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Acer A700 hero2 (1024px)
Acer A700 hero2 (1024px)

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Acer Iconia Tab A700 review

Was a 1080p display the only thing Acer lacked?

We've reviewed a handful of Acer tablets in the last year or so, and the conclusion for every one seems to be a resounding shrug. There's rarely anything wrong with an Acer tablet, and everything from build quality to software is generally pretty solid – there's just nothing exciting or game-changing, no obvious reason to buy an Acer over another tablet. Meanwhile, Asus's Transformer tablets have had great docks and excellent design, Samsung's Galaxy Tabs have doubled as useful universal remotes, and Toshiba's at least had a tablet for giants. Then there's the Nexus 7, the new king of the block with a $199 price tag, an even newer version of Android, and great performance in its own right. Acer's tablets, by comparison, have been easy to miss in the crowd.

The new Iconia Tab A700 finally gives Acer a differentiating feature: a 10.1-inch, 1920 x 1200 display that natively plays 1080p video. The A700's other specs otherwise match the Iconia Tab A510, featuring a Tegra 3 processor, a SIM card slot, 32GB of internal storage, and a very reasonable $449 price tag. An otherwise solid tablet, paired with a terrific display, could make Acer's latest tablet more compelling than ever. Can the A700 outstrip the Android competition, and perhaps most importantly can it justify the price premium over the Nexus 7? Read on.


Hardware / design

Hardware / design

The new one's a lot like the old one

No one would ever accuse Acer of making eye-catching tablets. The 10.9mm-thick A700, with a dimpled silver black and silver edges, along with slightly darker silver sides and a black front bezel, is a strange mishmash of hues, finishes, and angles. (There's also an all-black version.) The one uniquely Acer touch is the square camera lens protruding from the back of the tablet, but even that neither adds to nor subtracts from the slate's appeal. As you hold the tablet horizontally, the sides are nearly flat, but the top and bottom are rounded and tapered — the look doesn't really work. The flat sides are less comfortable to grip than the rounded top and bottom, which is odd given that you're clearly designed to use the tablet in landscape mode. The device is solidly built, but there's nothing impressive about it.

Dimensions (in.) Thickness Weight (lb.)
Acer Iconia Tab A700 10.2 x 6.9 0.43 1.47
Nexus 7 7.8 x 4.7 0.41 .74
Asus Transformer Pad TF30 10.4 x 7.1 0.39 1.39
Asus Eee Pad Transformer Prime 10.4 x 7.1 0.31 1.29
Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 10.1 10.1 x 6.9 0.38 1.3
Acer Iconia Tab A510 10.4 x 6.9 0.40 1.50
Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 10.1 x 6.9 0.34 1.20
Apple iPad (3rd gen., 2012) 9.5 x 7.3 0.37 1.44

The design and materials are changed ever so slightly from the A510, but the ports and layout are not. Power button and headphone jack on the upper left side; volume control and rotation lock on top; SIM card and microSD slots underneath a flimsy flap on the right side, next to a Micro HDMI port. The charging port is on the bottom, flanked by two stereo speakers.

Normally I don't like when speakers point out the bottom of a tablet, since sound gets easily muffled when you place the slate on a bed or a table. The A700's speakers are slightly less affected by this, since they sit on the tapered edge and actually point slightly backward as well, but you're still going to want to point them somewhere other than into your comforter. Sound is relatively loud and clear, though the low-end is basically nonexistent, as is the stereo effect. Through a partnership with Dolby there are some equalizer settings you can tweak to change the sound to your liking, but there's only so much you can do to improve mediocre speakers.

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Display

Display

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For months, Android tablets have nearly all used the same display: a 10.1-inch, 1280 x 800 IPS screen. Most displays in the category don't scream "impressive!" but work fine, with solid viewing angles and a resolution that allows for actual 720p playback. The baseline is inching again upward, however, led by the iPad's gorgeous Retina display and a handful of other tablets with screens you almost can't tear yourself away from.

Add Acer to that category. The company added a 1920 x 1200 TFT display to the A700 — along with the Asus Transformer Pad Infinity, it's the first to do so. The improvement over the A500 or A510 is immediately apparent — from text to images to movies, everything is sharper and crisper. You can still make out slightly jagged edges on text, but only if you look closely, and it's no longer easy to make out individual pixels unless you're really hunting for them. At 224ppi, the 10.1-inch display is about as dense as the new Macbook Pro with Retina display, though since you hold a tablet closer than you would a laptop, it doesn't look quite as good in normal use. Still, just as my eyes thanked me when I switched from a 720p TV to a 1080p set, picking up the A700 after using a Galaxy Tab 10.1 or a Toshiba Excite 10 is an impressive shift.

There's more to like about the new display than just the resolution, too. Though it's still not overly bright — and features a too-dim Auto brightness setting that you'll want to disable — it certainly gets bright enough, and viewing angles are stellar without any washing out of colors. I was able to lie in bed with the A700 on my chest, and watch a movie from that strange angle without feeling like I hampered the experience. Colors are accurate, though blacks aren't as dark as I'd like. The screen is responsive, though it does seem a bit far away from your finger — a slim black edge between the display and the bezel gives the display a slightly recessed feel.

Sometime very soon, 1080p will be the new minimum for a tablet's display resolution — much like the new iPad, the next round of updates for many manufacturers will likely include a screen like the A700's. Whether you use your Android tablet to read, game, watch movies, or just browse the web and check your email, that's something to be happy about.

Cameras

Cameras

I'd rather have a cheaper tablet with no cameras
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Guess how good the cameras are on the A700. Go ahead, guess.

If you guessed "pretty much exactly the same as every other tablet camera," you win. The 5-megapixel rear shooter is faster than most tablet cameras, but the results are the same noisy, grainy, soft photos I'm all too accustomed to. I'd wish for a sensor like the 41-megapixel shooter inside the Nokia 808 PureView, but no matter the prowess of the camera I can't imagine taking a lot of important pictures with a tablet. The A700's camera is fine for taking pictures of menus or wine labels and saving them to Evernote, or for taking the occasional shot to upload to Instagram, and that's really all I need it to be.

You can shoot 1080p, 720p, or VGA video with the A700, and it's a different story with the same ending: soft, grainy, noisy, and generally not very good even in the best of situations. Given the size and weight of this (and any) tablet, it's hard to hold still while you shoot video, which means you're going to get some really shaky footage as well.

The front-facing, 720p camera (that's less than one megapixel) is good enough to work for video chat or checking your hair, but that's it. The lens is located about two inches off-center, which makes framing your face in the shot oddly difficult — though you'll get some unintentional rule-of-thirds framing with the lens where it is.

Software / performance

Software and performance

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The A700 runs Android 4.0.4, and Acer's added a number of things to the OS without totally overhauling it. The changes aren't nearly on the scale of Samsung's TouchWiz UI, which changes basically every single thing about the OS, but there's quite a bit to get used to. From a purely aesthetic standpoint, Acer redesigned the standard Home, Back, and multitasking buttons — I don't mind the new icons as much as I just don't understand the need to change them. Acer also completely overhauled the quick settings menu, removing everything except for eight power and radio toggles and a brightness slider. It does make accessing brightness or toggling airplane mode easy, but it's seriously ugly: Acer's teal accents clash with Android's blue colors, and the two-tone gray design is simply unsightly.

In the center of the persistent bottom bar on the A700 lies a garish yellow circle that your eyes will constantly be drawn to as you use the tablet. I hate the icon, but love the functionality: when you tap it, it brings up the Acer Ring, a wheel overlay that lets you quickly search, access four customizable apps (by default it lets you open Gallery, Browser, or Settings, or take a screenshot) change the volume, or flip through your bookmarks. Once I customized the ring, it became a handy way to quickly add a note to Evernote, or switch back to my email without flipping through all the multitasking cards. If you don't want the ugly icon always in your face, you can easily turn it off in settings.

Lots of tweaks, but not a total overhaul
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Tegra 3 may be old hat, but it still works

The lock screen has similar power: swiping to the right simply unlocks the A700, but move the icon leftward, and you can open right into a particular app. There are four customizable spaces, and as we've seen with this feature on phones it makes it easy to take a quick picture, or get into your music collection even faster.

Beyond those changes and a few new default widgets, the A700 is still unmistakably Android. The software changes don't seem to slow the tablet down, either: it runs as quickly and smoothly as I expected, though Android's same quirks always present themselves. Rotating the tablet takes a while, the tablet occasionally stutters while launching the app drawer, and there's occasional lag elsewhere, but in general Android 4.0 feels very fluid and usable.

Quadrant Vellamo GLB 2.1 Egypt (720p) GLB 2.1 Egypt (1080p) AnTuTu
Acer Iconia Tab A700 3,574 1,210 60fps 30fps 10,480
Nexus 7 3,605 1,740 64fps 32fps N/A
Asus Transformer Pad TF300T 3,623 1,358 63fps 31fps 9,614
Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 10.1 2,590 849 28fps 14fps 4,911

It also surely helps that there's a 1.3GHz quad-core Tegra 3 processor inside the A700. It's the same SoC used by the A510, and differs only in clock speed from a huge number of Tegra-powered Android tablets. It's a very, very capable processor, handling everything from Shadowgun and Real Racing to 1080p video streaming without any dropped frames or performance issues. I was worried about the processor's ability to render so many more pixels, but there's no practical difference between the 1920 x 1200 display and its lower-res forebear.

The A700 features the same 9800mAh battery as the A510, and since the A700 is powering far more pixels it's not surprising that battery life is less impressive. The A700's browser crashed whenever we tried to run the Verge Battery Test — the same goes for many Android tablets — but in practical use, with video, tweeting, browsing, and lots of music streaming, I got about eight hours of use from the device. Many tablets last longer — the A510 worked for a solid ten hours — but the A700 isn't a terrible performer, and I'll take the hit in order to get the better screen.

The Iconia Tab A700's display isn't in the same class as the iPad, but it's certainly among the best Android tablet screens yet to hit the market. Paired with otherwise solid performance and a decent-if-boring design, there's a lot to like about Acer's latest tablet. At $449, you're nearly in iPad territory, and unless you're completely committed to Android it's hard to recommend the A700 over a new iPad or even an iPad 2, which offer equally good performance, far superior app ecosystems, and in the new iPad's case an even better display.

In the Android market, there's a clear new leader as well. The Nexus 7 has a better design than the A700, equals its performance, comes with Android 4.1 Jelly Bean, and has a seriously appealing $199 price tag. Every Android tablet now has to justify its purchase over Google's halo tablet, and has to prove it's worth whatever extra cost is associated. A 1080p screen goes a long way, but it's not worth doubling the price tag. This is Acer's best tablet yet, without question, but it's not quite enough to get me excited about the idea of buying an Iconia Tab.

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