The Acer Iconia Tab 8 (A1-840FHD) is one of a new breed of affordable Android tablets that include Intel’s Bay Trail processing, decent displays and build quality all offered up for a price of around $200. This all sounds good, but in actuality we find Acer has built a competent piece of hardware that has its issues and challenges, especially in when it comes to its software and overall bundle. Mobile Geeks bring you the full review.
The Evolution of the Acer Iconia Tablet Series
The Acer Iconia tablet range has been around for a year or so in various forms in the 7 – 8 inch tablet space. Going back to mid-2013 we have products such as the Tab B1-A71 which used a dual-core MediaTek processor and a TFT 1024 x 600 resolution display. It was rather thick and clunky, and clearly aimed for the base of the Android tablet pyramid, priced as low as a hundred bucks. There were also devices like the Tab A1-810 which used a slightly beefier MediaTek processor and an 8 inch 768 x 1024 display. This was followed by the first generation to integrate Intel’s Clover Trail processor and improved LCD displays of up to 800 x 1200 pixels.
Don’t forget to catch the video that accompanies this written review of the Acer Iconia Tab 8:
Most of these Acer Iconia Tab series devices were designed to be as cheap as possible and if you shop around you can still find some inventory left available for heavily discounted prices today. This fact is largely due to the emergence of this new breed we see today in the form of the Acer Iconia Tab 8 (A1-840FHD), reclaiming the $200 space with an improved overall spec that finally includes Intel’s Bay Trail processors, thinner sleeker housing and LCDs screen that now pack Full HD resolution panels.
This evolution of the affordable Android tablet space is good news for us consumers, but for us Geeks there are deeper questions that need appraisal. How about the camera? Battery life? Audio quality? Is the new breed a realistic alternative to devices such as the Nexus 7? How is Android 4.4. implemented? How does it stack up to the new Nexus 9 which will arrive in the next week or so for double the price? Hopefully we can help offer some perspective here in this review. Note: for the purposes of this review, I will refer to the device simply as the Acer Iconia Tab 8, or simply Tab 8. The full product name (inc. A1-840FHD) is a crime against marketing, but in fairness, a crime also born of a massive Taiwanese company pumping out a vast array of consumer device options overtime.
Acer Iconia Tab 8: Hardware Overview
So what exactly do you get for your $200 with the Iconia Tab 8? As I mentioned, we have two elements in particular which differentiates this fella from its predecessors; we talking of course about the processing platform and the display. The Tab 8 is driven by the Intel Atom Z3745, a quad-core system-on-chip that tops previous Intel tablet chips by some distance in terms of raw performance. It’s also great to see that we have been given the benefit of 2GB of RAM. The display is an 8 inch IPS LCD touchscreen with a Full HD resolution of 1920 x 1200 – a vast improvement on the days when cheap and cheerful meant TFT at 1024 x 600. Praise the lord. The display is actually one of the highlights of the Iconia Tab 8. It will not wow you, or cause your geek DNA to quiver as with a higher resolution AMOLED from Samsung that costs perhaps two or three times the price, but it is actually impressive for this price. More on that later.
Of course the Iconia Tab is a WiFi constrained device containing no 3G/4G modem, and unfortunately WiFi is restricted to b/g/n grade connectivity. There is Bluetooth 4.0 as you would expect and it is also good to see a micro HDMI port included. In terms of storage you have the choice of 16GB and apparently 32GB, although in Taiwan I have only seen the 16GB surface in the markets or indeed on the Acer website. The review model we have is the 16GB version, and thus far looks to be the only model most broadly available right now. 16GB is in fact not too much for a lot of users who be thankful the Tab 8 also features microSD card support. The battery is a non-removable 4,600 mAh.
Acer Iconia Tab 8: Design and Build Quality
The Iconia Tab 8 is considerably thinner than most of its recent predecessors at 8.5mm thick which is not bad going. The New Nexus 9 will be thinner at 7.9mm while the iPad mini 3 will be thinner again at 7.5mm. If we take these two as relative benchmarks for how thin tablets can get with today’s technology, the Tab 8 is doing reasonably well, if not exceptionally so. The build as you would expect has a front that is essentially one plane of plastic that covers the display and the reasonably generous bezels. The thickest bezel resides on the lower bottom of the front face where you will no hardware buttons, only a silver Acer logo. The only thing on the front face of note is the 2MP selfie cam.
The back cover is made of plastic, but a kind plastic that tries hard to pretend that it is a metal alloy. The result is actually not too far off with a metallic, silvery finish that looks attractive, leaves zero fingerprints and has a professional enough feel. The power button is placed on the upper right edge of the device with the volume rocker just below. The opposite left side edge has only the micro SD card slot, while the lower edge is left entirely bare and blank. This means you will find the USB 2.0 charging and data slot sitting not quite centrally on the top edge, alongside a micro HDMI port with a headphone jack to the side of that. Not a configuration that I personally enjoy.
Looking again at the back cover of the Tab 8 we see the camera lens is placed smack bang in the middle of the upper portion of the back cover, a location that I found did actually mean your fingers can get in the way when taking snaps. Not a major concern, but one that would be remedied with a corner placement that is common on plenty of 7 and 8 inch tablets. Again we have an embossed silver Acer logo in the center with an Intel sticker (that I am so tempted to remove) below that. Certification certificates reside on one sticker while the products’ bar-code, serial number and manufacturing date reside on another. These stickers will certainly get grimy before long as they have regular and direct contact with the hand and should probably be removed. I have not done so yet on our review sample (they may ask for it back…) but you can kind of see that this will be the eventual result of prolonged ownership.
When it comes to being comfortable in the hand for prolonged usage, a tablet needs to have a reasonably low weight. The Iconia Tab 8 weighs in at 360 grams which makes heavier than plenty of other devices; the new iPad mini 3 will be 330 grams and the Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 is 314 grams for example. However, we do see a improvement as far as the Acer catalog are concerned, as previous 7.9 inch efforts could weigh as much as 410 grams (Acer Iconia Tab A1-810 for example).
Generally speaking the design of the Iconia Tab 8 is simplistic enough, light enough and has a finish that almost feels classy. The top edge of the display does creak a bit and you can easily get your thumb nail in there with a little force. This is the same area where we find the micro HDMI and USB port, but it doesn’t really cheapen the overall aura. I am also not a huge fan of having the USB 2.0 port at the top of the device. Why have it here? Perhaps it is just that pretty much every device I have ever used has had the port placed at the bottom. Maybe it’s my fault. It just doesn’t work for me. The finish is decent, looks reasonably good and feels almost like metal. Generally speaking it is still an attractive design and one that holds up very well in light of its price.
Full HD, LED Backlit LCD Display for $200?
The display, as I mentioned earlier is of a pretty decent standard for this price range. After all it is Full HD (which is where the A1-840FHD naming came from of course), sporting 1920 x 1200 pixels on a IPS LCD panel. The brightness is decent enough if not exceptional as the panel is actually an LED backlit LCD display, not a lit by CCFL (cold cathode fluorescent) backlighting that we would normally see used by most LCDs. This kind of LED backlight LCD panel has a pretty good contrast ratio, using a touch less power and generally less expensive than earlier LCD panels, and using IPS technology means that the viewing angles are solid.
The display is one area that doesn’t disappoint on the Iconia Tab 8. These modern LCD panels might not blow you away in comparison to the very best AMOLED screens on the market, Samsung’s bastion of strength at the moment, but it remains a Full HD device that retails for less than $200. That in itself is probably all you need to know to be sure you are getting good value for money and a great viewing experience.
Intel Bay Trail Arrives in Force
We have seen the Intel Bay Trail on plenty of Windows devices in recent months, with the platform creating a new wave of affordable offerings. The same can now be said of affordable Android devices spanning 5 to 8 inches, with Intel usurping a multitude of design wins from MediaTek, Rockchip and Allwinner. Intel has been here before, as it did with VIA Technologies competing against the VIA C7-M in early days of the netbook and UMPC. Intel has once again has shown its immense clout in managing to carve out a very significant piece of a market that many thought closed off to it.
Check out this video below we made during Computex which shows just poised to spring in action Intel were just a few months ago. On the 2nd floor of Hall 1 we found the first shoots of Chinese tablet market penetration, with many, many smaller vendors, suppliers and OEMs flying Intel colors to prove they were already with the program.
Intel Atom Z3745: Bay Trail Performance
Generally speaking, the Intel Atom Z3745 is great performer that finally proves Intel can do it in the tablet space. Its predecessor Clover Trail (Intel Atom Z2 series) is a pale shadow compared to Bay Trail in terms of raw grunt and the power is down too. The Z3547 is a quad-core system-on-chip that includes Intel HD graphics. The cores have a base clock of 1.33 with those cores being dynamically able to adapt to the system’s needs with a boost of 1.86GHz. The transition from low to high clock happens instantly so the system doesn’t stutter or get overly hot.
When it comes to the CPU power Intel has never been shy, and the Z3547 does not disappoint, showing very comparable performance with Qualcomm and the Snapdragon 801. Only when it comes to graphics benchmarks do we see a place where the Qualcomm-developed Adreno GPU cores have a distinct advantage. This doesn’t mean that you are limited in terms of gaming however. I am confident the Intel HD Graphics can handle 90% of games out there on the highest settings.
It is interesting to see the benchmark results here are largely similar to those we saw on the Lenovo Tab S8. In some cases we see the Acer Iconia tab 8 pull ahead which could mean that Acer have really managed to drag that bit extra from the device. Solid performer.
Iconia Tab 8 Android: Vanilla Kit Kat
When it comes to the software of the Acer Iconia Tab 8 we have a pretty vanilla flavored Android UI that doesn’t stray too far from the Kit Kat experience we have come to know on other Android tablets. The menus and navigation will familiar to anyone who has used a Nexus device with pull down menus on top left and top right corners bringing you to shortcuts and notifications respectively. Many of the icons too remain standard Android.
In terms of apps, you are getting a full compliment of Google apps as well as an Office suite from MobieSystems and introduction Acers’ new Build Your Own Cloud (see below). There are plenty of live and static wallpapers on offer, many of which stem from standard Google Android. There is an app draw accessed by the central icon on the lower, which again follows a more vanilla path compared to more heavily customized UIs we have seen many of the newer smartphone devices from Chinese vendors such as Xiaomi and Hauwei recently which are tending towards a more iOS influenced approach that discards the app draw.
Overall the approach from Acer has been to stick quite closely to Google’s vision of a Kit Kat tablet. There are a few things that I personally dislike
Acer BYOC: Build Your Own Cloud
Then we have Acer’s ‘Build Your Own Cloud’ concept which in essence ultimately means switching from Google or Microsoft eco-systems and adopting Acers’. It doesn’t involve email, or search yet – no Acer have only just started on the road to cloud domination. Right now they are willing to offer you a place on their servers to store your files and music with the abFiles, abPhoto, abDocs and abMusic apps.
Acer has been very candid about its desire to become a software and hardware company, and one that redefine the cloud. This is a move complete opposite direct to fellow Taiwanese companies HTC and ASUS, for example who have opted to not create an all-encompassing software and cloud eco-system and instead, offer very attractive Android user interfaces that are very customized and uniquely flavored, leaving the eco-system, the cloud and the apps to the end user. You would have to argue that Acer is taking a risk in trying to offer an alternative cloud eco-system for their hardware customers, but it is one that may pay off long term. They also have plenty of server muscle to back it up with their own server farm here in Taiwan.
The battery life of the Acer Iconia Tab 8 is reliant on a 17Wh / 4,600 mAh Li-ion battery that Acer predicts will last up to 7.5 hours of continuous playback. Our testing involved the LapTop Mag Battery Informant 2.3 test where we saw it last 5 hours 43 minutes, this is with WiFi on and brightness turned up to about 70%.
If you want continual all day performance, i.e. with relatively heavy use, you probably will need to find a charger at some point. Light users may find far better results, and the device holds its charge well when left on idle for extended periods.
The audio of the Iconia Tab 8 is the responsibility of the two stereo speakers that provide onboard sound via a triple row of holes along the bottom rear of the device. The sound is probably best described as average with very little in the way of serious volume or bass. Alas these are things we tend to find are often missing on cheaper tablets so we should not be too surprised. But good audio is possible at these prices as we have seen with the recent Lenovo Tab S8 which implemented good quality front facing speakers at either end. No such joy here.
The Camera is again an area where cheaper Android tablets tend not to excel. Let’s be honest, the Google Nexus 7 in 2012 set the tone by not even having a rear camera, having only a pretty terrible 1.2MP front facing sensor. Since then, only larger, more costly devices from manufacturers like Samsung have really opted for a decent camera.
The camera on the Iconia Tab 8, however is better than most, especially for this price point. The 5MP rear camera is capable of decent quality pics as long as it you keep the thing steady, have plenty of light and perhaps a touch of patience. You don’t have HDR as an option, the auto-focus is a fast but doesn’t really give you a sense of the outcome before taking the snap. There are only three filters; negative, sepia and monochrome but they can be used in real-time which is always good to see.
Good quality pictures are totally possible however. Check out some of the examples we shot below:
There is quick navigation between some of scene modes, filters, picture in picture mode and ISO level settings via the left hand area where you can flick through each of these. But under the hood there are also the usual bevy of camera settings, but in truth your best bet is often with mostly auto settings. The auto configurations are doing a thoroughly good job.
Adjusting exposure levels can help at times, but then night mode will also give you better results in low light. We did encounter some issues when shooting purple flowers however. Perhaps just a touch haphazard color retouching going on somewhere…
The Acer Iconia Tab 8: Conclusion
There is little doubt that when it comes to hardware, the Iconia Tab 8 has plenty going for it. The good looking Full HD display and the good performance of its Intel processor are the highlights. The build quality is ok, but has a few creaks here and there. The camera is also ok if you have the right conditions and a bit of patience. The battery life is unremarkable, as is the audio experience.
In hardware terms you are getting good value for money. No questions. For $200 this is great going.
There are plenty of alternatives out there in this segment too, so Acer may find it difficult to really claim wedge of this brave new Android tablet order, a tough ask for any vendor in this increasingly competitive segment. One device worthy of comparison when it comes this segment is the Lenovo Tab S8 a device that has a great deal in common with the Iconia Tab 8 including its $200 price point, and a very attractive display also.