I’m reading my e-books on a new tablet.

And commenters who rail at me for being an Apple ‘fanboy’ will be pleased to hear I have gone Android.

In the first of a two-parter, I’ll review the Acer Iconia Tab 8—not the latest, greatest or fastest, but the right tablet for me, even though the model debuted almost a year ago.

Screen resolution is 1920 by 1200, hardly a match for top-of-the-line Apples. But it’s good enough. Today I’ll cover my general impressions, and on Wednesday, I’ll more deeply explore the reading experience (update: link here).

Why a new tablet?

A confluence of three events led to this unlikely purchase. Firstly, my iPad Mini broke. I think it was the digitizer. It would play fine for about ten minutes at a time, but then the screen would go crazy and act like a demon possessed. Secondly, the Beloved became addicted to a certain puzzle game, and I found myself competing for the iPad with him at home. I don’t love the ergonomics of my desk, so I won’t use my computer unless I am working. I really missed having a tablet to use at home.

And then the final straw: my phone suffered a tragic accident, and as part of the deal I struck with my cell phone company for a new one, I got a free $100 Best Buy gift card and $60 off Kijiji for my old, broken phone. I wanted to earmark that toward a new tablet, but I could not justify spending $300+ on what was basically going to be a net-browsing, Kindle-reading toy. A want, not a need, if you know what I mean.

News of the $50 Kindle tablets got Android on my brain. They are not available in Canada yet, but a quick search told me that the cheapest Android tablet I could get at Best Buy was just $70, not a big jump. So off we went.

The buying experience

A $70 tablet at Best Buy was a little pokey and laggy, but we tested several others. Although the cheapest actual contender was $109, its screen was a little on the small size. There is a fine line for me with screen sizes. Too big, and it’s not comfortable to use; too small, and you may as well use your phone.

The Iconia was the best of the several we tried. Best Buy had marked it down to $159 off its original $189 price, and we asked for an open box and got a further $10 off. So basically, it cost exactly what we had budgeted for it.

I might have been happy with a cheaper one, but the Beloved is a brand snob about electronics, and since he’ll be using it, too, I wanted to get one that he was comfortable with. I tried to sell him on ‘The iPad will be mine and the Android will be yours,’ but he wasn’t having it. We’ll share both of them!


The Acer’s setup was fairly straightforward. I logged in with my Google account, and instantly had access to the apps I had used during my last Android experiment, back in the Kobo tablet days. To my delight, most of my must-use Apple apps had Android versions too. It was painless to download Evernote, Kindle, a Feedly reader, Gmail and a few other useful goodies.

Most of the Android apps seem more ad-based than the Apple ones. I saw a few pay games with one-star reviews that amounted to basically ‘I will not pay, please make it free.’ I think the Android people fear paying a little more than the Apple folks do. There were a few games I enjoy on my Apple devices (and have paid for there) which had ad-supported Android versions. I deleted three after one play because the ads were so intrusive. I am not going to pay again for them, so I will just leave those ones for the phone.

The app store

This device came pre-loaded with both the Google Play store and the Amazon app store. I checked out the Amazon store just for fun, and did not see anything there which I couldn’t find on Google Play. I deleted it after my brief little browse, but it’s good to know it has a decent selection even here in Canada.

By the time I am ready for another tablet down the road, the Amazon cheapie may indeed have made it here. I am happy to know it will be usable in Canada.

The Android OS

I still find Android little bumpier than the Apple OS. The tablet came with a lot of pre-installed apps I could not get rid of, for instance. A photo backup app prompted me to set up an account and log in every time I turned the tablet on. I couldn’t delete pre-loaded versions of Zinio, Audible and several other services I don’t use. Some of these were not just pre-installed, but actually ran in the background!

An apps control panel in the settings let me disable these. But each time I did, I got a dire warning that disabling a pre-installed app might interfere with the tablet’s function, but I went ahead it anyway.

Even after going through that apps list with a fine-toothed comb, merrily disabling away, I’m stuck with several less-useful-for-me apps in the Google Suite that it will not let me hide. The offenders are Hangouts, Google+ and a crapware game server that keeps re-enabling itself in spite of my best efforts to be free of it. This is just bad form. I paid for this tablet. I own it! Why can’t I get to decide which apps it runs?

I found, too, that some of the settings were a little too well-hidden for my liking. The Acer made this clicking sound every time I used the keyboard. I went looking for a setting for that, in sounds, and found nothing. A day later, I finally found it tucked away in the ‘input’ settings. And then it turned out it was still making a noise because of the vibrate settings, so I had to go looking for those.

Getting started

All told, it took me about two hours to get a basic set-up which was to my liking. I spent a lot of time disabling apps I didn’t want, a little time downloading apps I knew and loved already and getting them logged in and configured, and then a small amount of time downloading a launcher to make the UI a little smoother for me. The launcher I chose makes the home screen look a little more Apple-esque, and it turns off most of the Internet-reliant (and hence, battery-sucking) widgets.

Battery life

The battery life on the Android stuff has been disappointing. We’re getting about 5 hours; that cannot compete with my iPad, which can usually go two days between charges even with heavy-ish use. I ran a battery analysis app on it, and the screen is sucking 61% of the battery use. Not much can be done about that, I guess.

My main point remains, though—the iPad is nicer, just not $200 nicer, especially as a second machine.

Up next: The reading experience, and my final thoughts. Stay tuned!


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