Acer A1-810 Review

Well it’s that time again; I’ve bought myself another toy and it’s time to tell the world what I think.

My story starts back in November 2013 when I received an email from a local computer shop (Centrecom). This is not unusual for this particular shop – they’ve recently started a fairly persistent campaign to get more online sales. Normally I just take a quick glance to see if there’s anything I’m interested in, and this time was no different. What WAS different, was that it had a quad-core Android Jellybean 8-inch tablet from a reputable brand going for $99!. Insanity!
The deal had a 12-hr clock – and it was from 8pm to 8am. Given that it was about 9pm when I got the email, I was starting to feel the pressure; such a deal could not be ignored!
I quickly did some research on the device, the Acer A1-810.
My first issue to overcome was my hatred of Acer. I’ve never encountered a high-quality Acer computer; they have always been designed to a price, and so they fail more than any other brand I’ve ever used. So I wasn’t too keen to give them any chances, price however, was a pretty good bargaining point. For $99, who could argue; and besides – I had just effectively binned my other “cheap” android tablet (see that saga here) and that was $120.
I discovered that it had been out for less than a year, and that it had a locked boot-loader. I did, however, find out it could be rooted – which is somewhat of a prerequisite for me.

Specifications

The specs for the tablet concerned me at first:

  • MediaTek MT8125 1.2GHz Quad-Core SoC
  • PowerVR SGX 544MP GPU
  • 1GB DDR3 RAM
  • 16GB Internal Memory
  • 7.9-inch LED Backlit 768×1024 IPS Display
  • Multi-touch with 10-finger registration
  • 5MP rear facing camera
  • VGA front-facing camera
  • Wi-Fi b/g/n
  • Bluetooth 4.0
  • GPS
  • MicroSD slot
  • 3.5mm Stereo Audio-Out
  • Accelerometer + Gyro
  • HDMI-out (microHDMI)
  • MicroUSB (charging + data)
  • Single Stereo Speaker (Rear mounted)
  • 4.96Ah Battery
  • Weight: 410grams

Specifically, the processor gave me pause. Before the A1-810 I had never heard of MediaTek, let alone an “MT8125”. But yet again, for the price, I decided that with 4-cores it had to be at least as good as the TI OMAP4 4430 processor in my Galaxy Nexus.

One thing that stood out to me was the GPU; PowerVR are very well known in the mobile market – and I believe this particular chip was used in the Galaxy S4 (or at least a closely related chip). The purpose in getting this tablet was not to play games on, but it would definitely be a bonus. Also, my thinking was that if I had a more powerful GPU, that would negate any shortfalls with the unknown SoC.

It really only took a few minutes of research to get all I needed to make a decision on this one. BUY! BUY! BUY!

And so a short time later, I was the proud owner of an Acer A1-810. There was one caveat with the pricing though; although it was offered at $99, it’s actual price was $128 with a $29 manufacturer’s rebate. The process of redemption is somewhat prolonged; I first had to peel off the serial sticker off the box, then register with Acer, then fill out the registration form, then send it off, then wait 6 weeks, then finally an Acer EFTPOS card arrived in the mail. Interesting that they chose to use EFTPOS Cashcard – most of them go for VISA or MasterCard prepaid cards; but whatever – as long as it’s money.

So a few days later I got the tab in the mail. The packaging was pretty unremarkable, it came with the usual microUSB cable, a USB Charger, a pair of headphones, a bunch of papers and finally the A1-810.

First impressions

It’s white! Not sure how I missed that in my (admittedly short) research period, but it wasn’t really an issue anyway – it will be covered by a case soon enough 🙂
Looking around the device, I found the power button on the top-right, the volume rocker, the microSD slot, the microphone, and the microHDMI, all on the right side.
The microUSB port sits at the bottom right side of the tablet with the 3.5mm headphone jack on it’s left.

As you would expect, the front facing camera is top centre. The rear facing camera on top-left on the rear side.
The last thing of note is the speaker; for some reason unknown to me, manufacturers like to put speakers on the back-side of mobile devices. <rant>This makes no sense to me! If you are using the tablet wouldn’t you want to have the speaker facing the user?</rant> Anyway, unfortunately the A1-810 is no exception; the speaker sits at the bottom-left on the back, in line with the camera.

Let’s start of the review portion of this review started:

Feel and Practicality.

Compared with the normal rubbish that comes out of Acer warehouses, the A1-810 is REALLY well built.
It feels comfortable (in 2 hands anyway), it’s very solidly built, it’s well balanced and it doesn’t weigh too much.

As a side note: Having 2 other tablets and an iPad, I recognised that most tablets need a decent case; specifically one that has a kickstand/stand ability. So even before I received the tablet in mail – I received an 8-inch black leather case stand from eBay (this one, if you’re interested). Given that the case was designed specifically for the A1-810, it wasn’t a surprise that it fit like a glove (so to speak). I’ve found it really useful to be able to set the tablet up on a table with it’s stand up; much easier than propping it up with a book or something! Plus you get the bonus of it’s protective abilities.

Boot time

First boot took about a minute, which is about consistent with my Galaxy Nexus.
3 months later, it’s still at around about the 40-second, 1-minute mark. I think there must be an Android limitation or something because most Android devices I’ve used take longer than 30 seconds to boot.

Display

The screen is as you would expect for an IPS display; it might not be as nice as the SAMOLED display on my Galaxy Nexus, but it’s pretty darn good for $99. Text is sharp, colours are beautiful and the contrast isn’t too bad.
I was a little concerned that the resolution would be a problem; I remember using 1024×768 as my laptop’s resolution 12 years ago – although now I think about it, the screen was probably not much bigger than the tablet anyway. But I digress. Actually the resolution matches the screen size quite well; it doesn’t look enlarged, it isn’t too small, or cramped. Text is certainly easy enough to read, and videos, though this isn’t a 16:9 display, look fine.

Touch Screen

I don’t know what it is with me, Android devices and Touch Screens, but I always manage to get the worst in the world of touch screens.
The touch screen seemed fine the first few days of use, although I didn’t really get to use multi-touch until later, but after I started playing GTA (III I think), I noticed strange glitches; I’m casually driving along until suddenly the brakes slam on and I’m going backwards. Low and behold, I look at the pedal icon on the screen and the brakes ARE on, and yet I’m not pressing it. After running a multi-touch test tool, I discovered that when you have 2 fingers on the same horizontal axis, it gets all confused and starts registering touches and holding them down. I found the only way to fix this is usually to turn the screen off (lock) and on again. This isn’t such a problem in games where you can move the controls (like GTA). I just set the brake pedal a little higher than the accellerator, and voila!

Sound

It’s okay. I would really much prefer the speaker on the front or side; you just don’t get the volume you want when it’s on the back.
But still, it is sufficient for normal use; I would never really expect to use it for anything serious anyway.

Camera

The rear-facing

Average at best. I really didn’t expect much to be honest. A tablet with a rear facing camera has always baffled me – What situations can you imagine where you have your tablet with you, but not your phone? Not likely right? That’s what I thought.

The front-facing

In all honesty though, the front facing camera is quite a bit more pathetic than the back, as you would expect from a VGA camera. I’m almost left wondering why they didn’t but the 5MP camera on the front – oh well, it should do for some basic Skyping.

Software

I was expecting a typical OEM branded interface, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was almost AOSP Android 4.2 Jellybean.
Acer did force on a few apps which I would consider “bloatware”, but compared to a Sony Ericsson or a HTC it’s nothing. From what I remember (I’ve actually used Titanium Backup‘s bloatware melter on them now) there was an Acer Cloud app, which is supposed to sync your images and videos with their service; personally I find such things useless, especially considering how many free synchronisation services are out there. There was also a registration app, a demo app and an updater app, a file manager app, as well as a few commercial apps which I can’t remember.

First thing’s first – the extra apps had to go! To do so, I need Titanium Backup, and to use TB, I needed to root the thing. So with less than 20 minutes of it being on, I was ready to root my new toy.

Performance

Well above what I could have expected. It’s smooth as butter in the launcher; I’m yet to see any sort of lag when swiping through pages.

Gaming is where this tablet really shines. I can play GTA: Vice City no problem – I haven’t tried maxing out the Graphical settings, but I bet it would run fine on max res and shadows – but maybe not max draw distance given it’s only got 1GB RAM. It’s a similar story with The Sims Freeplay – no issues there; okay, it lags massively when you enter a house that’s loaded with items, but then so does my Nexus.

Internet browsing is a similarly smooth experience; no glitches

Battery

Not too shabby actually. I usually get a full day + a few extra hours with heavy usage (gaming/web browsing/music/youtube). I could see it lasting a couple of days with light usage.

Got Root?

As usual, XDA Developers had the answer! After rooting, I used TB’s ‘freeze’ facility to keep Acer’s apps out of the way and as usual it worked brilliantly!

I went for the do-it-yourself method, since I happened to have a Linux Mint partition ready to use, but I hear you can use the download method with just as much success.

Basically the DIY method does a dump of the system partition on the device, installs the SU binary and then loads it back on the device; I like this method much better because you know which ROM you’re using (plus I was afraid it might have some localised differences on the Aussie ROM)

 

Conclusion

Wow! what a tablet. The good sides of this argument really do outweigh the bad

For the price, this was really the bargain of the century. Even now, you can pick one up for $130-140 which is still amazing value considering what you get.
I see this as a cheap-chinese-tablet killer! Why pay $100 for a load of junk, when you can pay $30 more for something that will actually last, and has a warranty, and has GPS?

I could also imagine this being a very popular, cheap alternative to buying a dedicated GPS unit.

If I could use one word to sum up this device, it would be this:

Brilliant!