Following the success of the New Apple iPad ($499, 4.5 stars) with its 2,048-by-1,536-pixel Retina display, Android tablet manufacturers are getting the picture—the high-definition picture, that is—and packing in the pixels. Much like Asus, with its Transformer Pad Infinity TF700 ($499, 4 stars), Acer's Iconia Tab A700 ($449.99 list, 32GB) is nearly identical to the existing Iconia Tab A510 ($449.99, 3 stars), but adds a high-resolution 1,920-by-1,200-pixel display. The A510 $419.99 at Amazon couldn't keep up with the Asus Eee Pad Transformer Prime TF201 ($499, 4 stars), and the A700 $449.99 at TigerDirect.com falls short of the Asus Transformer Pad Infinity TF700. And both tablets are playing catch-up with the new iPad and its vast selection of tablet-centric and Retina-display-optimized apps.
Design and FeaturesThe Iconia Tab A700 is physically identical to the lower-resolution Iconia Tab A510, from its dimensions (6.9 by 10.2 by .4 inches, 1.47 pounds) to its button and port placement. While that was fine for the thin (0.33 inches) and light (1.31 pounds) aluminum-clad Infinity Pad TF700, which was nearly identical to the Transformer Prime TF201 $499.99 at P.C. Richard & Son, the Iconia Tab A700 remains as clunky and uninspiring as its plastic predecessor, the A510. At least the rubberized back is comfortable to hold.
One welcome holdover is the micro USB to full-sized USB adapter and USB host mode capability. The tablet supports FAT32-format external storage devices, as well as USB keyboards and mice. This is pretty useful, and I was able to use a USB splitter to connect both a mouse and keyboard to the A700. Asus's keyboard dock accessories for its Transformer tablets add the same capabilities, and they emulate a laptop form factor while adding extra battery life, but they are also more expensive than using the peripherals you already own. Flanking the micro USB port are two speaker grilles that get moderately loud, but lack low-end oomph.
A Wi-Fi only tablet that connects to 802.11b/g/n networks, the A700 works on the 2.4GHz frequency band only. You also get Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR and GPS, both of which worked fine in my tests. The A700 is available in black or silver, but only in a single 32GB configuration. A microSD card slot, hidden behind a plastic flap on the right panel, accepts cards up to 64GB. On the left side is a 3.5mm headphone jack, with a microHDMI port on the right for output to HDTVs.
Display, Apps, and AndroidThe high-resolution display is the main draw here, and it's looking like 1,920-by-1,200 is the new standard for 10-inch Android tablets. The A700's 10.1-inch display matches the Infinity TF700 in terms of sharpness, but the Asus wins out with its ultra-bright Super IPS+ display. Viewing angle and color saturation are similar on the two displays. At 224 pixels per inch, they both look incredibly sharp and clear. Text and high-res images look fairly comparable between the A700, TF700, and the new iPad, which packs 264 pixels per inch. During testing, I noticed that applying mild pressure to the A700's screen caused some unusual rippling under the glass surface. It didn't affect responsiveness and was very difficult to see with the screen on, but it's worth noting.
The real difference is in the apps and even a lot of websites, where the iPad's dominance means developers are actually paying attention and optimizing specifically for that display. For example, article text in The New York Times looks comparable on the A700 and the new iPad, but some site graphics look sharper on the iPad's screen than they do on either of the two Android tablets'. The difference isn't in the hardware, it's that developers are writing their websites to detect the iPad and push higher resolution elements its way. That hasn't yet happened for Android.
That same problem carries over to apps, where Android dominance still belongs to the smartphone market. Apps are written for smaller screens and, generally, look pretty bad on 10-inch screens, with a lot of wasted space and/or stretched-out elements. Text almost always looks better on the A700 than the A510, but don't expect graphics to suddenly look much clearer. Android app developers have yet to take advantage of the high screen resolution. The App Store over at Apple offers more than 200,000 apps written specifically for the iPad, many of which are written with the Retina display in mind. The Google Play store, on the other hand, has a small section for recommended tablet apps, and even some of those are made for smartphone screens. There are also alternative app portals, like the Tablified Market ($1.49, 4 stars) or Nvidia's Tegra Zone, that offer well curated, but relatively sparse, selections of tablet apps.
The A700 runs Android 4.0.4 (Ice Cream Sandwich) with Acer's Ring UI, which is a generally light skin, but further from stock Android than you'll find on Asus tablets. A virtual button at the bottom of the screen brings up the Acer Ring, which presents you with five customizable quick app shortcuts, Web bookmarks, and volume controls. The lock screen also features a ring of four customizable quick app shortcuts. You'll also find Acer Print, which lets you connect to Wi-Fi enabled printers, and the clear.fi DLNA media server for wirelessly pushing media to capable devices like HDTVs. Rounding out some of the more useful apps are Aupeo, an Internet radio app, McAfee Antivirus, and Polaris Office for Microsoft Office documents, spreadsheets, and presentations.
Acer also tweaked the Android browser, adding the ability to display URLs as QR codes for sharing—though I don't know anyone who uses QR codes. One feature missing from the A700's browser, which can be found in the Asus tablets, is the ability to always request desktop sites. You can still check the 'Request Desktop Site' box in the browser's settings, but having to do that every time is pesky.
Hardware and PerformanceUsing the same quad-core 1.3GHz Tegra 3 processor found in the A510, the A700 matches its speedy performance. 3D graphics showed slower frame rates on the A700 than the A510, but that simply indicates that the high-resolution display is matching the Tegra 3's pixel-pushing power. Expect equally smooth gameplay from both tablets. Compared with the Asus Transformer Pad Infinity TF700, however, the A700 feels slightly more sluggish. Apps, especially more demanding ones like Shadowgun THD, took longer to load on the A700, and scrolling through websites was also choppier.
Media playback was fine in my tests. The A700 was able to play MP3, AAC, WMA, and OGG music files, as well as MPEG-4, H.264, DivX, Xvid, and WMV video files at resolutions up to 1080p. Video played smoothly and high-definition content looked sharp. With 1080p content, you won't really notice much of a difference between the A700 and A510 because of their relatively small screens. The A700 can mirror its screen to an HDTV at full 1080p resolution, which is an improvement over the A510's 720p max output.
The 5-megapixel rear camera and 1-megapixel front camera are the same ones found on the A510. And the same problems that plague the A510 remain in the A700, including noisy indoor pictures and somewhat-washed-out images in bright outdoor light. The rear camera can shoot 1080p video at 30 frames per second outdoors, but that frame rate drops to 16 fps indoors.
The Iconia Tab A700 uses the same 9800mAh (36.36-watt) battery as the A510, which impressed us with its 9 hours, 34 minutes of continuous video playback. The A700 turned in a solid 8 hours in the same test (with Wi-Fi on and screen brightness set to max), while the TF700 lasted 7 hours, 17 minutes. What's interesting to see is that both the A700 and Infinity TF700 use the same batteries as their standard-definition predecessors, but still turn in relatively close battery numbers. The new iPad, on the other hand, needs a large 42.5-watt battery, and only lasted 5 hours, 33 minutes in the same test.
ConclusionsAt $450, the Acer Iconia Tab A700 is $50 less expensive than the same-size, same-screen-resolution Asus Transformer Pad Infinity TF700. Currently, the two tablets are the only high-resolution Android models available. The Infinity TF700 is thinner, lighter, and includes some higher-end components like a faster processor, and a higher-quality camera. There's a glaring problem with both of these tablets, however. There just aren't enough apps that take full advantage of their high-resolution displays. The entry-level new iPad is the same price as the Infinity TF700, offers a much sharper screen, along with access to a broad selection of apps that were designed specifically for it. If you're sold on Android and can wait for more apps to take advantage of larger, higher-resolution screens, I'd recommend the Asus Transformer Pad Infinity TF700 over the Acer Iconia A700. Right now, though, the new iPad retains its status as the best large-screen tablet you can buy.