- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 15, 2011

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Plop down $449 or so for Acer’s new Iconia A500 Tablet computer and you get something with a good-sized screen, a nice operating system, Wi-Fi and (potential) wireless broadband data connectivity. It’s not a toy, and it can certainly hold its own against the category leading (if not crushing) Apple Inc. iPad 2.

So what’s not to like?

Very little. The Iconia is about the weight and heft of the original iPad, and it offers accessories such as a cover that doubles as a display easel, a docking station and even a wireless keyboard. The screen is 10.1 inches, measured diagonally, which is 0.4 inches larger than the iPad 2’s 9.7-inch screen. It’s nice to have the extra real estate, but I don’t know whether this alone is a game-changer.

It comes with 16 gigabytes of RAM installed, and you can add a miniSD card for extra storage. The SIM card slot allows for wireless data communication, but that feature was not available on the model I tested. There are front and rear cameras for video chats and photography, the sound is good, and since it runs the 3.0 version of Google’s Android operating system, there’s no shortage of nice programs you can download, many of them free, to run on the device (not as many programs as “Brand X,” of course, but plenty nonetheless).

Also, the Iconia runs Adobe’s Flash program (and thus oceans of Flash-based content), something the iPad, sadly, doesn’t do. It’s a long story, and partisans on both sides of this argument have their cases to make. However, the coming HTML 5 standard, which Apple does support, may cause many to transition from Flash in the coming months and years.

So why am I hesitant about the Iconia? Well, let me state the positives first: It’s a great value for the money, there are enough accessories to work with, and it’s a far more powerful platform than many Android tablets that I’ve seen. These are all good things. Not everyone will want (or need) an iPad, specifically, and for them, the Iconia may do quite nicely.

That said, I remain uneasy about the Android platform — not because the operating software isn’t good; it appears to be excellent. I’m concerned that Google, the force behind the Android and its applications marketplace, is far less demanding of its applications developers than is Apple. There’s less screening, intentionally, Google has said, and that leaves the door open for, well, malicious programs along with those that aren’t all that good.

Yes, the system can be self-correcting and, yes, bad apples are detected quickly. But I’m not one who would want to bet the farm, or my data, on a voluntarily policed digital neighborhood when Apple, frankly, is looking out for users. (We can debate the pros and cons of Apple’s approval program another time; fact is, it is a good firewall against malevolent types.)

What can Acer do to remedy this? Well, in part, they can push the soon-coming Windows version of the Iconia, which I imagine will eventually move to the super-friendly to tablets version of Windows 8. Microsoft may offer some policing of the marketplace, after all.

They also can push Google to be a little tougher. I’m not calling for outright censorship here — that’s a separate discussion — but I don’t want to download an app that’ll wipe out my system, thank you very much.

Oh, and Acer needs to find a good way to sync the Iconia with desktop platforms other than Windows. There may be a Mac user or two out there who’d want to drive the tablet from a Mac. Here, too, Apple is smart, offering iTunes for Windows users as a way to hook up iPads.

Iconia may well end up as the iconic anti-iPad. It just needs a little more seasoning, in my opinion.

E-mail mkellner@washingtontimes.com.