• What Mobile puts Acer’s 10-inch tablet to the test, to see if Honeycomb 3.1 has made Android a more serious player in the tablet market.

    When we tested the Motorola XOOM, the first Android 3.0 tablet to enter the market, we thought the Honeycomb operating system had the look of a ‘work-in-progress’.

    Since that review, Google has rolled out an update from 3.0 to 3.1, and it is in the process of bringing out another update to take it to 3.2. It seems Google is now taking its tablet OS more seriously, although there’s still quite a lot of work to be done.

    All of this leaves the tablet makers in a rather precarious position. They’re producing devices that look the part, and have all the power you could ask for (like the dual-core Tegra 2 chipset inside Acer’s tablet), yet they can only ever be as good as the final piece of the jigsaw that they have little control over.

    When the iPad was launched (wow, just a few paragraphs in and already there’s the obligatory comparison to Apple!), the user-interface was essentially the same as the iPhone and iPod touch. Likewise, when Samsung launched the first Galaxy Tab, it was essentially the same as its Galaxy S smartphone. Both the iPad and Galaxy Tab were looked upon as oversized smartphones.

    Then, Honeycomb came along with an all-new look and feel, which was considered the best move for Google’s operating system. The question is; was it actually such a good idea after all?

    Google has acknowledged this and announced earlier this year that it is now working to combine Android 2.x with 3.x in the next iteration of the OS called ‘Ice Cream Sandwich’, which could be released before the end of 2011.

    Before starting to review the Acer ICONIA Tab A500, I performed the 3.1 update (a 100MB-or-so download which was quick and easy to do) to make sure the device would benefit from all of the little tweaks, including things like being able to resize widgets. Other improvements can be found within the web browser and email client, plus some visual tweaks and behind-the-scenes optimisations to improve the speed and performance.

    On top of the vanilla Honeycomb OS, Acer has loaded on some of its own applications but it hasn’t customised things to the extent of its Android 2.x smartphones, primarily because Google doesn’t allow it. It does mean that while the exterior designs may vary from one manufacturer to another, once switched on, you’d be hard pushed to tell what product you are actually using. In the case of the A500, the only branding is on the back.

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