When JT Wang, Acer’s chairman and temporary CEO stood up recently and said that he wanted the Taiwanese Company to be “more like Apple” and that Acer was a serious competitor in the tablet market I decided to take a look at the new Acer A500 Iconia tablet to see how close the device came to the iPad 2.
The Acer device which runs the new Android Honeycomb OS looks very slick on the outside, but under the bonnet it’s lacking, especially as Acer sells to an installed base of Windows customers who primarily use Microsoft Outlook and Exchange and are big users of Firefox and Google Chrome for their browser.
The first big mistake came within seconds of trying to configure my email when I discovered that I could not configure access to my Outlook and Microsoft Exchange on an Acer tablet.
Also missing from the Acer tablet offering is the ability to configure a Google Account and sync a Chrome browser which I suspect is because Acer is a hardware company and not a software company.
Where the Acer device falls down is in the configuration of the software not the hardware.
To not have connectivity to an Exchange account from day one is appalling, as most current Acer customers use Microsoft Outlook to access their emails.
Both the Motorola Xoom and the new Toshiba Android Tablets allow instant configuration of an Exchange email server and access to preconfigured Chrome settings similar to what I use every day across my desktop PC, Android Smartphone and Android tablet.
Where Acer has made a mistake is that it is a volume hardware company, which simply wants to sell millions of notebooks and tablets and while it aspires to be like Apple, it is not Apple, for the simple reason that software is not part of their DNA or core competency.
This is the same reason that Sony failed inits battle with Apple and why most hardware companies will fail if they try to create unique software to sit on a tablet.
On the other hand Google, who created the tablet OS for Acer, is an excellent software company who through devices like tablets and Smartphone’s and operating systems like Android and Chrome is now shifting PC computing to a new level where very soon we will simply talk to our devices instead of using a keyboard.
What is becoming clear, as more Android tablets are launched, is the distinct difference between an Android tablet and the Apple iPad offering.
I have an iPad and I use it every day to read content, play games and access specific apps. I don’t use it as a business tool because I believe that the Android offering is superior for business where opening PDFss and accessing Adobe Flash content are a critical part of my daily workflow.
Android Honeycomb 3.0.1, which is available on the Acer, Motorola and Toshiba tablets has some very unique capabilities which are starting to create a distinct difference between an iPad and Android based tablets.
One big difference is voice command, which I used extensively for navigation on a Motorola Xoom tablet during a recent 2,450 kilometre drive across NSW and Victoria. This same navigation voice command capability also works well on an Android phone.
One only has to enter a location address to get a full satellite map as well as turn by turn driving directions delivered to both an Android Smartphone such as the Samsung Galaxy S 2 or a Honeycomb tablet.
By configuring my Chrome browser setting into my Motorola Xoom tablet and my Samsung Galaxy S 2 phone, it also works the same with the Motorola Atrix; I was able to instantly access all of my bookmark folders from my PC.
With the Android Smartphone I downloaded a simple application called ChromeMarks which instantly categorised the browser setting so that I had follow me capability across my notebook, Smartphone and Tablet, which is an application extension that Microsoft should have done years ago.
As for the Acer Iconia tablet, it has the looks, with a smooth easy to handle brushed aluminium casing that comes with a bevelled edge and good display screen. The Tegra 2 processor and 1GB of RAM in the A500 meant it handled everything we threw at it easily. Apps booted quickly and ran smoothly, and the whole user interface felt smooth and responsive which is more Google than Acer.
I only had the Wi-Fi version of the Acer tablet so I was not able to compare it to the Motorola Xoom (which had a Telstra 3G SIM card), which is brilliantly fast due to the use of dual core processors and a connection to the Telstra’s Next G Network.
In an effort to keep the device sleek, Acer has an on off button that is concealed into the side of the device, and while it looks good, it is not easy to use and should have been configured as a protruding button located on either the bottom right or left hand side of the device like Apple does, or even on the top of the device for easy access.
On offer from Acer are accessories such as a cover that doubles as a display easel, a docking station and even a wireless keyboard. The display screen is good at 10.1 inches, measured diagonally, which is 0.4 inches larger than the iPad 2’s 9.7-inch screen.
The Australian version comes with 16 gigabytes of RAM installed; you can add a miniSD card for extra storage. However the version I had did not have a SIM slot.
Like most Android tablets the Iconia runs Adobe’s Flash program, something that distinguishes it from the iPad.
Acer Australia believes that, to distinguish its device from others, they have to deliver Acer sourced content and benefits such as free $100 Dymock eBooks & EMI Music downloads.
While this sort of offer is nice, what most people want is a highly functional device, not application Icons that lead users to expensive games and downloads. This is best left to Android Market providers.
What Acer is doing is developing relationships with local developers, which in itself is prone to issues for the simple reason that Google itself has a problem with the quality of their applications marketplace let alone Acer and local developers.
Google is far less demanding of its applications developers than is Apple, and a lot of the applications which are being given away free, or charged for, are not up to the same quality as those on offer from the Apple store.
Reviewing the Acer Tablet revealed the value of iTunes and the way that an iPad can be easily synced with a desktop.
What Google needs is their own version of iTunes that works on a Windows platform. They may not like doing this due to the company now pushing a Google Chrome OS that is set to compete head on with Windows.
Acer needs to find a good way to sync the Iconia with desktop platforms other than Windows. There may be a Mac user or two out there who’d want to drive the tablet from a Mac. Here, too, Apple is smart, offering iTunes for Windows users as a way to hook up iPads.
Honeycomb does away with physical home and back buttons seen on Android smart phones. On the Acer tablet virtual buttons in the lower left-hand corner of the screen allow users to move around the tablet. The buttons move when you rotate the A500 between portrait and landscape orientations which is hard to replicate with physical buttons.
On the Iconia screen there is enough space to pack 56 icons on each home screen. Nvidia, which makes the A500’s dual-core Tegra 2 processor, has its own app store on the tablet which allows a user to access games which appear to have been developed for phones that also use the Tegra 2 processor.
The best thing about the applications on the Iconia is the Google Android apps, from the Android Market to the calendar to the navigation application.
So is Acer going to make it, up against Apple’s iPad2?
Put bluntly, the answer is no, for the simple reason that Apple is a company that understands human process. It is a brilliant software developer and when it wraps its software creations into a piece of hardware, the same simple efficiencies that it applies to developing software are crafted into its hardware offerings.
Both its hardware and software offerings are way ahead of Acer, and for Acer to even remotely compete with Apple, it is going to have to get closer to human nature and software development, and when it does, it may have a very slim chance of competing with Apple.
As for Acer’s A500 Iconia Tablet, it has a long way to go before it is on a level footing with the Motorola Xoom or the Toshiba Honeycomb Tablet. While it is stylish and functional, it needs a software makeover to bring it up to speed.
On the looks and efficiency front, however, it is as good as any other Android tablet out there.