With its smart design, the excellent Jelly Bean OS and a competitive price, the Iconia A110 tablet is one of the better budget Android tablets out there and could have a business angle too. (Stars: 4 out of 5)
Launched last month as the cheaper yet more powerful successor to the Iconia A100, the 7-inch Iconia A110 sports Nvidia's quad-core Tegra 3 1.2GHz processor, 1GB of RAM and comes with 8GB of memory.
The WiFi-only tablet has a front-facing camera (2MP), and connections for micro HDMI, micro USB and a micro SD card. It is available bnow priced at $229.
Initial impressions: Good looking, easy to hold and with a superb OS
Budget Android tablets aren't always the prettiest of things, so I was pleasantly surprised to open the packaging of the Iconia Tab A110 to find a well-built tablet with smart two-tone coloring from front to back.
Then there’s the size. The A110 is light and thin and I felt comfortable holding the tablet in one hand or putting it in my back pocket. In short, it felt more like an eReader than a tablet and, for that reason or another; I more often used this device in portrait mode than in landscape.
And as some reporters have noted with the smaller iPad mini, the dimensions of the A110 made me more inclined to take it with me when on the road, and I did this on a couple of occasions, leaving my own iPad 2 at home.
There is a good array of connections on the device, and I was really impressed with Jelly Bean (Android 4.1) when turning the tablet on. You get the same ability from Ice Cream Sandwich to unlock directly into an application (Google, Camera or just the home screen) and the minimalist home screen, but where Jelly Bean really excels is through the new toolbar.
As with iOS, the toolbar offers simple and quick access to Google Calendar and Google Search, as well as your collection of apps.
Excellent for browsing, reading and videos
I thought that browsing was pretty good on the Iconia A110, and that was thanks largely to the pre-loaded Chrome browser. Web pages were displayed quickly and fitted well on the 7-inch screen, while web search predictions zipped along with a great deal of accuracy.
On the performance side, the Iconia A110 really benefits from having Jelly Bean on board, which is (in my opinion) closer to iOS in terms of the user experience than ICS or Honeycomb ever were.
Notifications are arguably as good (if not better) on Jelly Bean than iOS with loads of detail packaged into a slide-down bar, and there are other useful productivity features too - like stacking apps on top of each other to make folders.
Due to the tablet's size, reading was not a problem, even when holding it with one hand, and this was also helped by the Google eBooks app, which recognized that I last read up to page 26 of Great Expectations on another Android device.
And now that Apple has ditched Google's YouTube app, the A110 scores a clear advantage over the iPad with the intuitive YouTube app that serves up recommendations, what’s trending and other things in a touch-friendly way. The videos themselves were good quality and never lagged.
All of this clearly positions this tablet as an entertainment device but, as I'll get into, there are some business possibilities here too.
Some Android apps lack the finesse of iOS
For all this, the tablet doesn’t come blessed with a great array of pre-loaded apps, especially for business, but that’s nothing to worry about when Google Play is on board.
Most of the apps ran very smoothly on the tablet, and were laid out very well. Google Currents and Flipboard worked well for news, Gmail for email, and the likes of Dropbox and Evernote were simple to use and navigate.
However, I got the sense that many of these apps still lack the finesse of their iOS counterparts (a minor critique aimed more at Android developers than Acer or Google). Flipboard for Android, for instance, simply isn't as good as the iPad app.
Camera, speakers, display and keyboard
Here are some quick hits on some of the other features I picked up from testing the tablet:
- The front-facing camera is sufficient but by no means spectacular.
- The audio quality is pretty clear, but because the mono speaker is mounted at the rear, audio can get muffled when holding the tablet with two hands in landscape mode.
- Typing on the virtual keyboard didn’t represent a problem, and the tablet’s LCD display actually feels more solid than other Android tablets.
- The 1024 x 600 resolution display is acceptable but, for some reason, started fading slightly when nearing the end of its battery life. This may be a power saving mode, but that wasn’t apparent. Viewing angles were acceptable but not fantastic.
- Battery life is OK, lasting around 7.5 hours for video playback and much longer for general use.
Summary: One of the better budget Android tablets
I came away pretty satisfied with the Iconia A110. I love the form factor (dimensions of 127 x 193mm, around the same size of my A5 notepad), the design and the Jelly Bean OS.
And while this is marketed as more of a consumer device, it could potentially be used in business or as a professionals single tablet for both business and entertainment.
The nimble size and attractive design (more professional than the Nexus 7, in my view, although Google's tablet does have better specs in some areas) would appeal to mobile workers collecting data or making sales visits, although this would rely on downloading the right apps. The size would probably appeal to schools, too.
The inclusion of connections for micro USB and micro HDMI would also be welcomed by businesses looking to quickly move data around (although with that comes additional security concerns). And lastly, the $229 price ($100 less than the iPad mini) may appeal to SMBs looking for a good quality product, but not at the prices charged by some of the more "premium" Android vendors.