Friday, July 29, 2011

Evaluating Acer Iconia Tablets for interactive textbook project

CPIT IT have provided 2 Acer Iconia tablets for evaluation. One running on the Android OS and the other on Windows.

First up, the Acer Iconia A501 running on Android OS 3.0.1 with in-built accelerometer, gyroscope, GPS, and compass. Reviews have been mixed, check this and here. Although it looks slightly narrower than the ipad, the screen size is actually the same, with the Acer’s bezel edges being slimmer across the top and bottom of the screen. The silver edges on the side of the tablet make the Acer look thicker than the ipad when the Acer is actually thinner!! We will probably have to stick a rubberised bottom to the acer as it is very smooth and therefore easy to drop. As the tablet is to be used by students in the automotive workshop, robustness and handling will need to be something we consider in choice of hardware. The on/off switch is rather small, even for my small fingers, so it will be interesting to see how the students find it.

The touch screen works well and having the ability to look into the file system, using Astro is a plus. Astro did not pick up files on a memory stick inserted into the USB slot but the generic multimedia app did. The onscreen keyboard was ok to use, providing for aural feedback as keys are hit. However the delete/backspace key is not in the usual place (top right) making it a frustrating exercise to get used to the keyboard.

It does take some time to download apps via the Wifi server though. Downloaded evernote and it works fine with simple excess to my usual evernote pages. The android evernote has also niffy link to the Acer tablet’s camera and you are able to take a picture and have it saved as an evernote page. Addition of attachments etc. also intuitive plus synching the new pages to the evernote account is almost immediate. Also able to access photos stored on usb . From the usability point of view, the Android OS evernote seems to be easier to use than the ipad evernote with respect to ability to bring files into new pages.

Also tried out a couple sketching/doodling apps on the Android based Acer tablet. Kids doodle provides for some fun with the opportunity to save the sketch and play back as a video. Doodle note is more traditional and allows you to take a picture and annotate it.

Secondly, an Acer Iconia running Window 7 which comes with a keyboard as an extra, again reviews are mixed. This could be because the onscreen touch keyboard has small ‘keys’ and is difficult to touch type on. Thankfully, the delete/backspace key is in the usual space. This Iconia is larger than the Android version, longer than the ipad and about the same thickness. Having the windows button on one side means that for all intents and purposes, the tablet will tend to be viewed landscape with the windows button on the bottom left! The touch screen works well and screen resolution for photos good. The screen tends to black out whenever you change the screen orientation though!

On the software side, the usual windows based software – Word, Excel etc. along with Paint and wordpad are available. The windows interface, adapted to touch, is familiar and executes well. Wordpad allows you insert ‘paint’ files as well as pictures etc. but not to annotate pictures easily.

The USB port is in both the tablet and the keyboard section of the ensemble. So ease of access to the usb files via 'my computer' is one feature that is a plus with this tablet. The Acer did not come with Onenote, so not able to test this out. Access through my ‘cloud’ evernote via Wifi was slowish but no problems. Using the Acer on the keyboard was straightforward, with text entry via keyboard and generally intuitive for other actions on the touch screen.

Compared to the ipad, both the Acer tablets take a bit of time to boot up with the Windows OS one taking the most time.  The ipad is definitely more intuitive to use and provides a much more satisfying user experience. Apps on the ipad also robust. Android market is more difficult to negotiate through then iTunes. So I revert to googling Android apps on a desktop and then finding the recommended Android app to download. There are recommended apps and also here, on the windows tablet, but due to corporate constraints, we may be reliant on the generic windows software tools.

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