With all other major technology companies like Apple, Samsung, HP, Motorola and HTC succumbing to the tablet frenzy, we didn't have to wait too long before Lenovo decided to take the plunge as well. Relatively unknown before its acquisition of IBM's personal computing business in 1995, Lenovo is now famous for its ThinkPad line of business laptops. The company launched three tablets recently – the enterprise-oriented ThinkPad tablet, the mainstream IdeaPad K1 and the budget IdeaPad A1. This week, I review the 10.1-inch IdeaPad K1.
The slew of recent Honeycomb launches doesn't leave much room for innovation in design. Which is why the IdeaPad K1 is quite refreshing. While the front sports the regular black glossy frame, there's a single seemingly Apple-esque physical button at bottom centre. Honeycomb tablets generally have all the controls within the screen and none on the bezel itself, so Lenovo's Home button is a bit of a change. The button, as I discovered a bit later, is also an optical trackpad, allowing you to swipe your way back to the homescreen. It's not very accurate, but when it does get activated, you can see little white alien-ish LED dots on either side of the button.
The other difference from the rest of the Honeycomb tablets is the back panel. Lenovo has a few really attractive colour options, including a deep red, black and white. The panel covers three-quarters of the back, gently sloping into a metal frame which contains the stereo speakers. If you don't want to opt for the standard glossy plastic finish, you can pick the black-brown combo that I got for review which is made of a texturised leather and has a more professional, subtle look.
There are a bunch of ports and physical controls on the edges, but I didn't appreciate the lack of a mini USB port. Instead, you have to charge the tablet or transfer data from the dock connector. I was told by Lenovo representatives that the K1 does have an optional USB connector which fits into the dock, but that is available only in select markets as of now. What you do have is a micro HDMI port, headphone jack, orientation lock, volume toggle switch and power button. The SIM and micro SD card fit into a tray, which are neatly released by inserting a pin into the tiny hole next to them, similar to the iPad 2.
The K1 comes in 16GB, 32GB and 64GB versions, but as of now Indian consumers can only buy the 32GB Wi-Fi or Wi-Fi+3G model.
Despite the creative finish on the K1, the tablet is quite bulky at about 750 grams and the back panel slopes towards the top edge, so one end is thicker than the other. Considering the lack of a USB port, I would have appreciated a slightly thinner and more lightweight form factor.
Most tablet manufacturers are opting for some kind of skin to cover the Honeycomb experience, and Lenovo is no exception. However, instead of going the full haul and completely changing the UI, there are just a few additions which luckily don't interfere with Honeycomb too much.
The most visible addition is Lenovo's app launcher. Sitting right in the centre of the screen, there are four big icons for Watch, Listen, Read and Email. The circular browser icon fits perfectly in the centre. If you look closely you'll see two tiny icons for settings – one takes you to the main Settings menu of the tablet, and the other lets you tweak the app launcher itself. At a recent Lenovo media tour in Beijing, we were given a chance to experience other Lenovo products, and one video we watched of the LePhone (Lenovo's Android phone which is only available in China as of now) showed us that the app launcher is inspired from a flower – so you have four petals and the centre. At least Lenovo gives you options to change the shortcuts in the launcher, change the colour of the launcher and even completely remove the launcher itself. I found the launcher quite useful, especially the quick access to Settings, which isn't so convenient to access on a Honeycomb interface.
The other customisation is on the control panel at the bottom. The usual controls for Back, Home and running apps are present, but Lenovo gives you the added option of closing open apps by pressing the little ‘x' icon on each one. There's also a little blurb-like icon in the centre, which gives you a rotating curve of your favourite apps, and is also customisable.
The touchscreen was responsive and actions like scrolling and pinch to zoom were quite fluid. The 10.1-inch screen has an added advantage of being the perfect size for a keyboard. I was able to work up a good typing speed, with minimal errors. The screen was also big enough for me to adapt to two-hand typing, but if you think you might miss a physical keyboard, you can buy the optional keyboard dock for the K1 which is sold separately.
Media and entertainment
The K1 is actually a perfect media tablet, and comes pre-loaded with apps, which saves you the hassle of downloading them. A few noted additions are Angry Birds HD, Amazon Kindle, Documents to Go, Norton Security and Zinio. Depending on your usage, these could be classified as useful or bloatware. The K1 also gives you access to the Lenovo App Shop, where you can download third-party apps not from the Android market. There's not much choice and most of the apps are also available on the Android market, but it's an interesting option and a quick way to find what you're looking for.
I loaded a season of ‘The Kennedys' onto the tablet, and I was surprised that I could watch the episodes through Android's Video Player – the K1 actually supports a larger variety of file formats, including .avi, which is useful because you don't have to download a third-party app like Rock Player. What I didn't like though was the fact that despite the playback being smooth, colours were a bit washed out and lacked richness. Sound quality wasn't as good as the Moto Xoom, but I managed fine without headphones in a quiet room.
Lenovo's Social Touch app integrates your Email, Facebook, Twitter and Calendar, displaying all new notifications in a widget. The browser offers easy access to multiple tabs, bookmarks and search and supports Flash 10.2.
Tablet makers haven't focussed much on their cameras, and the K1's offerings are quite average. The rear camera is a 5-megger capable of 720p HD video recording, and the 2-meg front camera works fine for video chats.
Running on a 1GHz Nvidia Tegra 2 processor and with 1GB of DDR2 memory, the K1 doesn't fall behind the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 and Motorola Xoom. I ran a few benchmarking tests to compare it, and on Linpack I achieved a score of 30.232, compared to about 31.442 on Motorola Xoom and 30.208 on the Samsung Galaxy Tab. Quadrant scores were a bit lower at 1848, with the Galaxy Tab 10.1 going up to about 2378.
I used the tablet over a 2-week period, and apart from rare freezes, I didn't face any trouble with it being slow. Often I had up to 5 apps running simultaneously, and I didn't face any lags when switching or opening new apps. The only problem I did have was with the power button, which sometimes refused to wake up the tablet despite repeated pressings. I haven't heard other complaints about this so it could just be a quirk of my review unit.
Battery life is estimated at 10 hours, but with TweetDeck, Email and Facebook connected, a few hours of browsing and watching videos, I averaged about 6 hours.
As a late entrant into the tablets market, Lenovo might not have the advantage of recognised manufacturers like Samsung, Motorola and Apple. However, the company does have a loyal fan-base, and coupled with attractive looks, could catch the eye of many of you. As far as tablets go, the K1 is great on the performance front and with an armful of specs, in my opinion is one of the best Honeycomb tablets out there.
Rs 29,500 (32GB, WiFi)
Rs 33,990 (32GB, 3G)
Love: Attractive finish, app launcher, fast and responsive
Hate: Videos look washed out, battery life is average
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Keywords: Lenovo IdeaPad