It's never polite to call a product a clone when it doesn't really deserve the label, but the Acer Iconia A1-810 is a surefire case of "if the cap fits, wear it." It's even more flagrant than the Archos 80 Titanium in wearing its Apple influences for all to see, closely mirroring the screen and frame of the iPad mini even if its chunkier plastic rear means that the resemblance is only skin-deep.
Of course, like the Archos it has one advantage over its inspiration – it’s an awful lot cheaper. At £170 it's not quite as wallet-friendly as the £130 Archos 80 Titanium, but it's still significantly more affordable than Apple's £270 little wonder. The question is whether the difference in cost is reflected in the quality and performance, or whether Acer's latest gives you a viable alternative at a summer sales price.
Viewed face-on, the Iconia A1-810 is a dead ringer for the iPad mini. The screen has the same 4:3 rather than 16:9 aspect ratio, the frame is thicker at the top and bottom than at the sides and the camera is centrally mounted above the screen. All that's missing is the home button below.
From the side or rear it's a different story. The A1-810 is nearly 4mm thicker than the iPad, with a more noticeable chrome-effect plastic surround and a curved black or white plastic rear. It actually feels pretty solid, with little flex or creaking in the construction, but it doesn't come close to matching the iPad mini's premium feel.
The A1-810 is heavier than the iPad mini at 410g to 308g, and even the old Nexus 7 at 395g. However, it's still well balanced and can comfortably be held one-handed while you prod it with the other. The rounded corners and edges also make it pretty easy on the hands.
Connectivity is another plus over some small-screen rivals. Not only does the A1-810 have a microSD card slot for extra storage, but it also boasts a microHDMI output for hooking up to a screen or projector. A microUSB port is used for PC connections, peripheral connections and charging – we always prefer this to proprietary chargers – and it has GPS, 802.11n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth built-in. It's clearly a cheap device, but closer to cheap and cheerful than cheap and nasty.
Screen and sound
The A1-810 shares the same screen size (7.9in) and the same resolution (1024 x 768, 163ppi) as the iPad mini, which leaves it trailing slightly behind the outgoing Nexus 7 (216ppi) and Kindle Fire HD 8.9 (254ppi) when it comes to crisp text and sharp images. Despite being an IPS display it’s also behind all three screens in terms of contrast and brightness, but in isolation it’s actually not bad at all.
Blacks could be blacker and colours more punchy, but HD movies, photos and games still look good. Viewing angles are reasonably wide, and it’s only when you want to read a digital magazine that the comparative blockiness of the text becomes an issue – and even then a very minor one. The screen is fairly reflective in bright light and good luck seeing anything in sunlight, but the worst thing about the display is that it’s a bit of a fingerprint and smudge magnet. Either it has no oleophobic coating or that coating is no good.
Sound, sadly, is borderline appalling. It’s a mercy that the single speaker is so quiet; the tinny, muddy racket emitting from it might not be bearable at high volumes. Want movies? Want music? Wear headphones.
Software and usability
Overall usability is good. The touchscreen is responsive, apps load quickly and navigation feels quick and silky-smooth. For everyday use, the Iconia A1-810 is as pleasant to use as any other Jelly Bean tablet we could mention, and the 4:3 aspect ratio is an improvement in some respects. Whether you’re working in portrait or landscape orientation you get more space to type and see what you’re typing, and most productivity and photo editing apps are just easier to work with when you have the extra space. Use the A1-810 for a few days and you suspect that Apple might be on to something here, after all.
When you get to more advanced scenarios the A1-810 might give you more concern, but it’s fine for everyday use. Its core is a MediaTek MT8125T SoC, based on four ARM Cortex A7 cores and a PowerVR Series 5 GPU, along with 1GB of RAM. Running at 1.2GHz it delivered a Geekbench score of 1309 – above the Asus FonePad and the Archos 80 Titanium, but below most Tegra 3 models, including the Nexus 7. In the GFXBench HD graphics tests it’s just below the Archos, with 5.2 frames per second (fps) in the onscreen T-Rex benchmark and 14 fps in Egypt HD.
This isn’t necessarily a problem. The A1-810 is a mediocre performer rather than a bad one, and it’s perfectly happy to play HD videos or switch between Android apps. It can even handle most 2D and 3D games, so if you want to relax on your next trip, then a spot of Plants vs Zombies or Dungeon Hunter 4 isn’t out of the question. If you want to play more demanding games or media-heavy apps, however, then you might find it starts to struggle.
The A1-810 has a 5-megapixel rear-facing camera and a 0.3-megapixel front-facer, though neither is really much cop. The rear-facing camera takes lacklustre snaps with little detail and focus is far from sharp. The front-facing camera is even fuzzier on the detail front and struggles in low light. It will do for video chats and calls, but you probably won’t look your best.
Battery life was an issue with the similar Archos 80 Titanium, but not so much for the A1-810. It will get through roughly eight hours of mixed use including web-browsing, games and HD video, and more if you turn down the brightness level and spend more time in less demanding activities. That’s not bad by any means.
It’s hard to think of a single way in which the Iconia A1-810 could be called outstanding. The screen is fine, performance adequate and battery life perfectly acceptable. It looks and feels like a solid budget tablet, and you won’t convince anyone that it’s an iPad mini-killer.
Yet, at the same time, it’s actually a very nice little tablet to use. At £170 it’s up against some tough competition, and if you’re happy with a 7in, 16:9 ratio screen then you should look at the Nexus 7 or the Asus FonePad instead. If, however, you’re looking for a low-cost Android alternative to the iPad mini, then the Iconia A1-810 does the job very well.
Manufacturer and Product
Acer Iconia A1-810
1.2GHz MediaTek MT8125T
microSD memory card
7.9in 1024 x 768 IPS
MicroUSB, microHDMI, headphone
5280mAh Lithium Polymer
Size and weight
145 x 209 x 11.1mm, 410g