The £99 / US$ 130 Android Jelly Bean tablet is here, but only if you’re happy to accept a lower amount of storage.
However, the 16GB isn’t much more these days, coming in at £129.99 / around $ 210, and the one we’re much happier to recommend.
But are these so-low prices enough for this decade’s must-have gadget? Compare this to the competition: the iPad Mini 2 is over three times the cost, the Google Nexus 7 is only £199 / $ 299 for the same capacity, and is much better-specced than the 7-inch Acer Iconia B1-710, which is a bare-bones tablet.
Tablets are on the cusp of replacing laptops for note-taking (or boredom alleviation) in classrooms, lectures and meeting rooms, but the search is on for something that really fits the bill – and the 7-inch tablet size is perfect.
Just the right size to be readable, smaller tablets such as the Acer Iconia B1 are judged perfectly to fit inside the internal pocket of a suit jacket.
The Acer Iconia B1′s low price comes with strings attached – largely in the use of lower quality components (surprise, surprise).
The Acer Iconia B1′s 340g (12oz) weight feels relatively sturdy in the hand, but at 12mm (0.47 inches) in depth it does come across as rather chunky. That’s not a huge problem, since it fits into a jacket pocket – or even a jeans pocket – with some room to spare.
But nobody will be coveting your Acer Iconia B1, its unpredictably wide black bezel makes sure of that. Held in portrait orientation, the Acer Iconia B1′s left-hand and bottom bezels measure 15.5mm (0.61 inches), while the right-hand side and top reach a whopping 24.5mm (0.96 inches).
We presume it’s that way to give room in the top right-hand corner for the Acer Iconia B1′s 0.3 megapixel front-facing camera – for video calls and selfies – though it does give the entire product a lop-sided feel. It’s not a good look, and the 2mm-thick silver plastic rim around the Acer Iconia B1 doesn’t help either.
A microSD card slot ready for a 32GB card does give the Acer Iconia B1 a real advantage over rival low-cost tablets. And so too does its starting internal storage capacity, since our sample arrived with 16GB of storage. That’s a whopping 48GB of content the Acer Iconia B1 can store. It also comes running Android 4.1.2 Jelly Bean, which is really starting to date now.
For a small tablet, the Acer Iconia B1 is reasonably well powered. Its runs off a MediaTek-made ARM Cortex-A9 1.2 GHz dual-core processor and 1GB of RAM, which compares well to rivals. Inside is Android 4.1.2 Jelly Bean, and a 7-inch capacitive touchscreen.
However, that’s where the good news ends, since the screen’s resolution is a mere 1024 x 600 pixels, which means a highly unusual 17:10 aspect ratio that’s more suited to watching movies and TV than it is to browsing – though it’s imperfect for both.
That resolution is also the smallest we’d want to see on any tablet, though its score of 170ppi is still a notch above the iPad mini’s.
Stationed just behind the Acer Iconia B1′s silver plastic rim, edging onto the white plastic rear panel itself, are the Acer Iconia B1′s controls and ins/outs.
On the right-hand side is the standby button above the volume rockers, though both are too far back; we watched as a colleague fumbled with the Acer Iconia B1 for over 20 seconds before figuring out how to switch it on. None of those buttons have a satisfying press.
Just around the corner is a headphones jack, while in the centre of the lower edge is a micro USB slot for charging and file transfer. The Acer Iconia B1 ships with a standard UK plug and USB-to-micro USB cable, so no drama there. The Acer Iconia B1 is also equipped with Bluetooth 4.0, Wi-Fi and GPS.
Behind that micro USB port is a 61 x 7mm hatch that can be flicked up by a fingernail, revealing that hidden microSD card slot inside that takes memory cards up to 32GB in size. There’s an empty space alongside that, which is used for a SIM card slot on variants of the Acer Iconia B1.
Speaking of which, there are two slight variations of our Acer Iconia B1-710 model in the B1 series. There’s also the £110 (around US$ 170 / AU$ 185) Acer Iconia B1-A71, which has 8GB of storage and a black rear, and the £170 (around US$ 260 / AU$ 285) Acer Iconia B1-711, which boasts 16GB and a white back panel – just like our sample – but adds that 3G connectivity we mentioned, via a SIM card slot.
Interface and performance
We have an instant dislike for the Acer Iconia B1′s 17:10 screen aspect ratio. Having been impressed by – and even got used to – the extra real estate offered by 4:3-shaped tablets, the Acer Iconia B1′s dimensions make it more difficult to use while in landscape orientation.
Fewer apps fit on the screen, and browsing feels generally tighter. The Acer Iconia B1 also takes around three seconds to re-orient its screen when moved, which can slow things up a bit.
Still, what Acer’s done for the interface is pleasant enough. In a slight mod to the usual Android Jelly Bean experience, Acer adds a taskbar that sits either on the bottom in portrait mode, or on the right-hand side when in landscape.
That taskbar is home to icons for the standard Android browser, Calendar, Gmail, a link to all apps, Google Play and Google Current. The taskbar can easily be customised and changed just by dragging apps on and off.
Also as a default, this time along the bottom of the tablet above the taskbar, are apps including TuneIn Radio, AccuWeather, Zinio, 7digital, Acer Cloud and Games. We’d rate all of those as useful, and everything is neatly presented.
The screen’s touch-sensitivity isn’t benchmark quality, but it’s good enough – excepting a few blind spots – and its dual-core processor enabled us to skip around the interface easily enough.
We also managed to have several apps running in the background while browsing, and the Acer Iconia B1 didn’t miss a beat. Only those moving down-market from, say, a Samsung Galaxy Note, iPad or even an Asus Fonepad (which we had alongside us during this review) will think the Acer Iconia B1 rather slow.
However, it’s that screen that caused us the most problems. As well as being rather reflective, it’s low resolution – and it shows. Either when browsing the web or watching video, the 1024 x 600 pixels are easily visible.
Video isn’t exactly sharp, and we noticed a few jagged edges, too, though for most people it will suffice – and it’s certainly fit for the likes of YouTube.
Brightness isn’t a problem, with a drag-down panel giving a toggle for (just) three intensity settings. The lowest of these really is hardly visible, but it might help to eke out an extra few minutes of battery if the Acer Iconia B1 dies halfway through a long train journey (that’s a very likely scenario) or for late-night reading.
Worse is to come if you squeeze the Acer Iconia B1, since its screen responds by solarising and staining, just as an old LCD monitor used to do when you touched it. Yuck.
Our other concern is with the viewing angles, which are so tight that they render the Acer Iconia B1 useless for sharing in meetings or even playing some games on. It stems from the panel not being IPS, which is pretty standard on tablets and TVs.
However, you could look at this as a plus-point, since the chap next to you on the bus won’t be able to see what you’re doing.
As a web browsing device, the Acer Iconia B1 passes easily. Acer may have cut corners elsewhere on the tablet, but it hasn’t under-specced the processor – and that makes all the difference when browsing. Its dual-core processor proves its worth with speedy browsing while on Wi-Fi and opening pages quickly enough – though it’s not a patch on the ultra-quick Asus Fonepad we had nearby.
The vanilla Android browser and Chrome app version’s performances will suffice for most casual users, though power users beware.
Neither browser supports Adobe Flash, but video performance is otherwise strong. Video on the BBC News website played instantly in our test, while attempting the same from the BBC iPlayer website prompted the Acer Iconia B1 to visit the Google Play store to download the BBC Media Player software. However, when we returned to the website, the content didn’t play, so we had to shut it all down and begin again.
This is where the Acer Iconia B1 really trips up. Even Acer admits that the Acer Iconia B1 won’t stretch beyond four hours, and by golly it’s right.
Despite its rather chunky design, in our one-hour long Nyan Cat video test on YouTube – with the Acer Iconia B1 at full brightness – this fully-charged 7-inch tablet’s 2710mAh battery crashed to just 55 per cent charge. That’s pretty awful, and only half as long as the Google Nexus 7.
The AnTuTu app produced a lowly score of just 5,825 on the Acer Iconia B1, which doesn’t compare well to the 9,208 average score of the Asus FonePad. The Google Nexus 7 scores 12,726.
The Acer Iconia B1′s Chrome browser app then scored a rather average 495 on the universal Peacekeeper browser test, its Android browser earning a similar 491.
These are all very average results, as you might expect, with the AnTuTu score suggesting that the Acer Iconia B1 is less of an all-rounder than higher-priced tablets.
Media, apps and camera
While relatively slow to load, a blast of Battle in Seattle streamed from BBC iPlayer revealed the paramount importance of holding the Acer Iconia B1 carefully so as not to cover its already weak speaker.
Unfortunately that mono speaker lies beneath the natural resting point for your right hand’s fingers while holding the Acer Iconia B1 in landscape mode and, worse still, it’s terribly thin and weedy. Movies are therefore a headphones-only experience.
In terms of picture quality, there’s little contrast; in a 720p trailer of Cloud Atlas from YouTube via Play Movies, blacks look grey and colours lacklustre, though detail is enough to ensure a clean picture, and video is fluid enough to watch comfortably. If you watch straight-on and don’t move the Acer Iconia B1 too much, it’s fine for movies.
Incidentally, the Acer Iconia B1′s Astro File Manager plays only AVI video files loaded on to it.
We played the accelerometer-fuelled Crazy Cars: Hit The Road HD from the Acer Iconia B1′s pre-loaded Games portal, which the tablet managed to host perfectly acceptably with no lag or blips.
However, the pumping soundtrack sounds dreadful through the Acer Iconia B1′s pathetic speaker.
For a tablet mooted as a low-cost option for commuters and students, the Acer Iconia B1 makes a pretty bad e-book reader, though that’s largely to do with its short battery life.
In our test we synced a Kindle app and began flicking through Life of Pi, which seems crisp enough, but don’t expect a tailored, customised reading environment.
You’ll not get too many chapters in before the battery runs out, but if left around the house the Acer Iconia B1 will be fine for casual readers, though we did notice some uneven brightness – especially in the corners of the panel – when we tried to read with the lights off.
Apps and games
There are precious few home-baked apps included on the Iconia B1 by Acer, but what there is impresses.
Astro File Manager takes pride of place, which aggregates all music, video, photo and document files nicely. However, while it plays video and hosts photo sideshows itself, music playback is sent to other apps, either 7digital or Play Music.
The Google Currents news aggregation/subscription app is included as a default in the taskbar, while the Acer Iconia B1′s pre-loaded Games app is merely a shop front for Wild Tangent titles, though most titles can be downloaded for free and without signing in.
Although it’s touted as having an ‘HD webcam for chatting’ on Acer’s website, that’s not actually the case. Fitted with just a 0.3-megapixel VGA front-facing camera, photography on the Acer Iconia B1 is a non-starter.
When using that camera, grab as much ambient light as you can, and forget making video calls in dingy hotel rooms.
In terms of photo navigation, it’s best to use Acer’s own Astro File Manager, which we’ve admired on other Acer tablets (notably the step-up Acer Iconia A1).
It can source and aggregate files from various cloud services, and presents photos with a carousel of thumbnail images along the bottom.
Is this is an occasional tablet for the disposable age? With a fast processor, it does everything you might expect it to do fast enough, but a poor screen and battery consign it to the reserve list.
We do rather like Acer’s slight face-lift to the vanilla Android 4.1.2 interface. The taskbar is a nice touch and the general navigation and browsing of the Acer Iconia B1 is unexpectedly smooth and easy to live with.
It’s also worth pointing out that the Acer Iconia B1 does have a microSD card slot, which some owners of the Google Nexus 7 will covet. For casual users, there’s really nothing lacking in the Acer Iconia B1, though power users will likely hate its screen.
We’re not fans of the lop-sided bezels, but our biggest complaints have to be the screen’s viewing angles and lack of touch sensitivity.
Even moving the Acer Iconia B1 slightly during browsing or video not only drains, but completely destroys contrast and colour.
Having to touch an app three times before it launches isn’t much fun, and the less said about the terrible mono sound, the better.
It also lacks a rear camera and the battery is dreadfully short. So short, in fact, that the Acer Iconia B1 is just not fit to travel.
Those wanting a tablet to carry with them, and perhaps get completely addicted to, should look away now. The Acer Iconia B1′s poor screen, battery life and speaker ensure that it’s not going to do much of a job as a full-timer.
But we can see it working well as an occasional email checker, note-taking gadget, a kitchen recipe holder, a voice recorder for meetings, or a device for catching up on the morning news, though we’d worry if it strayed too far from a desk drawer.
Hugely restrictive viewing angles also rule it out for sharing, too, so we’re struggling to think of a reason to buy unless you’re given a voucher for Acer tablets with a 7-inch screen and poor battery life.
Bbut for all the niggles and low-quality components, the Acer Iconia B1 has enough zip about it to get on with browsing without any major fuss – but there are far, far too many other options to consider to give this our recommendation.
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