Acer A100: Honeycomb may be better on 7-inch tablets

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Acer today launches its A100, the first 7-inch tablet to ship with Google Android Honeycomb. The small slate is available in a Wi-Fi only model for $330 at retail stores in the U.S. and Canada. At under one pound and a half-inch thick, the A100 with Android 3.2, looks to be a more portable way to use Honeycomb and should be an improvement over larger tablets due to the platforms better support for Android phone applications.

Aside from the smaller, 7-inch display at 1024×600 resolution, the guts of the A100 will sound familiar. The tablet runs on Nvidia’s 1 GHz Tegra 2 processor, has a 5-megapixel rear camera with flash for stills or 720p video capture, a 2-megapixel camera for video chat, and supports 802.11 a/b/g/n flavors of Wi-Fi. For $330, Acer’s includes 8 GB of storage capacity, but another $20 buys a model with 16 GB. A microSD card slot supports additional expansion up to 32 GB of storage.

I’ve been using a 7-inch Android tablet since December of last year when I bought a Samsung Galaxy Tab, and I like the smaller form factor that Acer is using for the A100. My Honeycomb experiences on larger devices has been mediocre at best, partly because relatively few software titles are optimized for the larger displays. With Android 3.2, however, Google added a “compatibility zoom” mode, similar to Apple’s “pixel doubling” feature on the iPad. This allows phone apps to scale better on Honeycomb tablets.

That could make all the difference for small tablets like the A100. I’m waiting for a review unit, but Sascha Segan at PC Mag took the A100 for a spin and says the zoom mode is:

[K]ind of wonderful on a 7-inch device, which is just small enough that the scaling still looks usable. I tried the Conan O’Brien Team Coco app, which looks awful on most tablets. In Standard mode, it’s an ugly list with too much empty orange space on the right side of the screen. In Zoomed mode, it’s tight and good-looking.

The A100 could be better positioned to offer a richer third-party app experience than the more expensive 10-inch Honeycomb tablets, and it has a compelling price as well. Acer is known more for its budget-conscious hardware than for its superior device quality, something I found out when I reviewed the capable A500 Android tablet. But there could definitely be a market for a contract-free $330 slate.

The only major downside I see so far, at least until I get my own time with the tablet, is the small battery. Acer expects five hours of web browsing, but even less time when watching video. For a device that’s meant to be more portable, it really needs to run all day long on a single charge.

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