Acer's Iconia Tab 8 is an affordable Android tablet that stands out thanks to a handful of noteworthy features for business users. The slate offers quick performance; a sharp 8-inch display; and a slim, attractive design. Plus, it includes a few perks you won't find on many Android slates, like a mini-HDMI port that will come in handy for displaying business presentations in the conference room. Plus, Acer added some productivity-boosting software features, including a split-screen mode for better multitasking, and the ability to launch apps with multifinger gestures.
But the Acer Iconia Tab 8 is far from perfect, and competing tablets have better screens and longer battery life. Read on to see how this $199 tablet stacks up as a productivity device.
For a tablet in this price range, the Iconia Tab 8 is reasonably attractive. At a glance, the device's white-and-silver design is reminiscent of Apple's iPad mini. But instead of an aluminum back, Acer's slate has a plastic back with a matte-silver finish.
I also like the way the power button and volume rocker are positioned at an angle along the tablet's curved right edge, at roughly the same angle my index finger naturally rests against the side of the tablet, making these controls easier to find and press.
It would be a stretch to call the Iconia Tab 8 heavy, but at 12.6 ounces, it does weigh slightly more than its closest competitors. In comparison, the Asus MeMO Pad 8 weighs 11.34 ounces. It's a small difference, but I noticed it when holding up the Iconia Tab 8 for extended periods of time.
At 0.33 inches thick, this is a pretty slim tablet. That thickness is on a par with the MeMO Pad 8, but a bit thicker than Samsung's Galaxy Tab 4 8.0, which measures 0.31 inches thick.
Overall, the Iconia Tab 8 is a very portable tablet that's easy to stow in your work bag, and won't weigh you down on your daily commute.
Ports and connectivity
The Iconia Tab 8's most interesting feature might be the mini-HDMI port, located on the top of the device, just to the left of its micro USB charging port. It's a feature that I haven't seen on many midsize tablets, and one that can really benefit business users. With the right adapter, you can easily mirror your tablet's display to just about any large monitor or television. Essentially, it offers an easy way to present slideshows and other content at company meetings.
I also like the easy-to-reach microSD card slot, which is positioned on the tablet's left edge. The slot lets you expand the slate's modest 16GB of internal storage.
The Iconia Tab 8 has an 8-inch IPS panel with a relatively high resolution of 1,920 x 1,200 pixels, so text is sharp and clear. Unfortunately, it's not quite as bright or colorful as the displays on competing slates.
With the Tab 8 on its brightest setting, it measured 290 nits of brightness, which is dimmer than the tablet average of 336 nits. In comparison, the MeMo Pad 8 gave off 376 nits, though it has a lower resolution (1,280 x 800 pixels). To be fair, the Acer screen is more than adequate for indoor use, but its below-average brightness can make it difficult to use in direct sunlight.
Viewing angles were good indoors. The Tab 8 produces clear images even when turned at a severe angle, though colors become slightly dark and washed out.
Business users should probably ask themselves whether an 8-inch tablet is really big enough to work on, though. Basic tasks, like managing my email inbox, were comfortable. However, screen-intensive tasks, like editing a spreadsheet or viewing a large document, can feel a bit cramped on the Tab 8. Plus, it doesn't give you much room to really take advantage of the tablet's split-screen multitasking.
One of the weaknesses of mobile operating systems like Android and iOS are that they lack the native ability to run two apps at once in a split-screen view. Fortunately, manufacturers like Samsung, LG and now Acer are adding multiwindow functionality to their Android devices, which makes it much easier to multitask.
Using the Tab 8's multiwindow feature is easy: Just tap the small icon in the bottom-left corner of the screen when using any app, and then select which app you want to run concurrently. You can drag the border between apps to resize them, and quickly switch out one app for another with a few taps.
This feature comes in handy for basic tasks like using the calculator or performing a Web search while composing an email. Unfortunately, the number of compatible apps is somewhat limited. Currently, just 13 apps can be used in split-screen mode. But the selection covers the basics, including email, the Chrome Web browser, calendar, calculator and OfficeSuite 7, which lets you create and view documents, spreadsheets and presentations.
As previously mentioned, the Tab 8's small screen size can sometimes make split-screen multitasking seem impractical. But for basic tasks, it's great to have the option, especially when competing tablets like the MeMO Pad 8 lack multiwindow functionality.
Acer also packed in a variety of other nifty software features that make the Iconia Tab 8 a joy to use. One of my favorites is called IntelliSpin. You know how most tablets and smartphones force you to tilt the device up to trigger screen rotation when you switch from portrait to landscape mode? This feature solves that issue. Basically, the Iconia Tab 8 uses built-in motion sensors to detect a spin, so you can effortlessly switch orientations even when the tablet is flat on a table or other surface. It's so simple and works so well that I wish all mobile devices would incorporate the feature.
I also liked the slate's multifinger gestures, which let you launch specified apps by touching the display when the screen is off. You can launch a specific app by pressing both thumbs to either side of the screen, or by touching the screen with all five fingers at once. Unfortunately, the gestures only work when you're holding the tablet, not when it's flat on a table. Still, they're responsive and reliable. I especially liked using the five-finger gesture to launch my calendar, so I could quickly glance at my schedule without unlocking the device first.
The Iconia Tab 8's front-facing camera is somewhat lackluster, which is a slight downside if you plan to use the device to meet remotely with colleagues or clients via a videoconferencing app like Skype. I wasn't impressed with the image quality, which shows washed out, inaccurate colors. I'm also a bit puzzled by the placement of the camera, which is off-center, so you have to hold the tablet at a slight angle to appear in the middle of the frame. The tablet's audio is reasonably clear, and its volume is about average, though. For the occasional video chat, the Iconia Tab 8 is serviceable, but it's not built for frequent videoconferencing.
Basic productivity tasks run smoothly on the Iconia Tab 8. It's powered by a 1.33-GHz Intel Atom quad-core processor with 2GB of RAM, so it offers plenty of speed and performance for the average business user. In my testing, apps opened and closed quickly, and multitasking felt snappy.
The Iconia Tab 8's biggest shortcoming is definitely its lackluster battery life. The slate lasted just 6 hours and 53 minutes on our battery-life test, which involves continuous Web browsing over Wi-Fi. That's a lot shorter than the tablet average of 8 hours and 37 minutes. It's also shorter than the Asus MeMO Pad 8, which ran for an impressive 9 minutes and 2 seconds. To be fair, that slate has fewer pixels than the Iconia Tab 8 on its lower-res display.
For light use, the Iconia Tab 8's relatively short battery life isn't a deal breaker. But if you want a tablet that can endure far beyond the end of the workday, Acer's slate might not cut it.
The Iconia Tab 8 is a good midsize tablet, with a handful of productivity-boosting features you won't find on competing slates. That includes a micro HDMI port for presentations and useful software features like split-screen multitasking. It's also an attractive, portable package at an affordable price.
On the other hand, the Asus MeMO Pad 8 — which costs about the same as the Iconia Tab 8 — offers a brighter display and, more important, much longer battery life. If you can live without the Iconia Tab 8's higher-resolution screen and software features, the Asus tablet is the better buy.
On the other hand, you might want to ask yourself whether an 8-inch Android slate is the right productivity device for you in the first place. After all, large Android phablets (smartphones that are bigger than the average phone but smaller than the average tablet) offer many of the benefits of small tablets, without requiring you to carry an extra device. If you can afford to spend a little more, and don't mind sacrificing a bit of portability, a larger 9- or 10-inch tablet might be a better choice for productivity.