Frontline News from the Honeycomb

In August, my wife claims to have widowed herself by giving me an Acer A500 Iconia tablet. Reports of my death notwithstanding, I thought I would share my reaction to the tablet after some serious usage time. For those who are unfamiliar with it, the A500 Iconia is a tablet with a 10- inch display, running Honeycomb; Android’s tablet-tweaked OS. My purpose for wanting the tablet was split between work and gaming, and now two months in I find that my gaming uses for it have expanded, while my professional uses have largely stalled – mostly for a lack of fully-featured Office applications.

While I was waiting for the tablet to arrive, I was inundated with reviews and YouTube clips which caused me some concern about my selection of the Iconia, but so far, none of these reviews have proven to be all that accurate. Not being fond of writing reviews, and not wanting my report of my own experiences to turn into one and have it fell prey to the same errors, I have held off writing this follow-up report until now.  I still plan to do a video blog entry, but have yet to have the time to set up an appropriate light level to capture the screen in use without reflections and glare.

The Bad:

Let’s get the weak points out of the way first, so as to not waste anyone’s time.


First off, the screen resolution is excellent, but the colour density will be noticeably lower than on other products in this category, most notably the Samsung Galaxy series. I have a Galaxy SII and am often surprised by the striking display differences between the two in terms of vividness of colour and depth of blacks. That said, the Acer’s screen is not disappointing, but it is not the category leader either.


I am not sure what to say to this as my initial impressions and my current impressions show a continual change in the device’s performance. I am not a video game player and my use of the preloaded games was more for the sake of comparison than anything else. The tablet has definitely been optimized for games and I find its performance to exceed that of other tablets in the category. That point aside, I did notice right away that products like the Galaxy 10.1 loaded browser pages and graphics faster, switched from portrait to landscape and back faster, and scrolled more smoothly across the five homepages. In use I had to conclude that the portrait and landscape lag was an intentional design choice, and with the Honeycomb 3.2 Update no longer notice any lag when scrolling between screens, but I still experience the distinctly slower performance with Browser.

A specifically gaming related speed issue involved the handling of large or complicated pdf files. As readers of this blog know I had been amassing pdf versions of gaming books for just this purpose: to have at my command on a tablet. To my annoyance, the speed with which most layered pdf files would load, jump, and scroll was prohibitively slow and unless I knew exactly which page numbers I wanted, was almost too annoying to suffer through at the table. Reading from page to page at a normal pace was never a problem, but trying to quickly seek out a specific entry, page, image, chart, or index was… definitely problematic. This experience was true no matter which reader I tried. While programs had different advantages and disadvantages, on most of the larger or more heavily-layered books, all could be described as slow.

Fortunately, as of the most recent update of Adobe Reader, this problem is a thing of the past and the tablet now responds as it ought. Pages load and scroll easily, and quick scans with the slider now include thumbnails which makes it almost like flipping through an actual book. Thank you very much Adobe, I almost love you again.

File System

Some have had a hard time making use of the Iconia as there seems to be no native file system in use which allows access to USB drives, or the SD Card slot. Again, this issue has been addressed with updates to Honeycomb itself, but even so, this was one of those things which was more a non-issue than an issue. The Android Market abounds with free file management solutions, all of which offer a variety of additional file handling processes which it is useful to have all in one place, and which you are likely to load anyway. I went with File Manager HD, but there are lots of options. This app came in a free version supported by small, innocuous ads, and a cheap paid ad-free version. I evaluated the software and a few others, settled on File Manager HD upgraded to the ad-free version, dumped the others and haven’t looked back.

Video Chat

I, and tablet owners of different products, have been somewhat frustrated by the relative lack of mobile support for video chatting, when most people seem to have this specific feature in mind when getting a tablet. So far, I have had to rely on Google Talk, and am still waiting for Google+ to open mobile access to video hangouts. Skype at the time of writing claims to support both Honeycomb in general and the Iconia in particular, but my experience has not borne that out. Given the relative speed of updates and upgrades, I do expect it soon, however. We’ll see. Other options are out there, with Qik being cited most often… I did not like the program and find the idea of having to persuade people to load another app that they would not normally have is not something I enjoy. With something ubiquitous like Google or Skype, this problem is mitigated.

I am particularly interested in Google+ Hangouts for gaming, as most of my groups use a PBeM format, and for games like my Time of War campaign, Hair of the Dog, being able to get all 4 players in on a video chat from time to time would have amazing benefits.

The Good

Some light reading...

There is a lot to like in this tablet, but I will stick with just the things which have been useful for me. You can read all the technical specs on the Acer site, or in my initial post I made when mine arrived. I purchased this because it was the top of the heap in terms of expandability and available input and output options. I have not had cause to use the full HD output option as much as I had expected, and have never actually had to sync it with my PC for anything, so these features have paled in comparison with other areas.


I work in front of a computer screen all day under fluorescent lights, and in most respects am quite sensitive to light, so you can imagine that I would not seek another display to do my reading. That was true until I got this tablet. I find the tablet adjusts appropriately to the surrounding light level and is very easy on my eyes.

The distinctly rectangular shape of the tablet makes it very easy to get the full benefit of the screen for watching widescreen movies, and also enjoy the full benefit of a full page of text when held in portrait mode.


The Dolby Stereo speakers have a surprising depth of sound and while they will not rattle the windows, provide a surprisingly rich audio experience. I have been a little amused to note how much more often I will watch a program on the tablet, lounging wherever I feel comfortable, rather than sit on the couch in front of my huge panel TV, even though that set is bolstered by a 700W surround sound system. Could it be true that size does not matter in the way we have been taught to think?


The Iconia comes in 16GB and 32GB versions, but has a microSD Card slot which allows it to be expanded as you see fit. I went with the 32GB version and have a few 8GB and 16Gb microSD cards around for different purposes, but picked up a 32Gb card for the tablet specifically. It is convenient to be able to wander around with two full seasons of whatever TV program I am following, several thousand songs, and all of my RPG pdfs, maps and notes all in one place, and have that place be instantly transferable to my phone if needs be. That’s right… my tablet is sporting 64Gb of memory.

Cameras and Video

Boasting a forward-facing 2MP camera and a 5MP rearward-facing camera capable of recording 720p video, I cannot say that I have had any complaints about video quality and the ease of sharing and capturing it. In fact, this has been the single greatest use the tablet has had for me professionally.

When Honeycomb was new, there were some initial complaints about a lack of video codecs and compatibility, particularly for shared media, but I have not experienced this problem. I find video runs very smoothly, and I have been quite pleased with the video I have shot and edited myself.


At any one time I have rapid access to a very large number of other open programs without a performance decrease. The interface is simple and requires just a tap, a sliding selection through screenshots, and a tap to select. In a gaming session this lets me seamlessly flip through pdf files, my notes/voice recorder app, images, character sheets, and dice roller without pause, load times, or searching around. With battery life easily beating 8 hours of constant use, it’s hard to imagine how it could be more useful in centralizing all my gaming needs, while decreasing clutter, and freeing me from needing to remain in close proximity to my bulging bookcases.

Gaming Applications

After a lot of testing, I have settled on Dice Bag as my die roller of choice. It really is slick and so far has no downside. It even has clever, polite, and attentive programmers, so that really cannot be beat.

Second place would go to RPG Sidekick, which was my top choice until I finally gained access to Dice Bag due to the timely intervention of its creators.

Of course, no one has taken the time to add in support for Ubiquity games…  If anyone were to do that, I might have to reevaluate.

Sync Voice Note has also been of great use to me, particularly as a player. As the game progresses it is simplicity itself to type general notes and add recorded snippets like, “I created a Dragon!” to the file to capture a greater range of detail. I have also recently used it to for recording short bits of NPC dialogue with my written notes about that NPC and their motivations, to give me a greater range of characters pouring forth from my side of the screen.

What’s Needed

I am just now looking into apps to handle sketching and mapping, but get the impression that unless I can share these maps with other devices around the table, say as in a shared whitespace application, passing a pad of paper will always trump passing around your jukebox/library/notepad combo.

As I mentioned above, group video chat support on the flagship programs is a major area which gamers could exploit to overcome a lot of the barriers to online tabletop gaming.

Another area where I am hoping there will be some development is in office applications. Greater access to more functions in Excel and Powerpoint would definitely make both work and gaming easier and more robust.


If you have been considering whether or not to get a tablet and have been wondering about the Iconia, I can honestly say, I would buy it again, knowing what I know now. While the eye-catching screens of the Galaxy series make me a little wistful when it’s time to ‘whip it out’ for comparison, at the end of the day, I sacrificed a great screen for a good screen, and… sacrificed nothing else. I get to be the one that not only paid less, but can still say, ‘Can yours do this?’

That doesn’t suck at all.

5 Responses to “Frontline News from the Honeycomb”
  1. Sounds like a good choice. It doesn’t surprise me that Acer would be one of the few computer companies to sort their crap out and release a decent tablet.

    I’m pretty happy with my iPad 2 so far, especially since the new OS upgrade that has finally released us from the bloatware that is iTunes. I find myself using the tablet for almost everything save heavy content production — he touchscreen typing just doesn’t work for me when I’m banging away at speed.

    I’ve noted similar troubles with highly graphic-intensive pdf files on the iPad, as well, and most recently I’ve seen them do the smae on my laptop. I think it’s a function of the pdf, not the machines; I think it’s a finction of the graphics compression.

    We’ll have to attempt a Skype vid talk just to see how it works out. I haven’t tried that yet on he tablet.

  2. Runeslinger says:

    I have sent a contact request for just such a test~

    I have a few friends around who are rejoicing at finally being able to shed the shackles of iTunes. I was surprised that there weren’t parties in the street, actually.

    I am typing more and more on the tablet, but as you say, the keyboard is not yet obsolete. I haven’t bothered to use my bluetooth keyboard with it yet, as if I am going to go to the trouble of using a keyboard, I might just as well use my laptop or sit at my desk.

  3. Brian says:

    One of the (many) nifty features on my Samsung Galaxy smart phone is a voice recorder, which a creative GM can use to create a pathologist’s audio report on a cadaver or snippets of a phone discussion. And plenty of other possible applications as well…

    I know that there is an Android app called Bump that can share files from one phone to another. I assume it can work on tablets as well…

    I was looking for some dice rollers but couldn’t find any that do what I need them to do, ie. d6 dice pool, best three dice. Maybe I should take up programming to make my own.


    • Runeslinger says:

      Brian: Dice Bag will do pools of dice and can be set to drop the lowest, explode, and the like. Check it out~

      BF: I haven’t thought to look for a feature to annotate PDF files in Android apps yet, but was shown one on an iPad a few days ago… hand writing over top of the file. I wil investigate~

  4. BF Wolfe says:

    Have any of the android PDF readers you used allowed annotation, comments or notes? I think that’s the one feature, if done right, that would get me on this bandwagon. Even the mighty iPad doesn’t do it.

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