Big tablet on a small budget
With the Nexus 7 on its way out and the new Nexus 9 sporting a higher price-tag and size than many users are willing to put up with, folks are now looking for tablet options that fit into their lives and their budgets a little better. Acer aims to check all the boxes and then some with the $199 Acer Iconia Tab 8 — which can be found for almost half that price. While to some this will fit the bill nicely, there are a few more boxes checked that aren't as desirable. The question is do the good boxes offset the bad?
About this review
I've gone through two review units, as the first was suffering from some pretty bizarre battery issues and a stuck pixel. I got the second one three weeks ago and have put it through its paces thoroughly with both heavy streaming sessions, periodic gaming, and lots and lots of reading.
All things in a mid-size package
On first glance, the Iconia Tab 8 looks like a mid-range-to-premium tablet, with its metal frame and a white screen. You've got power and volume controls on one side, microSD slot on the other, headphones, mini-HDMI and power ports on top. There's a raised 5MP camera sticking up out of the back along with the speaker and a single black dot on the white frame for a front-facing 2MP camera. Note 'single black dot'. That's right, there is no ambient light sensor on this tablet, which is an odd omission and one that if you use this tablet for long you will very quickly notice.
The construction seems adequate, the tablet feels firm in the hand, and the bezels are easily big enough to hold on to. The screen is decent for the price, but it's not going to completely blow you away, especially as you're going to have to tune the brightness manually ever time you move. While it's not the lightest tablet in the world, it's not hard to hold it for a few hours of video streaming or gaming. That said, if you're not using headphones, you'll be adjusting that grip to try to redirect the speaker's sound and squeeze every little bit out of them.
blockquote class="pulloutright"> Stereo speakers do no equal loud speakers Acer says that these speakers are stereo, but while you're watching a video in landscape, those speakers will sit on one side or the other and they are not terribly loud. In a quiet room with the tablet in your lap, you'll be able to hear most of the time, but we were reaching for our Bluetooth headphones once we got to a soft scene.
Lots of features with a handful of standouts
The Iconia Tab 8 looks fairly stock, and for the most part it is, but let's not confuse that with bloatware free, because this tablet comes with quite a few pre-installed apps, both Acer-branded and third-party. Acer has its own suite of apps, including a full office suite, video player, and file manager, and then we have apps from eBay, Booking.com, Audible, Netflix, AccuWeather, TuneIn Radio, Skype, iStoryTime, WildTangent Games, and another suite of apps from Amazon.
The Acer suite requires an AcerID, which you're prompted to enter or create on setup, and most of them function in much the same way Google Drive does. And if you want an alternative to Drive, that's great. Otherwise feel free to ignore them. Acer has pre-installed McAfee Security, and that's a little harder to ignore as it will pester you with notifications. Thankfully, you can disable it — and any other unwanted apps — in the Apps section of Settings.
There are a few features from Acer that are pretty nifty. First, Acer has added IntelliSpin, which will rotate the orientation of your screen while on a flat table if you shift and slide it around. No more lifting your tablet in order to get it the right direction. It also provides the option for a icon so you can quickly lock the orientation if desired.
Acer IntelliWake will wake the tablet if you press five fingers to the screen while it's in your hand. I often forgot the "in your hand" part and tried this to little effect while it was lying on the desk. You also have an option to wake it by pressing both thumbs on the screen while picking it up two handed.
In a new system update, Acer also added another feature: split screen mode. This allows you to take a little more advantage of the real estate and be more productive. However, as you can see, the list of apps supported in this initial push is rather lacking. Hopefully more apps will become available in the future, but for now, it's easy to trigger and to switch between apps, and it lets us watch cats on YouTube while we check email or write up our reports.
The quad-core processor putters along easily most of the time, but there was the odd, errant freeze here and there. Marathon streaming sessions on here are seamless, so long as your Wi-Fi can keep up, but some games were quick to stutter — namely Big Hero 6 Bot Fight and Frozen Free Fall — mostly between rounds, though the tablet did completely freeze up two or three times during gameplay. The cameras on this tablet are good enough for video conferencing and maybe a quick pic for posting to social media, but it won't go much further than that.
Standby battery life on the first review unit we were sent was crippled by a Wi-Fi bug, but the second unit has taken both heavy and infrequent use in stride. The Iconia Tab 8 can go close to a week on pure standby, and I've left it in my bag for a day or two before picking it up between uses with no major drop in battery.
However, you'll want to keep a high-rated or the OEM charger in your bag for when a charge-up is required. This tablet will get picky about chargers, and its 4600mAh battery can take a while to tank up. Also, as this is packing an Intel Atom processor rather than a Qualcomm, so turbo-charging is not an option here.
If you just need a tablet for light work/videos around the house and during your break at work, the Acer Iconia Tab 8 is a budget-minded tablet that will more than get you by. While the long list of pre-loaded apps isn't appealing to everyone, this is a decent tablet for well under $200. If you're looking for a durable tablet to stick under the tree this year for your munchkins, this tablet should fit nicely in Santa's sack.