Hands on: Acer’s A1 budget Android tablet

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This week Acer announced its new Iconia A1 tablet, which will go on sale in South Africa at the end of August. The budget Android tablet has respectable specifications: an 8-inch display, 1.2GHz quad-core processor, 1GB of RAM, front and rear cameras, micro SD card slot, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0, and it will ships in 8- and 16GB capacities.

At first glance, it’s budget appeal shows: it’s a far cry from the slim designs seen in Sony’s Xperia tablet lineup. Even the Samsung Galaxy Note 8, another 8-inch tablet, looks a bit slicker – but that’s a pricier machine, to be honest. If we consider the A1’s budget aspirations – a 16GB Wi-Fi model will cost R3 999 – then its use of light plastics and thick form factor don’t really matter.

A bit thick, but at a potential bargain price.
A bit thick, but at a potential bargain price.

The 1.2GHz quad-core processor inside hails from China’s Mediatek. Based on older ARM v7 architecture, it has the advantage of being very efficient, in our brief time so far we’ve used the tablet extensively and only had to charge it once. Sadly, that use included trying to play back HD video files – something that wasn’t met with a great deal of success. It could be down to the media player we used, but extensive testing is underway and we’ll report back on this issue in our full review.

The display is good, but not the best. Resolution (1024 x 768) isn’t an issue – it matches Apple’s iPad mini resolution – but overall contrast and brightness aren’t great. Thankfully it uses IPS technology so view angles aren’t a problem.

Perhaps the biggest draw, here, is that the Iconia A1 has the latest  version of Android (4.2.2) available to non-Google products. Acer hasn’t gone and skinned it to death – which we know the number one reason for manufacturers to delay Android upgrades – and the vanilla version of Android running on the A1 is nice and responsive. The interface animations are silky smooth, and all the Google Now goodness is also available.

The only problem, so far, is that the Asus Nexus 7 can be had for around R3 000, if you shop smartly, and despite losing out a single in screen size, it’s a better value proposition.

We’ll have a full review up of the A1 in the next week or so, so watch this space for the definitive verdict on Acer’s entry-level slate.

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