There's a race to the bottom going on among tablet makers, to see who can deliver the best experience for the lowest price. The Acer Iconia Tab 8 offers an HD display and easy access to all the Android apps and games, Web surfing, and social networking you could want for an aggressive $130 ($99 on sale). However, its cameras and battery life aren't the best.
From the back, the Acer Iconia Tab 8 doesn't look like a budget tablet. The textured, metal-like back makes for an easy grip and a sleek look. On the top left corner, in portrait mode, sits the 5-megapixel camera, just above the power button and volume rocker on the left side. On the right edge is a microSD card slot for up to 128GB of extra storage, which will come in handy in augmenting the 16GB of built-in memory. Along the bottom, you'll see three rows of dots for the speaker.
When you turn the tablet over, things get less classy looking. A plastic bezel tops the silvery edge, but doesn't sit flush. At the top of the 8-inch display with a 16:10 aspect ratio, is a 0.3-megapixel camera, and the screen is surrounded by a white bezel.
The very top edge of the tablet is home to the headphone and power ports, as well as the mic.
The 8-inch display on the Acer Iconia Tab 8 is colorful, but not very bright. Viewing angles were very good, even at extreme angles. But when I watched a downloaded copy of an HD trailer for The Hobbit, I had to question if I was looking at animation instead of film because everything looked blocky and blurry. Bilbo's hair and the lush countryside of the Shire seemed to turn into Minecraft-like blocks.
The Iconia Tab 8 offers a resolution of 1280 x 800 pixels, which is identical to the 8-inch displays on the Lenovo Tab 2 A8 and the Amazon Fire HD 8. The panel isn't particularly luminous, however. We recorded just 289 nits of brightness, while the average tablet puts out 367 nits. The Lenovo scored 368 and the Amazon Fire achieved 403.
The Iconia Tab 8 shows a decent range of colors, reproducing 87.5 percent of the sRGB color gamut (100 percent or higher is better). That's lower than the tablet average and the Lenovo Tab 2 A8's score (both 92 percent), but better than the Fire HD 8's mark (82.4 percent). The Acer pulled ahead with its color accuracy, registering 0.3 on the Delta-E test (closer to 0 is best).
Acer claims the Iconia Tab 8 offers the "most accurate touch and writing experience you'll find on a tablet." The company claims you can use thin-tipped objects like graphite pencils to make notes on the screen. I used the Acer EZ Note app with a series of implements, including a pencil, pen, metal letter opener and stylus, along with my finger. By far, the most effective option was my finger, and that required the same force as I would use to write on an iPad mini or the Fire HD 8.
The pen and letter opener created a series of dashes that no one could consider words, while the stylus and pencil worked for most, but not all, letters in a word.
The Acer Iconia Tab 8 runs a lightly skinned version of Android 5.0 Lollipop. If it weren't for a couple of minor Acer tweaks to the settings menu, you wouldn't know it wasn't stock Android, meaning this interface is very easy and intuitive to navigate.
The home screen features the Google search bar across the top, just above a widget for the date and time. Along the bottom of the screen sit six quick-access apps below another row of six apps. On the bottom edge is a touch button for Back, Home and All Apps. Swiping left reveals another screen of app icons, and yet another swipe shows the Amazon dashboard widget, used to connect to your Amazon account. Once you've signed in, the widget reveals your current library of books, movies and music, and links to Amazon for more purchases.
The Google Play store and Amazon Appstore both come preloaded on the Iconia Tab 8. That means you'll have access to more than 1 million apps. Acer preloads a little more than a handful of those apps, including Zinio, Kindle, Netflix, Hulu Plus, YouTube and the standard Google App fare (Play Music, Play Movies, Play Books, etc.). WildTangent and Gameloft also have apps to load multiple games from those companies.
Acer preloads some brand-specific apps, as well. The EZ Wake, EZ Note, EZ Snap and EZ Widget apps are all designed to make use of the touch screen for extra gestures. For instance, with EZ Wake turned on, you can hold the tablet in portrait mode and touch both thumbs to the screen to wake it from sleep. EZ Snap lets you pinch three fingers to take a screenshot. EZ note is for quickly jotting down your thoughts with your finger, a pencil or a stylus, while EZ Widget makes it simple to bring up a calculator or an alarm clock.
The Acer Iconia Tab 8 is powered by a quad-core 1.33-GHz Intel Atom processor and 1GB of RAM, which didn't prove swift in my testing.
For example, switching from landscape to portrait mode took more than a second, as did returning to the home screen. On the plus side, the camera app opened in a little more than a second with six other apps open, which was only a bit longer than with no other apps running.
In another real-world benchmark test, we measured how long it took the tablet to transcode a 204MB 1080p video to 480p using the VidTrim app (shorter is better). The Iconia Tab 8 took 8 minutes and 51 seconds, which is better than the Tab 2 A8 (which took 9:13).
The Iconia Tab 8 fared decently on synthetic benchmarks. On Geekbench 3, a test that measures overall performance, the Iconia Tab 8 scored 2,059. That's better than the Fire HD 8 (1,518) and the Tab 2 A8 (1,781), but worse than the tablet average of 2,672.
On the 3DMark graphics performance test, the Iconia Tab 8's score of 13,601 blew away the Fire HD 8 (10,159) and the Tab 2 A8 (4,959).
It's worth noting that the Iconia Tab 8 doesn't support the fastest Wi-Fi standard, 802.11ac. Instead, it uses 802.11b/g/n.
Since the Iconia Tab I has just a 5-megapixel rear camera and a 0.3-MP front camera, I didn't expect stunning photos, but this tablet didn't even meet my lowered expectations.
A shot of the toys on my desk, taken with the rear camera, came out gray overall. My Daredevil and Thor action figures lacked definition, making them look as though the two shared one body. A selfie taken in my apartment with all the lights on looked so dark and grainy that I seemed to have been buried alive.
Acer claims that the Iconia Tab 8 should offer 8 hours and 30 minutes of battery life, thanks to the device's 4,600 mAh battery. On the Laptop Mag Battery Test, which involves continuous Web surfing over Wi-Fi, we recorded a time of 7:28.The Lenovo Tab A2 lasted 11:32, while the tablet average is 8:45.
It's true that I didn't expect much from a $130 tablet not that long ago. Times have changed. For just $50, I can pick up an OK tablet like the 7-inch Amazon Fire that does what I need it to do, albeit slowly. The Acer Iconia Tab 8 is faster and has a bigger HD screen, but with below-average battery life and poor cameras.
In this price range, we recommend the Lenovo Tab 2 A8 ($119), which offers much longer endurance. But the Iconia Tab 8 is worth considering if you want a budget slate that's slightly faster and lighter.