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Tablet versus laptop part three: Acer A500

Tablet versus laptop part three: Acer A500
In the final part of his tablet versus laptop series, Nathen asks if the Acer A500 is a match for his laptop

So far, we've had the Windows RT Tablet (Part 1), and the iPad Mini (Part 2). This week, it's the Acer A500's turn to face the tasks of daily office life. Granted, this is an older tablet, so things like weight and battery life will most likely be inferior to a modern Android tab.

Let's take a look at the Acer

This tablet is slightly customised in that it's not using its stock Acer-provided software. I'm using a community-compiled operating system built from the Android Jelly Bean source code. One of the main problems with the Android ecosystem is that the manufacturers leave older devices by the wayside after they release the newer model, meaning that many capable devices are left with operating systems that are buggy, slow or even have massive security holes. It's the equivalent of buying a computer with Windows Vista and having no way of upgrading to Windows 7 or 8. Ultimately it's going to be a frustrating experience.

A lot of the same applications I used on the iPad are available for Android, such as Teamviewer, Pocketcloud and Office applications. Application choice wasn't an issue as there are plenty to choose from in Google's Play store, however apps aren't put through the same rigorous quality control that Apple is so good at, so there is a fair bit of rubbish to trawl through.

The first thing that hits you about the Acer is how heavy it is. 710g is reported on some websites and I can believe it. It may not sound like much, but comparing it to the svelte iPad Mini's 312g it's a bit of a shock. It's also 100g heavier than the Dell XPS Tablet I used in part 1. Aside from that, the initial reaction is good. The screen is clear and bright and the OS is responsive. Time to put it through its paces.

One major issue is the battery life. Despite having two batteries hiding behind its 10" screen, by 1pm I was searching for the charger. Acer have only supplied this with a standard DC-connection charger, it won't charge from USB and the charger cable is incredibly short. Once it was plugged into the nearest socket, I couldn't comfortably use it.

Office work doesn't usually require any special software other than our CRM system, emails and an Office suite. In this environment, it makes most sense to have a traditional PC as sitting in one place and staring at a small screen was hard work on the Acer. I wasn't seeing the benefit of a portable device whilst sitting at my desk.

The final showdown

Acer A500

The Acer A500 had less going for it than the other two options. I had to install more third party applications to get functions to work properly, and depending on the manufacturer users may not get access to the latest updates. The security risk this presents, especially if you are planning to use this for work or other sensitive documents, is clearly a major flaw. Manufacturers are slowly coming round to the fact that these devices need updates, and their popularity means they are a target for hackers. Coupled with the battery-life issues, and ergonomic issues such as the weight, I can't say that this is a viable replacement for a laptop. As much as I love Android, this isn't the one to go for. If you have to have an Android tablet, I would recommend the Nexus. If I was to own a business, I wouldn't want any other Android tablet connecting to my network. 

Dell XPS10RT

I was surprised at how easily the Dell XPS integrated with my daily work life. The optional keyboard dock made desk work easy, and it also extended the battery life nicely, even if the way it charged/discharged was ill thought-out. Applications had a similar look and feel to their desktop counterparts. The Skydrive Integration was easy and meant I could access my files without having to go through a lot of tiresome extra steps. It was clear that this tablet had been designed with a home- or small-office environment in mind. I could also link to mapped drives and network printers, and overall it felt like I was just using a normal computer.

iPad Mini

In comparison, the iPad Mini didn't integrate nearly as well. It was a little awkward as the screen was just too small, the applications and accessories I was looking at were expensive compared to other tablets (if a little more polished), and it didn't really perform the tasks I wanted apart from checking emails. Nearly all of the other tasks were better performed on my laptop.

So, can a tablet replace your laptop?  

For the majority of people, yes. As long as your applications don't extend past the Microsoft Office suite and web applications.

First place goes to...

The Dell RT Tablet was definitely the better of the three in a work environment.  It's able to be managed by Group Policy, sees network printers and drive maps without extra applications and gave an experience similar to a regular laptop computer, but with the benefit of silent running, ultra-portable and 2 days battery life.

In second place we have...

The iPad - it may have a larger application base, but misses many of the features that the RT Tablet has, such as a single point of management and shared resources. Unfortunately, the Android tablet just wasn't even a contender.  It has a large application base like the iPad, but there are a lot of poor quality applications. Suffers the same downfalls as the iPad in a business environment and depending on the brand you buy, you could be waiting a long time for security updates, meaning large holes in your company network.

The flipside is that, if you were looking for a tablet for home use, both the Android tablet and the iPad blow the Windows tablet away. There are not as many applications available for Windows RT as there are for both the iPad and Android tablet, and some users may get confused by the familiar Windows interface and be disappointed when they realise that none of their existing applications can be installed on there, unless there is an equivalent application in the market place.

So in summary, if you are wanting a device that has a longer battery life than your average laptop, but don't want to miss out on connectivity, the RT tablets are a great option, as long as you don't stray outside of Office and web-based applications. If you're looking for a device for home use the iPad is hard to beat. After all, you can't get Super Stickman Golf on the Windows tablet!

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