Last year’s Acer Iconia A1 7.9in Android tablet failed to impress us: its low price wasn’t enough to excuse a grainy screen and lacklustre performance. This time around, Acer has fitted the Iconia A1-830 with a higher-frequency, dual-core Intel Atom CPU and reduced the price to under $200.
The Iconia’s IPS panel is a big step up from its predecessor, yielding adequate, if uninspiring, image quality. With a resolution of 768 x 1,024, it has a low pixel density of 162ppi, but this isn’t too much of a problem. You can see stair-stepping on text if you look closely, but for the most part it’s barely noticeable at all.
More importantly, quality is fine. In our tests, the panel’s LED backlight topped out at a respectable 337cd/m², meaning that using the Iconia outdoors isn’t out of the question. Images stand out thanks to a contrast ratio of 843:1, but as with many budget tablet displays, lower-end greys have a tendency to blend into black, resulting in a loss of shadow detail. The panel’s colour fidelity is good for the most part, although skin tones, reds and oranges look slightly washed out.
While this doesn’t approach the performance of our current favourites, the Nexus 7 and Amazon Kindle Fire HDX 7in, it’s better than we expected. We had to open a large number of apps before the Iconia exhibited any noticeable lag; navigating around Android 4.4 felt smooth; and zooming, panning and scrolling around web pages was fluid.
The Iconia is surprisingly games-capable for a budget tablet, too, and managed a respectable score of 14.4fps in the GFXBench T-Rex HD test at native resolution. You won’t be playing high-end games at top detail levels, but the majority of titles should be playable, if only thanks to the low screen resolution.
The Iconia’s build and design is also superior to its predecessor. The white rear panel has been replaced with a sturdier, less flexible, matte-plastic panel with a metallic finish. The bezels are now white, giving the tablet the tastefully cohesive look of an Apple product. The chassis adds very little extra bulk, and the back panel curves at the edges just enough to prevent it digging into your flesh when held in one hand.
While build, processing and graphical performance are more than adequate considering the price, it’s clear that battery life is one of the main areas where costs have been cut. With the screen set to 120cd/m² and a low-resolution video left looping continuously, the Iconia persevered for a mere 8hrs 33mins, more than three hours short of the Nexus 7.
The Iconia isn’t exactly bristling with expansion options, possessing only a micro-USB port that doubles as the charging point, a 3.5mm audio jack and a microSD card slot. There’s no HDMI output, but this isn’t unusual. The 5-megapixel rear camera is disappointing, though. It takes grainy photographs that are horribly lacking in detail. The 2-megapixel front camera is even worse, bathing images in a murky gloom, and the speakers on the rear are quiet and tinny.
Perhaps most disappointing is that the Iconia is equipped with only Android 4.2, which is now two years out of date. Acer has preinstalled a couple of applications of its own to sweeten the deal, but these aren’t particularly exciting: they include an inconsequential scrapbook app called Life Image and AcerCloud, Acer’s own data-backup and basic file-synchronisation service.
Like the Iconia A1 before it, the Acer Iconia A1-830’s price is good. However, unlike its predecessor, the A1-830 delivers passable performance and screen quality, plus a more solid build. In the overall scheme of things, the Nexus 7 and Kindle Fire HDX 7in are better-quality devices, with superior displays, quicker performance and longer battery life.