Editor's Note 11/7/11:
This review has been updated to reflect the launch of Netflix for Android 3.x devices.
Not too long ago, TabletPCReview spent some time with the Acer Iconia A500 tablet, and we were more or less pleased with the device. Despite a couple of minor drawbacks, we deemed it a solid Honeycomb tablet. Now, it's getting an upgrade in the form of the new Iconia A501, which sports AT&T 4G connectivity. The A501 is internally exactly the same as the A500 with the exception of the data connection (and the only storage option is 32GB, no 16GB option) - so for a new take on the same tablet, just with a new form of connectivity, read our review.
BUILD & DESIGN
The Iconia A501 has a sleek, simplistic design that I can really get on board with. The reviewer who spent some time with the A500 (which has an identical design) did not care for its build; he found it to be a little too big, but I don't feel the same way. It's relatively thin -- though not quite as thin as the industry standard, the iPad -- and, at 1.69 pounds, is light enough to be held comfortably with one hand.
All of the buttons and ports are placed in comfortable locations, perhaps with the exception of the front-facing webcam. I found its placement to be a little odd, seeing as it was not centered on either the long or short side of the tablet. Instead, it's found on the short side and off to one side, putting it closer to the corner. This means that if you have the tablet centered and held right in front of you, the picture that the front-facing camera picks up has your face off to one side and sometimes even cut off.
Everything else is fine in terms of placement, though; if you're holding the tablet horizontally, the power/standby button, headphone jack, and micro HDMI port are all located on the left side while the reset button, full sized and micro USB ports, and charging port are located on the right. The volume rocker and orientation lock switch are found on the top edge, with the proprietary pin connector on the bottom.
The addition of the SIM card slot for the A501's 4G connectivity is also found on the top edge right next to the orientation lock, beneath a panel that also houses the microSD card slot.
I really appreciate both the stereo speakers found on the A501, as well as their location. They are found on the back of the tablet on towards the bottom, therefore minimizing the chances that you will accidentally cover them up with your hands. The rear-facing camera is also back here, up and in the right-hand corner, complete with a flash. All in all, it's a comfortable and intelligent design.
Display and Speakers
The HD screen on the A501 is excellent, providing vibrant colors and crisp images. It also has a wide viewing angle so you don't have to worry about holding the tablet in the exact right position to make sure you can see things clearly. My only issue with the display is that it collects fingerprints and smudges like it's going out of style, and its excessive glossiness results in some really bad glare issues. It's nearly impossible to use in areas that are heavy on natural light like, say, the outdoors.
As I already mentioned, I love the placement of the speakers and the fact that there are two of them, providing stereo sound. They're capable of making plenty of noise as they're pretty powerful to boot, but obviously their quality is lacking. I doubt that anybody expects to get super high quality audio out of their tablet speakers, so it kind of goes without saying that while they are capable of playing music loudly, the sound is tinny and flat.
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