Widely considered one of the best Android tablets and an alternative to the iPad, the Acer Iconia Tab A500 has been reduced to an unprecedented $386 in a Harvey Norman tablet sale.
First there was the HP TouchPad for $98, now there's the Acer Iconia Tab A500 (16GB) for $386. The Iconia (pictured above) is a stylish, superbly engineered Android 3.1 tablet reduced by an unbelievable $212 from its normal retail price of $598 in what Australian retailer Harvey Norman is labelling the big Tablet 4-day sale. The first tier-1 tablet to sell for less than $400, the Iconia is the most outstanding special in the sale, but there are also big reductions on other tablets from big brands such as Toshiba and ASUS.
We might be seeing Harvey Norman putting in place the lessons learnt a couple of weeks ago when the retail chain began disposing of the ill-fated HP TouchPads for a memorable $98 each, namely that Australians love tablets if the price is right. The architect of that TouchPad sale, and a subsequent one in which all HP products were offered at a 40% discount, is Ben McIntosh, the General Manager of the Computers and Communications division of Harvey Norman.
He told APC that anything would have flown off the shelves at those TouchPad firesale prices, but the queues of people lining up outside some of the stores to get a HP tablet told him that Australian consumers certainly love a technology bargain. "Now the time is absolutely right for the tablet industry," McIntosh said of his timing of the tablet sale. "You’ve finally got a multitude of good quality brands out in the marketplace. If you look back six months ago, there was really only one option, the iPad, now there is a multitude of A1 brands that have excellent quality products on the shelf, and the best way for a retailer to let customers know that is by having a sale."
Another driver might be the iPad's unrelenting dominance of the tablet market (around 70% of tablet sales) and although Android is popular on mobile phones, it has surprisingly failed to come up with a strong challenger to Apple's tablet. The only one shaping up to do that, the super-slim Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1, has been barred from the Australian and some other markets by Apple's patents lawyers. So dropping prices is one way to start hurting the market leader (this also appears to be the strategy to be employed by Amazon when it releases its Amazon tablet later this year, to massively undercut the iPad and instead make money through book sales and e-commerce on the device).
The upshot of it all is that the Android tablets in the Harvey Norman sale are now great value. Even at its pre-sale price of $598, the Acer Iconia Tab A500 got an Editor's Choice award in APC magazine's roundup of tablets in this month's cover story. With its brushed aluminium frame, 10in 1,280 x 800 pixel HD screen (16:9 aspect ratio) and excellent sound coming through its sexy speaker grills, the Iconia has been widely regarded as the closest Android competitor to the original iPad, before the thinner, slimmer iPad 2 arrived and widened the gap.
But if it does not trump the iPad 2 on style, the Iconia has things the iPad 2 doesn't. First, there's two USB ports, a full-sized one for connecting storage and a mini-USB for transferring files on and off the device. Then there's a micro SD card slot, while a built-in mini-HDMI port lets you connect the Iconia via a HDMI cable to a HDTV. The Iconia's 1GHz NVIDIA Tegra 2 Dual-Core processor will happily run HD movies and the NVIDIA Tegra 2 processor makes the tablet as snappy as an iPad 2. There’s also a 5 megapixel rear facing camera with autofocus and Flash LED and a 2 megapixel camera facing the front.
McIntosh expects the Iconia to fly off the shelves in the Harvey Norman sale. "Number one, Acer is a very good quality brand, number two, it’s a good sized tablet - it’s not the thinnest in the market but it’s a very good size, it looks good, it’s engineered properly and at $386 it’s an absolute bargain."
But the sale is not just restricted to the Iconia, which is merely the cheapest of the big brand tablets on sale. Another massively reduced tablet is the Toshiba AT100 (its underside pictured above), reduced to $468 from $579. The AT100 is Toshiba’s slightly left-of-field entry into the tablet market. While every other maker prioritised style in designing their tablets, Toshiba went for function over form in the AT100, creating a thicker device than most but packing it to the gills with extra functionality.
Although a thinner, yet-to-be-released successor has already been announced, the AT100 packs a serious punch. The 726g rubber-backed AT100 runs Android 3.1 and is noticeably thick (15.8mm) and bulky, but it feels lighter than its appearance would indicate. It has an appealing rubberised and grooved back cover and is also powered by an NVIDIA Tegra 2 processor. The 10.1in (1,280 x 800 resolution) capacitive screen has rich colours and an excellent viewing angle. Like the Iconia (and unlike the iPad), the AT100 has plenty of ports on offer, with a full-sized HDMI and two USB 2.0 ports along with a full-sized SD card reader. But its standout feature is the replaceable battery, which almost guarantees that this tablet will be useful for a few years at least.
McIntosh said: "Toshiba's another A1 brand; when you feel it it’s just good quality stuff, so I am happy to sell it. Harvey Norman supports all the major brands, but the Toshiba is fantastic at the price this weekend even at RRP. They've packed it with unique functions; it's not just another tablet."
The other notable special is the ASUS Eee Pad Transformer (above) - the only Android tablet designed specifically to work with an optional keyboard docking station. The tablet alone has been reduced to $479 (16GB version) from $599, but with the docking station it’s now $688, compared to the RRP of $799. It has the same NVIDIA Tegra 2 (1GHz) processor as the other tablets, so it zips along nicely. The Transform tablet also comes with a Micro SD card reader and a mini-HDMI port, but the two USB 2.0 ports and a 3-in-1 card reader are on the optional detachable keyboard. As a tablet by itself, the Transformer is good, but when paired with the keyboard it becomes unique and absolutely the best option if you need to regularly input lots of data manually into a tablet.
Check what our colleagues at Notebook Hunter have to say about the Iconia Tab A500 and the Toshiba AT100 specials.