Acer's Android Response to the iPad Mini

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- This is a review of the Acer Iconia A1. No, this is not a steak sauce. It is an Android tablet that's trying to mimic the form factor of Apple's ( AAPL) iPad Mini. It's $199 and I don't recommend it for one reason: The crummy display.

The Acer Iconia A1 is very close to being a copy of the iPad Mini. It's got 7.9 inch display with 4x3 aspect ratio, and has a similar (low) screen resolution. On the plus side, the Iconia A1 has HDMI connector and MicroSD slot.

On the downside, it is thicker, is a bit slippery and doesn't feel like a high-quality build. Most importantly, the display is terrible. The viewing angles are the worst I've seen and the display is dim.

Comparing almost any web page, text, email, whatever with another tablet is not a flattering comparison. The Iconia A1 simply looks worse.

On the upside, the Aconia A1 has decent Android 4.2.2 software that feels mostly like a Nexus device. This means that it's got the easiest setup in the business, and has very little bloatware. It doesn't get much easier than this. Your need for tech support should be zero at all levels of ownership.

Let me make a series of comparisons to illustrate how the $199 Acer Iconia A1 matches up with some alternatives you may have had in mind:

1. Apple iPad Mini: $199 vs. $329 for the iPad Mini is a big percentage gap, but I would argue the iPad Mini is a vastly better device. The quality of the screen is like night and day. In addition, the device has a different quality build, and it's thinner and shaped better. You can also pay another $130 and get the iPad Mini with embedded LTE for use on several of the major mobile network operators.

2. Asus Nexus 7: This device is about to be replaced any day by a Nexus 8 or whatever it will be called, but suffice it to say that the Asus Nexus 7 already blows the Acer Iconia A1 out of the water. Let's count the ways:

A. The screen. Comparing anything side by side, it's not a close call. The Nexus 7 has a slightly smaller screen, but everything appears sharper, brighter, and doesn't suffer from the narrowest viewing angle.

B. The build. The Nexus 7 feels solid, and it's got a rubbery curved back that makes it a delight to hold, including while reading in bed. Even with one hand, it feels more secure than some large phones such as the HTC One.

It's true that the Iconia A1 has a few legs up on the Nexus 7: two cameras, MicroSD card slot, and HDMI. The price used to be the same at $199, but the Nexus 7 is just now being discounted to $179.

3. Acer's own Iconia W3: Acer just launched the Iconia W3, which runs full Windows 8. The version I tested cost $429, plus $80 for a decent keyboard -- except that it lacked a trackpad, making editing (copy/paste etc) into a nightmare.

Anyway, the Iconia W3 is the only major tablet priced above $179 I've seen with a display equally terrible to the Iconia A1. Other than that, these devices aren't nicely comparable because of their very different operating systems: Android is super-easy to set up and use, whereas Windows 8 is a pain on every administrative and usability front imaginable.

4. Acer's own $199 Chromebook: Same price, very different animal. In my opinion, the Acer Chromebook is a very good laptop and an excellent bargain for $199. The screen is a bit dim but does not suffer from poor viewing angles.

An Android tablet and a Chromebook complement each other almost perfectly. The Chromebook is for the best typing/productivity experience, as well as for better web surfing. The Android tablet is better for apps, for using while in bed and where you have a very small space.

If you add a $199 Chromebook to a $199 Android tablet, you're still only at $400, which means you're at a price where the large Apple iPad starts, and Windows 8 touch PCs start. This just goes to show what an unbeatable value Google ( GOOG) offers through its OEMs such as Acer, Samsung and others.

Microsoft ( MSFT) has taken the approach to combine tablet and productivity PC into one. So far, most users have panned the execution of Windows 8. Perhaps this will change with Windows 8.1 and beyond. Under any circumstance, it is also an administrative nightmare. In addition, the touch points in the Desktop interface make it very difficult to click in the right place on a small tablet.

Apple seems to agree with Google that so far it's better to keep tablet and laptop in two separate devices. The difference is that with Google, you get both for a combined $400. With Apple, the laptop alone is $1,000 and the small and large tablets start at $329 or $399. All in all, Google is less than one-third the price no matter how you look at it.

The moral of this story? Acer makes a great Chromebook -- and for that matter great Windows laptops priced above $500 and up to almost $2,000. Tablets? Not so much -- whether they're based on Android or Windows. It's all about screen quality. Perhaps Acer will fix this in future revisions.

At the time of publication the author was long GOOG and AAPL, and short MSFT.

This article was written by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.