Consumers who are partial to the iPad's size but wish to stick to Android should be interested in the Lenovo IdeaTab S2109. This tablet runs Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich and sports the same 9.7-inch 1024 x 768 pixel display as Apple's 1st- and 2nd-gen slate. But considering its other components, is $349 a fair price?
Although it has a 9.7-inch screen, you might mistake the Lenovo IdeaTab S2109 for a smaller slate because of its rounded corners. The tablet checks in at 9.7 x 7.3 x 0.35 inches and 1.3 pounds, on a par with the ASUS Transformer Pad TF300 (10.4 x 7.1 x 0.38 inches, 1.4 pounds) and the new Apple iPad (9.5 x 7.31 x 0.37 inches, 1.44 pounds).
We admire the overall look of the IdeaTab S2109, which has a streamlined, curved design. The back of the slate has a smooth aluminum finish in gunmetal gray, while the Lenovo logo sits smack-dab center in white lettering. Also on the back, you'll find four SRS surround-sound speakers, two each on the left and right sides.
Our biggest complaint about the S2109's design is that Lenovo couldn't seem to decide whether buyers would use this device in portrait or landscape mode. And that's odd because Google's software is optimized for landscape view.
While the Lenovo logo scribed in silver sits beneath the screen in landscape mode, the camera is to the left of the display when you hold the camera this way, or up top if you're holding the tablet vertically. Like the iPad, the power button also sits on top in portrait mode along with the headphone jack, and the volume controls are on the right.
The microSD card slot (which accepts cards up to 64GB), a micro-HDMI port, micro-USB, and the power connector all sit on the bottom in portrait mode. A reset pinhole also lies between micro-USB and the proprietary jack for charging.
The IdeaTab S2109's 9.7-inch 1024 x 768 pixel display is a bit of an oddity for an Android tablet, though the slate matches the size and resolution of the iPad's first two iterations. This also means the S2109 sports an Android-atypical 4:3 ratio, which throws off compatibility with some third-party apps. For instance, the splash image on Sketchbook Express's startup screen was cut off on both sides.
More importantly, the display can't hold a candle to such sharper (and more densely packed) screens as the Google Nexus 7 and the ASUS Transformer TF300, which both have 1280 x 800-pixel displays. This decidedly low-resolution screen showed off pixelated text on sites such as The New York Times and LAPTOP Magazine.
At least the S2109's IPS display is bright. At 431 lux, this slate bests the Transformer Pad TF300 (331 lux) and even the new 2012 iPad (386 lux). It even surpasses the category average of 356 lux.
The S2109 also has wide viewing angles. Three people were able to sit side by side and comfortably watch an HD trailer of "Oz: The Great and Powerful" on YouTube. Even better, colors were pleasingly accurate. As Oscar the small-time magician drifted over the vibrant city of Oz on his hot air balloon, we saw dreamy azure skies up above and lush green fields below.
Mounted on the S2109's backside are four SRS surround sound speakers that pump out sound that's almost--but not quite--loud enough to fill an average-size room. We fired up the electro house song "Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites" by Skrillex, which has a nice range of high tones and deep bass lines. Aided by SRS TruMedia audio enhancements, both the sharp shrills and bass tones of the frenetic piece were captured accurately, sounding either bright or appropriately booming.
At times, the audio grew slightly tinny, especially when playing back high-pitched notes, but that's characteristic of most tablets. Overall, we found much to like in these high-quality speakers.
The IdeaTab S2109 handles most types of media with ease. The tablet supports file types such as Xvid, DivX, MPEG4, H.264 and AVI videos up to 1080p (there's also 1080p video output via the micro-HDMI port). In terms of audio, MP3, AAC, FLAC, OGG, WAV and WMA are compatible.
Lenovo gives you two keyboard choices on the S2109. The preloaded Go Keyboard's small keys frees up more space on the screen, but we typed less accurately than with the stock Android keyboard.
Supplementary gimmicks abound with the Go Keyboard, such as smiley faces, a handwriting input option and voice notes, but ultimately, we didn't think any of these items were indispensable.
Software and User Interface
Running a mostly unmodified version of Android 4.0.4 Ice Cream Sandwich, the IdeaTab S2109 features the usual five home screens and omnipresent system bar along the bottom edge with icons for Back, Home and Recent Apps on the left, and Wi-Fi, battery life and a clock on the right.
We appreciated the ability to create folders on the home screens and to take screenshots by holding the power and volume down button simultaneously. If only the tablet included the ability to open essential apps--such as our email or the Web browser--right from the lock screen, we would have been more satisfied.
Lenovo includes a pastiche of handy software with the IdeaPab S2109, such as Norton Security, Docs To Go, SugarSync, News Republic, Evernote, Go Keyboard and Zinio. There's also a fairly useless Lenovo App Shop onboard, with paltry offerings.
However, we liked the addition of File Browser, a nifty little app that allowed us to access files on the local drive. The S2109 also comes with SRS sound settings, which let you switch the speakers from music to movie mode as needed.
The usual suite of Google apps is also preloaded, including Gmail, Maps, Play (Google's hub for apps, books, music, and movies) and YouTube.
The Lenovo IdeaTab S2109 features a 1-GHz dual-core TI OMAP 4430 processor and 1GB of RAM, which delivered only moderate performance in our testing. This is unsurprising, given that the more powerful quad-core Nvidia Tegra 3 chip is generally the more favored CPU of choice in tablets nowadays, including the cheaper Google Nexus 7.
On the CPU portion of the Benchmark app, the IdeaTab S2109 scored 2,857, falling below the ASUS Transformer Pad TF300 (3,613; 1.2GHz quad-core Tegra 3 CPU) and the Nexus 7 (3,612; 1.3-GHz quad-core Tegra 3 CPU). At least this slate surpassed the tablet category average of 2,813, but only by a hair.
The S2109 did much better graphics-wise. It posted a score of 7,532 on An3DBench, outstripping the category average of 7,299. However, it was outclassed yet again by both the Transformer TF300 (7,705) and the Nexus 7 (7,782) on the same test.
In real-life testing, the S2109 performed fairly well. Apps launched smoothly, we swiped through the five homescreens fluidly, and on the whole, performance was relatively lag-free. We did notice some latency when switching between the Chrome browser and the "Tiki Kart 3" game. While the water racing game "Riptide GP" played smoothly, the level of detail on screen was noticeably lacking versus HD Android tablets.
The IdeaTab S2109 forgoes a shooter on its back in favor of a front-facing 1.3-megapixel camera for video chatting. While the lack of a rear-facing camera isn't necessarily a dealbreaker, most slates in this price class include one. On the upside, the S2109's front-facing camera is capable of 720p recording.
We used the front-facing camera to video chat with a friend via a Google+ Hangout, and noted that sound was rather faint and scratchy while video quality did not impress. Our friend said we looked a little pixelated, and we definitely observed some video stuttering and jaggedness.
Also of note is the camera's somewhat awkward placement when using the device in landscape mode; because it's positioned on the left-hand side of the tablet, we often inadvertently covered it with our thumb.
Equipped with a robust 6,720 mAh battery, the IdeaTab S2109 lasted 8 hours and 31 minutes on the LAPTOP Battery Test (continuous Web surfing over Wi-Fi). That's longer than the ASUS Transformer Pad TF300, which lasted 7 hours on Balanced mode, the Nexus 7 (7:26) and well above the category average of 6:46.
Our Lenovo IdeaTab S2109 unit features a 1-GHz dual-core OMAP 4430 CPU, 1GB of RAM and 16GB of internal storage for $349. Curiously, there is also an 8GB variant offered on Lenovo's website, but it may not even be worth considering given its Web price of $389.
The Lenovo IdeaTab S2109 comes with a one-year standard limited warranty.
The $349 Lenovo IdeaTab S2109 offers a bright screen, long battery life, and very good sound, but it's too pricey compared with the Android competition. The ASUS Transformer Pad TF300 offers a quad-core CPU and a sharper 1280 x 800 display for just $30 more. If you don't mind a smaller screen, Google's new Nexus 7 tablet ($249 for the 16GB edition) offers a higher-res display and appreciably more power, too. Overall, the IdeaTab S2109 is a decent tablet, but we wouldn't get it unless the price drops by at least $50.