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Preview of Acer Iconia Smart
Live photos of Acer Iconia Smart
The sight of Acer Iconia Smart will make the heart of any pocket PC enthusiast beat faster and the more time you spend with the more you love it. Why? Because Iconia Smart is everything we loved in pocket PC a couple of years ago: a quality body and a tangible size so you are not afraid to drop like lighter handsets, handy hard buttons, a huge screen and lots of space for tweaking. And though today it runs Android and not Windows Mobile or CE Ц I think it makes it even better. This article is about real classics in a brand new package Ц this smartphone stands out among other Androids Ц it is an ultimate toy for geeks in a good sense of this expression.
I am happy that the Acer designers have ignored such fashionable trends like SuperAMOLED screen, ultra-thin body, sensor buttons, minimalism and lightness, sleek interface and so on. All hail to hard buttons and a camera shutter button, an extraordinarily big regular TFT screen, a proper size for good grip and many other nice features. Let's get started.
This one is complicated Ц it is difficult to say to what class of gadgets it belongs to. The press calls Iconia Smart a tablet, a smartphone, a mini-tablet and even a smartphone-tablet. It is too big for a smartphone but not nearly as big as a tablet. This issue is giving me a headache so I will consider Iconia Smart to be an Android smartphone Ц it is just a bit bigger than its Android counterparts. Besides, Acer calls it a smartphone.
Acer Iconia Smart has a unique design and this is not all about the size which, of course, is a significant design factor of this phone. Smart has an unusual body with sloped edges built on a metal unibody. It uses a concept similar to HTC Legend and HTC Desire S Ц a metal unibody that carries all the plastic parts Ц the battery lid and the plastic panels on the top and bottom.
The surface of the screen as well as the whole front side is covered with protective glass. The back metal panel has a wavy texture. The smartphone is mostly light gray while the plastic panels on the sides of the metal panel are dark gray and their counterparts on the front side are black.
The smartphone is very fingerprint resistant except for the screen which naturally catches fingerprints but they are almost unnoticeable so the phone always looks good.
The gargantuan Acer Iconia Smart makes all other smartphones look tiny including even such ginormous ones like Toshiba G910 and HTC HD2 that look rather compact next to Iconia.
However, the size of Iconia Smart is very convenient. And don't think that I am biased because I love this phone so much. The thing is, despite its length and thickness the handset is rather narrow so you can still carry it in your pocket, implying you have a pocket big enough. Anyway, it is more appropriate to carry this smartphone in a bag.
Let's compare the dimensions of Acer Iconia Smart to other smartphones:
Acer Iconia Smart vs Google Nexus One:
Acer Iconia Smart vs LG Optimus 2x:
Acer Iconia Smart vs HTC Desire S:
Thanks to the sloped edges and the matte soft touch plastic of the battery lid the handset sits well in hand.
A few words about the assembly quality: I could go on complaining about the battery lid that would loosen up eventually Ц I have been quite unforgiving about this issue in HTC Desire HD that has two such lids. However, I have been testing an engineering sample so I cannot really assess the quality also i have been testing this phone for only one month while you need a few months to see whether the parts will start wobble. So I will not be jumping to conclusions this time I merely remark upon the possibility of such an issue. Besides this I have no more complaints about the assembly quality at least in the sample I have been testing Ц the handset is solid and there is no wobbling in the hard keys panel under the screen.
Acer Iconia Smart has only hard buttons and a very cool camera shutter button exactly where it should be Ц on the right side closer to the bottom. Just these two facts make me forgive any other downers and as a matter of fact there only one here Ц there is no navigation key, the rest is great. The buttons under the screen share one panel but are still very handy Ц you always hit the right button. These buttons have a white backlight. The only complaint I have about this panel is that it is too close to the bottom of the handset Ц it is tricky to hold the phone in one hand and press the buttons Ц you are likely to drop the phone because the center of mass in this case is far above your hand.
On the right side besides the camera button there is also the volume rocker - it is big and easy to use even without looking at it.
The left side hosts the microUSB and HDMI slots protected by a lid. On the top side there is the power/lock screen button and the 3.5mm audio jack.
The Home button unlocks the screen.
On the front side you see the call speaker with a number of sensors and light indicators. To the left of the speaker is the proximity sensor that turns off the screen when you are talking. And to the right of it there is the light sensor that automatically adjusts the screen brightness levels and a light indicator that flashes in green when the phone is connected to a PC or when the battery is fully charged or in red when the charge is low or when you have missed calls or messages. Also to the left of the speaker you find a 2MPix camera with fixed focus that you can use to make auto portraits or record video of up to 480p.
The SIM card and the memory card slots are in the bottom of the handset. You will have to remove the battery lid and the bracket that holds the battery to access them. Both the SIM card and the memory card slots are quite regular Ц you just need to push the card inside.
The screen of Acer Iconia Smart is its main feature. The phone uses a 4.8" capacitive TFT touchscreen with the resolution of 1024x480. The size of the screen is impressive Ц 111x52 mm/4.37x2 in Ц compare to the screen of HTC HD2: 88x56 mm/3.46x2.2 in. the screen can display up to 16 million colors; it has good brightness levels and excellent view angles.
Even at very acute view angles the picture remains unaltered Ц and I think that in this regard this is one of the best TFT screens on the market today.
Under sunlight the screen remains more or less legible Ц mainly thanks to the size of it and good brightness levels but it still fades out. At a low brightness level Acer Iconia Smart is perfect for reading since the oblong aspect ratio makes it more appropriate for this task than regularly sized screens.
The screen supports multitouch in many applications like the browser, Google Maps, image viewing etc. As I have already mentioned the screen is covered with protective glass (which is actually a special kind of plastic but the manufacturer calls it glass). So the surface of the screen is scratch resistant to keys, scissors and similar objects, but, naturally, if you take the phone to a beach and get sand in the pocket the screen is very likely to get scratched.
I had difficulties choosing screens for comparison. The closest I could find among TFT screens is I think HTC HD2 which has poorer color gamma and especially view angles. Sony Ericsson Arc also has poorer view angles and brightness levels. On the pictures below you can see a comparison of the screens of Acer Iconia Smart a SE Arc as well as Iconia Smart vs HTC Desire S.
Acer Iconia Smart vs Sony Ericsson Arc.
I believe that I also have to mention how various applications work on a screen with such an unusual resolution. This is a sad issue but I hope it will be solved by the release time. Acer Iconia Smart has a very bizarre screen resolution for an Android Ц this is the first phone with the resolution of 1024x480. By default all applications work in a compatibility mode that is an application works in the native resolution of 800x480 and it looks like this:
So any application you install (besides the preinstalled ones) will work with a black bar occupying a part of the screen. However, you can turn the compatibility mode off and all the applications will work just the same (I have not found any exceptions) in the full-screen mode. The problem here is that Acer and Google are now negotiating about disabling the compatibility mode in Iconia Smart which will allow all the applications to run full-screen. Common sense and users are on the Acer's side but so far we do not know whether the compatibility mode will be there after the release. Let's have our fingers crossed and hope it will be disabled.
If you are not a big fan of the new generation of displays like SuperAMOLED than you will at least find the screen of Acer Iconia Smart very good. And it is a decent and a very big screen.
The smartphone features an 8MPix camera with autofocus. The eye of the camera is on the top of the rear side right next to an LED flash.
In the viewfinder mode to the left you see the basic settings panel (scene, current camera, focus type), the shutter key on the right, the zoom icon and the number of pictures you can take.
If you press the Menu button you will see advanced settings like the white balance, resolution, effects etc.
The following resolutions are available for photos:
Bottom line for camera Ц the camera interface is friendly and easy to use Ц it takes just a couple of minutes to get used to it. And as well as in Acer Stream you can choose the screen resolution for photos to use your pictures as wallpaper. Besides the resolution you can also adjust the following settings:
You can also adjust the brightness level, contrast, saturation and sharpness, set the ISO value (auto, 100, 200), picture quality, set the timer and turn the stabilization option on or off (I have not noticed whether this last one changes anything).
You cannot turn the shutter sound off but you can set the master volume to zero or set the phone to the silent mode to get rid of this sound.
You can also turn GPS geotagging on or off.
You can make your own opinion judging by the sample photos below.
Video is recorded in either MP4 or 3GP containers (3gp4 or h.263 codecs) with a floating frame per second value (from 15 to 30 fps as in the video sample). The audio track is recorded by means of the samr codec in mono.
The following resolutions are available for video shooting:
There are few settings for the video reorder: you can set a limit of ten minutes for your movies to upload them straight to YouTube, adjust the white balance and the video container. You can also disable audio recording for movies. You can use zoom for movies at any resolution though you cannot zoom in or out during recording Ц you will have to stop shooting first. During video recording the focus is fixed Ц you can set the focus value before recording by capturing the object in the viewfinder mode. You can assess the quality by the video sample below:
Acer Iconia Smart uses a 1500 mAh Li-Pol battery. During the tests I came up with the key conclusion as to the operation time Ц the gadget can go strong during one light day. Frankly speaking, the rest is not important.
My typical daily use of the smartphone was the following: 40-50 minutes of talktime, 10-15 sent SMS, active Gmail and MS Exchange Server accounts with Push-mail and 1-2 hours of the Internet surfing through WiFi or EDGE/HSDPA (it depends upon your luck). This scheme allowed for the whole day of operation and even if Acer Iconia Stream went out of steam it happened at night when I was about to charge it. Nevertheless, I frequently listened to the music and 4-6 hours of music playback into the bargain killed the battery around 6-8 pm. I think these results are quite decent. If you watch video then everything depends upon the quality and brightness level. I used Acer Iconia Smart to watch movies (in different quality and resolution) at the maximum screen brightness during 4-5 hours.
The model is built around Qualcomm QSD8255 platform with the 1 GHz processor. The handset features 512 MB of RAM and 512 MB of internal memory for software. Apart from that there is an additional 8 GB memory module and a microSD card slot (up to 32 GB). In my sample 5.5 GB from 8 GB were available.
The smartphone boasts Xvid codec support together with all Android formats and codecs. It is difficult to judge the video issues due to a high screen resolution.
I can hardly find an analogy, but compare the computer with computer games. You have an advanced computer with the new video card and a 20" screen. It is a joy for gamers and every app runs well. After some time while your computer is still considered powerful and its video card is up to date you buy a new screen substituting 20" with 26" and another resolution. It happens that games, which fitted 20" well cannot be played properly on the new screen, because the video card and other hardware elements are unable to handle the higher resolution pictures. In Acer Iconia Smart its impressive resolution derails certain performance features.
I ran video in its authentic1024x480 resolution and lower. The best bet is to watch videos in the natural resolution with inferior quality of 1000 kbps. Better quality will require lowering the resolution to 720x480 or 720x240. On the screen of Acer Iconia Smart such videos will look decent as its screen is not as big as that of a computer monitor.
I had no complaints to the overall performance speed. Only Dungeon Defenders lagged a bit, while everything else was smooth and swift.
The phone works in GSM (850/900/1800/1900) and UMTS (900/1900/2100) networks. Both EDGE and HSDPA are supported. The activation and switching off are carried out through the standard Android widget or via the system bar, where you have a panel to control wireless interfaces, turn on or deactivate different modules or go to settings.
To synchronize with the PC or transfer data one can use microUSB featuring USB 2.0. When you connect to the PC in the system bar appears one more bar where you can select the type of connection. It can be the connection for data transfer (you can see microSD), the modem use or a PC synchronization.
Bluetooth 2.1+EDR supports the following modules:
Wi-Fi (802.11b/g). WiFi module worked well. You can customize the rules of WiFi moving into the sleeping mode, the use of a static IP address only during the connection and add security certificates. During the use of WiFi the phone barely warms up.
In Acer Iconia Smart we can find a standard Qualcomm gpsOne chip. Cold start requires around 30 seconds and afterwards the search of satellites needs 5-7 seconds (the testing was made with the help of GPS Status app available from the Market).
There is no special navigation software in the smartphone, but you can use preinstalled Google Maps and Google Navigator. The first one helps to find different objects on the map and can replace the latter. Google Navigator designs routes like any other navigation software.
Similarly to Acer Stream the new handset supports DOLBYmobile and volume sound. I should have commented on the sound quality, but I usually do not do that. I can traditionally mention that the sound of Acer Iconia Smart is decent.
In the smartphone there is an FM radio where you can record with a button push, search for frequencies manually or automatically and change skins. Radio stations can be added to favorites or given new names.
Acer Iconia Smart has a standard screen keypad identical to that of Acer Stream. Below I will quote the review of the older model and offer some additions. This screen is as bad as in numerous Android models, where companies decided to replace the standard keypad with something proprietary. HTC is the only exception.
Basic keypad in Acer Iconia Smart has similar features to a standard Android keypad. We get quick access to several special symbols by pressing and holding a "." button or activating emoticons panel after pressing/holding the ")" key. Full QWERTY is good enough for English, but in more exotic languages problems arise due to narrow and crowded keys. Erroneous pressings are widely spread at the very beginning. On the upside we have to mention a key for quick languages switch above the screen.
Everything changes if you put the smartphone in the horizontal position and enter the text in the landscape mode. Screenshots are quite illustrative.
The handset also has a simple phone and simplified QWERTY keypads, which are similar to full QWERTY, but their convenience is questionable. For any of three keypads you can activate the vibro response for every pressings and sound accompaniment. You can add any entries to the dictionary from the words already mentioned in messages.
Here I have to start swearing, because Acer Iconia Smart has no key to move the cursor inside the text. Nevertheless, taking into account the screen size and resolution I think a dedicated control key is not necessary in this case and the cursor can be located with finger touches.
The model uses Android 2.3 with the proprietary Acer UI we are going to describe in detail. The interface of Acer Stream can be changed in several clicks by choosing the basic Android interface or the addition from Acer.
Readers are already familiar with Acer UI from Acer Stream among other models, but it was a bit different there. In Acer Iconia Smart the interface was changed. The system bar is now located at the top, which is more traditional. To start it use the panel with the bar, which is similar to any other Android handset (before you had to open separate bar windows by clicking on a small icon).
The system panel remains as convenient as ever. You can get access to the menu responsible for wireless interfaces, alarms and other features.
At the bottom there is a panel with four icons. They can be changes or taken away. This panel can be dragged onto the screen and will be represented by the menu with all installed apps. Screens are browsed by moving the finger left or right.
Unlike in Acer Stream here the pressing and holding of the "Home" leads to a typical activity Ц opening the window with latest run apps.
Acer Iconia Smart has a separate area for widgets displayed in windows or blocking windows.
Widgets menu has three windows. In each of them you can place several mini apps depending on their size. Browsing between windows is carried out by moving the finger left or right. When you add a new widget you see a grid to help you locate this or that widget.
In Acer Iconia Smart there is a separate dialler and phonebook. The dialler supports SmartDial similar to Windows Mobile models. Subsequently, contacts can be searched for directly in the dialler. Now when you click any name found during searching through digital buttons of the dialler the keypad disappears and you see the whole list (before this keypad could not be hidden).
Phonebook is separated into four sections. The first one contains the dialler, the second hosts calls log, the third one is for contacts, while the fourth is used for favorites. In the calls log all calls are displayed as one list. In the phonebook you can search for contacts both in the "Search" field or by browsing the scrolling in the right side of the screen.
In contacts there is an interesting feature based on the preinstalled barcodes scanner, which can turn any contacts into a QR code and send it via mail, Bluetooth, upload in Picasa and so on.
Quick customization of key screen functions (wallpapers and the display of particular elements) is effected with the app Environment. It helps selecting the wallpaper, activate/deactivate the replacement of picture with the album cover during music playback or set up widgets for the blocking window.
Dictaphone is a simple tool for voice recording, which allows looking through already made recordings. It does not operate in the background mode.
MusicA can search for the currently played track in the database to find its title. It can be useful at times.
Twitter client is added in Android 2.3 by default.
Tasks app allows creating new tasks, but it does not synchronize with MS Exchange Server.
Due to a gorgeous screen this e-reader was indispensable here. This app is quite peculiar and allows reading only books purchased in a special shop downloaded from the Internet. You have to find a website with books and download them. In this case they will be indexed in the LumiRead library. In the reading mode you can alter the fonts and type of display (day\night). There are no other settings.
This application is good enough to start, but if you have your own app feel free to install it.
Apart from the above mentioned applications Acer Iconia Smart has a calculator, two music players (nemoPlayer and a standard one), free Documents to Go to view office documents (editing will be available only if you purchase the app) and RoadSync utilities to synchronize the handset with the MS Exchange Server. To my mind the features are not more numerous in comparison with standard Android 2.3 tools for Exchange synchronization.
The model has no competitors. It is not only explained by its belonging to the separate league of "big" smartphones, but courtesy of such a screen in the model for under $720. At least the price of $720 is expected from Acer Iconia Smart at the start of sales. It brings us to the end of the review, so we will finish with the conclusion.
I tested the engineering sample, but could not find any pretext for complaints about communication quality or speech reproduction during the month long use. The volume of both speakers is medium and may not be enough in certain environments. The vibro is average, but you cannot expect a heavy smartphone to vibrate much harder.
Now about the price and time of sales. The company is planning to sell the model for less than $720. You can only dream about the price of $647 from the outset. Be realistic as the price of $720 after the start of sales will be more than adequate. On the other hand we deal with a technically interesting and unusual model, but it cannot compete with latest generation flagships - HTC Sensation, Samsung Galaxy S2 and LG Optimus 2X, which explains a much lower price. The gap between the models is much closer, but Acer Iconia Smart is just different.
As you must have understood from the review I like Acer Iconia Smart almost in all respects Ц screen, impressive dimensions, convenient hardware buttons and its overall unusual character. It looks as if the model was created without any reverence towards marketing rules and calculations. The company did not care much about the target audience. Here we get one of the rare few Android models for geeks combining good features and a reasonable price, which is so rare nowadays.
Published 11 May 2011
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