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Asus Transformer vs Acer Iconia Tab A500- is there a clear winner?

Both of these tablets are available in stores now and have in common the fact that they are some of the most affordable 10 inch Android Honeycomb devices out there. And some of the best.

At a first glance, the two tablets are very similar, having the same Tegra 2 platform and a 10.1 inch screen, but this doesn’t mean the slates are the same deal, with a different logo on them. Both are solid devices on their own, and of course, the Transformer requires an additional 150 bucks worth of investment in order to be complete; we’re referring to the docking station, which lets you use the slate as some sort of netbook, while enhancing battery life and adding a couple of USB ports. An option the Iconia Tab lacks altogether.

Stick around for our in depth comparison of these two Honeycomb tablets to see which one is actually better and why.

Specs

As we said, the two devices are fairly similar when it comes to specs, packing Nvidia’s Tegra 2 chip, 1 GB of RAM and Flash storage. Full spec lists below.

Asus Eee Pad Transformer

  • Processor: Nvidia Tegra 2, dual core 1 GHZ SOC
  • System memory: 1 GB
  • Display: 10.1 inch, IPS, 1280 x 800 screen with 10 finger multi touch support and Gorilla Glass
  • Storage: 16/32 GB Flash
  • OS: Android Honeycomb 3.1
  • Ports: SD card reader, audio jack, miniHDMI
  • Cameras: 5 MP rear facing, 1.2 MP front facing
  • Connectivity: WiFi, Bluetooth
  • Dimensions: 10.7 x 6.9 x 0.5 inches
  • Weight: 1.5 pounds

Acer Iconia A500

  • Processor: Nvidia Tegra 2, dual core 1 GHZ SOC
  • System memory: 1 GB
  • Display: 10.1 inch, 1280 x 800, LED-backlit, multi touch display
  • Storage: 16/32 GB
  • OS: Android Honeycomb 3.1
  • Ports: USB 2.0 port, miniHDMI, miniUSB, microSD
  • Cameras: 5 MP rear facing, 2 MP front facing
  • Connectivity: WiFi and Bluetooth
  • Weight: 1.7 pounds
  • Dimensions: 10.2 x 7.0 x 0.5 inches

Video comparison

If you don’t feel like reading the entire post, check out the video comparison of these two tablets below.

Build and design

The A500 has an Alpine Silver aluminum finish, which looks very good and feels great to hold. It would have been one of the greatest designs out there if it would have been a little slimmer, though. The tablet is 13.3 mm thick, which is significantly chubbier than the iPad 2 and one of the thickest 10.1 inch slates anyway.

Also, it’s quite heavy, ticking in at 1.7 pounds. The front of the device consists of the touch screen, a bezel and a camera, while physical buttons are not to be seen. The power button is on the left, when holding the tablet in landscape mode, while the volume controllers are on the top of the slate and are made from relatively cheap plastic, which looks and feels bad surrounded by top notch aluminum. Also on the left, you get a miniHDMI port and audio jack, while on the right there is both a microUSB and full size USB ports.

The A500 is one of the bulkiest 10 inch slates out there

The A500 is one of the bulkiest 10 inch slates out there

The bottom of the slate hosts a proprietary docking connector, while on the back you have two grill speakers and a 5 MP camera. Overall, the A500 looks and feels good, although it’s a little bulky and the volume controllers are made from cheap plastic and annoying to use.

The Transformer is a little lighter, weighing only 1.4 pounds, but is just as thick. The chassis is again made from plastic, not metal, and has a textured finish on the back, which is labeled as matte.

When adding the docking keyboard, the setup is 2.8 pounds heavy and almost 1 inch thick, which are basically the numbers for a normal netbook. On the left, the Transformer has a power/screen activation button and volume controls, while on the left there’s the audio jack, miniHDMI port and microSD port. On the bottom there’s the docking station port, and on that docking you have 2 USB ports and an SD card reader.

Display

The Acer Iconia A500 has a 1280 x 800 px LCD panel which is tremendously glossy and attracts glare and fingerprints in appalling ratios.  Still, if you hold it at a straight angle, in a darker room, the simple LCD display is fairly good, offering crisp images and decent brightness. Also, the screen supports 10 finger multi touch gestures, which is on par with Transformer’s capabilities.

Asus’s slate, on the other hand, has an IPS display, which solves many of the problems with viewing angles. In order to protect the screen from scratches, Asus placed a Gorilla Glass over the panel, but this makes the display glossy as well and pretty much useless outdoors. You win some, you lose some.

The Transformer's IPS display offers iPad 2 degree viewing angles

The Transformer's IPS display offers iPad 2 degree viewing angles

Hardware and performance

As we said, both slates run on the same hardware platform, namely Nvidia’s Tegra 2 dual core chip, helped by 1 GB of RAM and fast Flash storage. These are the weapons of choice for virtually any 10 inch Honeycomb slate out there and the results are very good most of the time. Videos, even HD, run smooth, apps load fast and browsing is a breeze, without the choppiness we’ve seen on the Touchpad, for example, before the upgrade.

Until Nvidia will launch their quad core Tegra 3 chip, this is kind of the best setup for a slate, but it all depends on how manufacturers are able to customize software in order to take advantage of the dual core chip and 1 GB of RAM.

Software and apps

At launch, the A500 had some issues with the OS, namely Honeycomb 3.0. Large video files were not working and general performance issues, like apps crashing, were happening all the time. Naturally,  Acer rushed before many other manufacturers to provide an update to 3.1. The new version solved performance issues, as well as adding better HTML5 support, adjustable widgets and a couple of new apps.

The slate comes with a bunch of preloaded apps, like e-book reader LumiRead, Social Jogger, that combines Twitter and Facebook in one superfluous stream of jabber, Clear.fi, which lets you move files between compatible Acer machines (including laptops), NemoPlayer, which handles photos, videos and music, Media Server, that lets you play media via DLNA. Additionally, you get Google apps, like Gmail, Maps and more, and you also have Android Market access.

As for the Transformer, it now runs the updated Honeycomb 3.1 and a skin named MyWater. It’s like watching a section in a glass, with most of the screen showing a water animation, with two ice cubes moving around. When you tilt the slate, the cubes move, which is a nice little animation, while the level of the water decreases as battery life goes down. It’s a neat trick which is fun, useful at times and doesn’t have the pretensions of being a skin.

Asus loaded the Transformer with a bunch of apps, most of them useful. First, there’s MyCloud, which lets you store content online and synch it with other devices as well. It’s free at first, but after a year you’ll have to chose a plan if you want to stick with it. Like the A500, the Transformer has its own DLNA streaming service, called MyNet, as well as a internet music/internet ratio app called @vibe.  There’s also Polaris Office, which lets you edit documents, My Library e-book reader, cult game Angry Birds Rio, as well as Android Market access.

The A500 can run games very well, too bad Nvidia's Tegra 2 store is kind of empty

The A500 can run games very well, too bad Nvidia's Tegra 2 store is kind of empty

Cameras

The A500 comes with two cameras, a 5 MP one in the back and 2 MP in front. Neither is really accomplished, to be honest, as the one in the back floods the frame with pixels whenever you want to zoom in, so you’ll have to settle for macro pics, which are fairly tolerable. It’s the same for video, even if it’s formally 720p, the clips shot with this look pretty awful, as they’re very pixelated and colors are bad as well. The front facing camera is not too good either, but considering it’s theoretically limited use- video calls, it should be OK if you use it in decent lighting.

We don’t have better news from the Transformer, as its dual camera setup, 5 MP in the back and 1.2 MP in front, offers equally modest performance. Videos recorded with the 720p recorder are stuttering and objects lack detail, while the front facing camera was able to sustain a video call, but details of the faces and surroundings were missing. If possible, don’t try to use these cameras in order to capture something relevant. You’ll be disappointed.

Battery life

On its own, the Transformer’s battery life is not too impressive. It can go for under 7 hours on a single charge, seasoned with browsing, some media playback and a little gaming. If you add the docking station, you get an extra battery and the duo can go on a single charge for about 12 hours. I’m pretty sure Asus intentionally put a modest battery on the Transformer just to suggest the docking station is really useful. The A500 is not too impressive either, as it can run on a single charge for a little under 8 hours. Still, it’s more than what the Transformer can deliver on its own.

Prices and availability

The Acer Iconia A500 went through some price cuts lately because Acer failed to reach their targeted sales since launch. The 16 GB version goes for $359 on Amazon, which is even cheaper than the 50 bucks off stunt the company pulled in early August. The 16 GB, WiFi only Transformer goes for slightly more, namely $394, while the32 GB version is priced at $489. The docking keyboard will cost you an additional $150.

The Transformer's docking station adds functionality, autonomy and a selection of ports

The Transformer's docking station adds functionality, autonomy and a selection of ports

Final thoughts

In our articles we were pretty impressed by the Transformer and this doesn’t change after comparing it to the A500. Asus’s device has a better screen, a more interesting selection of apps and feels overall the more solid pick over the A500. Also, the Transformer comes with an optional docking station that makes the device even more pleasant to use.

This doesn’t mean that the A500 is a bad tablet, but lacks a certain oomph to be an astonishing device. It can do pretty much what any Honeycomb slate can do, but does that in a pretty forgettable way. Still, we have to acknowledge that the A500 has a better battery than the Transformer and offers an USB slot directly on the slate..

All in all, given that both come for similar prices these days, my money would go on the EEE Pad, given that you can also upgrade it with that docking station later on if you want to.




About the Author
Mark
Mark is an Editor here at TabletBite.com. Based in London where he studies Screenwriting and Production, he blogs about technology as a hobby. He's mainly in charge with news here on the site, but he doesn't mind publishing some guides, tests and editorials from time to time as well.


Last updated: November 1, 2011 | Published: September 22nd, 2011
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