s network), I’m interested in how well Google’s Honeycomb system will run on the Iconia A100. Like my Galaxy Tab, the A100 uses a 1024×600 resolution on the 7-inch screen. Android works well in that configuration on the Tab, but my tablet uses the smartphone version of Android: Froyo with some effective Samsung customizations, to be specific. Honeycomb is designed for larger displays with higher resolutions, so it could present some challenges on a smaller screen. The saving grace may be the use of application fragments, which Google describes as a modular method to break down software activities into multiple panes, making apps less dependent on certain screen sizes or resolutions:

[D]evelopers can break the Activities of their applications into subcomponents called Fragments, then combine them in a variety of ways to create a richer, more interactive experience. For example, an application can use a set of Fragments to create a true multipane UI, with the user being able to interact with each pane independently. Fragments can be added, removed, replaced, and animated inside an Activity dynamically, and they are modular and reusable across multiple Activities. Because they are modular, Fragments also offer an efficient way for developers to write applications that can run properly on both larger screen as well as smaller screen devices.

Until we see Honeycomb on the smaller tablet — the model shown off last month at Mobile World Congress ran Froyo — we won’t know how well this approach works. My biggest concern revolves around the core apps that make good use of larger displays: Using Gmail on the 10.1-inch Motorola Xoom is a superb experience, but that may not translate to the smaller screen with a lower resolution. Amazon’s U.K. site says the A100 arrives on April 20, so we won’t be waiting long to find out.

One area the A100 could excel in as compared to the larger Xoom is better rendering of existing Android apps. On the Xoom, I found many of the non-Honeycomb apps waste spaced and used small fonts on the bigger screen, making it a mediocre experience. That’s sure to change as developers update their software, but until they do, apps designed for the smartphone could look better on the lower-priced and more portable Iconia A100, even with Honeycomb.

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