Acer Iconia A500 connected to camera via USB
The Acer A500 went on sale Monday and having been researching Honeycomb Android based options for a new tablet, I elected to pick one up $450 at Best Buy which is a heck of a deal on a capable tablet.
No amount of research and reading reviews can tell you what it is really like to use one of these devices and whether it will work for you so I thought I’d share my experiences for those contemplating a similar decision and compare this device / OS with the iPad2. Lets see where both platforms shine.
Open – the platform really is an open book. This has pros and cons as we will get into here. But from hardware to software, the Acer A500 is night and day different from the iPad. The Iconia has a full USB port, a mini USB port, SD card slot, and hdmi out. Want a file browser? Simply install one from the Android Market and gain access to all your files. Apple refuses to let iPad users see their files, much less copy things to or from their device.
On vacation and want to copy your camera photos to your iPad2? Good luck. (Note: a friend has pointed out you that Apple is happy to sell you a $29 adapter to connect your camera) With the A500, just hook up your camera over USB, or even easier, take the SD card out of your camera and put it in the A500′s SD slot. One look at the photo here shows something we may never see an iPad do – connect directly to a USB device. I now routinely move files between my Mac and the Andriod tablet via a USB Drive.
Browser – Google has built a great browsing experience into Honeycomb. Flash capable, tabbed, and beautifully done, you really feel it’s a desktop based experience – only better. It was able to handle all the flash websites I visited, and you can even run Adobe Air applications. If you think iPad browsing is good, you have to see what Google has done in Honeycomb.
Solid – both the Acer tablet and the Honeycomb OS have been rock solid. Honeycomb 3.0.1 came loaded on the A500 and in 3 days I haven’t really seen one glitch. The whole platform seems very solid. Honeycomb itself is a terrific platform, multitasking, gorgeous interface, and fairly intuitive. I was able to navigate the UI very quickly and understand how to access menus, etc. In head to head comparison, the A500 also has better wifi range than the iPad2.
Power / Flexibility – If you are a power user or technophile then, it is hard to beat an android device. You can build or install any app under the sun, and even change the kernel itself. So far, I haven’t been able to find anything I can’t do with this Honeycomb tablet. It’s impressive what is possible with an Open platform. The OS is slick and the multicore device is fast. And, you don’t need a PC or a Mac, and no silly iTunes download or activation is required to use the device. The device can standalone. But… with power comes less simplicity.
For example, playing movies on the gorgeous A500 screen – there’s just not a push button way to get movies on the device. To take a movie with you, you would need to rip a DVD to a m4v or similar movie file format and copy it to your tablet. Pretty straightforward, but out of reach of many people. I haven’t found yet a good way to “rent” movies ala iTunes. Netflix doesn’t yet have a app for the tablet (even though Google TV is also android and it works great there).
iTunes music/movies – The Apple monopoly certainly makes it convienent to play movies on the iPad! You can rent movies and take them on the plane or other places where wifi may not be available. At $5 a pop its not exactly Redbox.
Exchange email – like iPhone, the iPad has great built in connectivity to Exchange. Incredibly, the Acer Iconia Honeycomb OS based tablet doesn’t have a default Exchange connector as a choice for it’s built in Email application. I found a thirdparty android app called Touchdown that works great, but this omission is silly. One would have to believe that this is temporary.
Cisco vpn – Seriously Google? Both iPad and iPhone support Cisco VPN. The Honeycomb tablet supports 4 other types of VPN, but since most of corporate America uses Cisco, you’re pretty much out of luck. There seems to be a way to hack the Android kernel to add this, but seriously Google, this is lame.
Apps – As Steve Jobs will be the first to tell you, there are more Apps for iPhone/iPad. Still I found an App for everything I was looking for, and equivalent to everything I use on my iPhone: Evernote, Sugarsync, MochaVNC to name a few. The price of Openness seems to be to have to put up with trashware. Google doesn’t screen their apps, so you need to be careful. Still, if something is trashware, it shows up in the comments with even a casual scan. (if you like the term trashware in this context – feel free to use it. it seems to fit).
Ease/Simplicity – There’s no two ways around it – the iPad and iPhone are jsut about the easiest to use devices every created. Toddlers can learn to use them quickly. Hats off to Apple for this. Of course, if Apple doesn’t want you to do something, like connect your camera and move files to the iPad, then you’re out of luck. If you are not computer savvy, the iPad is the way to go, no doubt. This could change as vendors build out more completely packaged Honeycomb based solutions for their tablets. The Honeycomb OS is certainly capable of it. I just haven’t seen any thing yet that can rival the simplicity of the iPad.
Books – I just have to hand it to Amazon – with their cross application support of Kindle and the message of buy your books once and read them on all your devices, you just can’t beat it.
Coexisting with an iPad:
Honeycomb and iOS tablets can coexist, you just need a little creativity. Take facetime for example, it’s an Apple only thing. But free video calling between the devices is easy through other apps such as Fring. It has worked really well in my initial testing.