Lenovo has finally entered the Android tablet market with the 10.1-inch IdeaPad K1, which mixes innovative UI enhancements and a useful selection of pre-loaded apps with a stylish, colorful design. With a $499 price for the 32GB version, this tablet is $100 less than the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 and Apple iPad 2 with the same amount of storage. But is the IdeaPad K1 innovative enough to steer you away from better-known slates?
At 10.4 x 7.44 x .52 inches and 1.6 pounds, the IdeaPad K1 is quite a bit larger and heavier than rivals such as the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 (9.7 x 6.7 x 0.34 inches, 1.2 pounds) and the iPad 2 (9.5 x 7.3 x 0.3 inches, 1.3 pounds). However, the 10.75 x 6.7 x 0.6-inch Toshiba Thrive felt a lot bulkier in our hands despite weighing the same amount. The tapered edges on the K1 help.
With its matte, chrome-colored side and back trim and deep red back panel, the IdeaPad K1 is one of the most attractive tablets we've ever seen. The back panel also comes in white and dark gray, but we strongly recommend the snazzy red shade of our review unit. Unfortunately, there's nothing particularly unique about the glossy front panel and the large surrounding bezel. Both the screen and the back panel are fingerprint magnets, showing nearly every touch you've made when viewed in bright light.
The 10.1-inch, 1280 x 800-pixel glossy display provided sharp and bright images, but colors were not nearly as vibrant as on the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1. When we looked at the two tablets' displays side by side, the red bar at the top of CNN.com was a dull brick red on the IdeaPad K1 and a lighter, more orangey red on the Galaxy Tab 10.1. However, edges of objects seemed a bit sharper on the K1 than on the Tab.
Viewing angles were solid on the K1; we were able to watch a movie without significant color degradation while the tablet was sitting on a table a few feet away from us and when we viewed it from 45 degree angles. However, the glossy panel kicks back a lot of ambient light.
The capacitive digitizer was highly responsive to our swipes and taps--most of the time. Multitouch gestures such as pinch-to-zoom also worked smoothly.
The Lenovo IdeaPad K1 features just the stock Android 3.1 Honeycomb keyboard with no special features. Typing on the keys, particularly in landscape mode, was quick and easy. However, we wish the K1 offered haptic feedback and gave us the option of using Swype, which lets you type by tracing the letters together.
Ports and Buttons
The IdeaPad K1 offers a useful selection of ports and buttons. On the left side (when the tablet is held in landscape mode) sit a power button, up/down volume rocker, a screen rotation lock switch, and a microSD card reader. Opening the card reader, which sits behind a tiny metal cover, is a huge hassle that requires sticking a paperclip into a hole next to the port.
On the bottom, long side sit a mini HDMI out port, a headset jack, and a proprietary docking port. Unfortunately, you must use the proprietary docking port to AC adapter cable to charge the tablet and the docking port to USB cable to sync with your PC. There is no microUSB port for charging or transferring data, so if you lose the cables the tablet comes with, you're in trouble.
We appreciated the large, physical home button that sits on the bezel, but wish the IdeaPad K1 also had a physical back button like the ThinkPad Tablet. A full-size USB port such as the one found on the Toshiba Thrive also would have been appreciated.
Software and UI
From its home screen on down to its Android buttons, the IdeaPad K1 features some major improvements on the standard Honeycomb interface we've seen on all of its Android 3.1 competitors. Instead of the electric-blue Tron-esque wallpaper and back/home/layers (a.k.a. task switching) buttons, the K1 comes with a rustic wheat field that reminded us of an Andrew Wyeth painting. The all-white back/home/menu buttons also have a much more down-home feel.
In the center of the home screen sits the Lenovo Launcher Widget, which features four "zones" (a.k.a. buttons) surrounding a giant globe icon. The five "zones" are Watch (default launches mSpot Movies), Email (default launches Gmail client), Listen (default launches Slacker), Read (default launches Zinio magazine reader), and Web browser (the giant globe).
Tapping the settings wheel on the left of the widget allows you to customize which apps each of the zones launches and replace the globe button with a single image or slideshow. You can also change the color of the zone buttons and turn on/off Lenovo messages which appear as a tiny "I" icon between the Email and Read zones.
We strongly recommend disabling the Lenovo messages, because they are nothing more than advertisements for movies, music, and other paid services. In fact, throughout our testing, the Lenovo message kept recommending that we buy an explicit rap album from the group LMFAO at Amazon.com. This kind of adult content recommendation would pose a serious problem for families with children.
The home screen is also adorned with shortcuts that toggle the speakers and microphone. A lock-shaped icon allows you to put the device to sleep without hitting the power button.
In the middle of the status bar sits the App Wheel button, which looks a lot like a comics-style speech bubble. When you tap it, the App Wheel appears on the right side of the screen, showing thumbnails of your six favorite apps. Swiping up and down on the wheel rotates through these thumbnails, while tapping on one launches its associated app. You can add/remove apps from the wheel by tapping the + / - icon that appears when it is active. This feature is welcome, but we guarantee that first-time Android Honeycomb tablet users will initially confuse the App Wheel with the Recent Apps button in the System bar.
As with other Honeycomb tablets, tapping on the Recent Apps button reveals a scrollable list of thumbnails for your open apps. However, Lenovo has innovated in a major way by adding "close" buttons to the corner of each thumbnail. Tapping one of these red Xs closes its associated app, saving precious system resources.
Video and Sound
The Lenovo IdeaPad K1 comes with a number of multimedia apps. In addition to the standard Android music and video players, the tablet includes mSpot. When paired with an app on your PC, this app syncs up to 5GB of your music collection to the cloud for free. mSpot Movies is a more traditional online movie rental store that offers new releases for $3.99 for a 24-hour period. The Netflix player comes included, as does a client for Slacker Radio.
In our testing, video quality was just okay. Whether we were streaming Star Trek VI from Netflix Watch Instantly or watching a Flash episode of Body of Evidence on ABC.com, motion was smooth and images were colorful but slightly pixelated. On both our office and home networks, we noticed a lot of buffering delays on Netflix, though we believe the connection was to blame.
The two back-facing speakers on the K1 delivered sound that was often way too low in volume, even at the highest setting. When we streamed the disco hit "More, More, More" from our Napster account, sound was accurate but very quiet. We had the same volume problem when playing a sample electronica tune called "Lenovo Dance" in the mSpot music player. When video chatting on Google Talk and ooVoo, our call partners' voices were low as well. However, when we streamed some hard-rock tunes in Slacker, the volume level was more acceptable.
Messaging, Social Touch, and Video Chat
For sending messages, the Lenovo IdeaPad K1 comes with both the standard Android Honeycomb Gmail and POP/IMAP/Exchange e-mail apps. As on other tablets, we appreciate the dual-pane view in both apps that allowed us to see a list of our inbox messages on the left side of the screen, while viewing/editing individual mails on the right side.
Lenovo pre-loads the IdeaPad K1 with Social Touch, its own social feed/messaging app. By default, a widget showing your latest messages and calendar events sits on one of the desktops and can be moved around or removed but not resized.
Tapping the house icon in the corner of the widget or tapping the program's shortcut on the apps menu launches Social Touch. In Social Touch, you can configure your Gmail, POP/IMAP/Exchange mail, Facebook, or Twitter accounts. A combined list of these updates will show on the left side of the screen while the currently selected message is on the right side.
If no message is currently selected, a widget with Lenovo's shopping messages appears in its place, asking you to buy apps from the Lenovo app store or media from one of the company's partners. You can use the Social Touch settings menu to disable these annoying marketing messages, and we recommend that you do so.
Overall, we were not impressed with the homely look of the Social Touch app, its inability to pull in profile pics for most of our contacts, and its propensity for frequently locking up and crashing. In future updates, we hope Lenovo takes a closer at the Friend Stream HTC includes on its phones and tablets.
The IdeaPad K1 comes with not one, but two different video chat apps to take advantage of its 2-MP front-facing camera. Both Google's own Gtalk app and ooVoo support video chat across a variety of platforms so you can talk to your friends on PCs, other tablets, and even some smartphones.
When we tried chatting on ooVoo with a PC-based friend, her image was pixelated and the call suffered from dropped audio and frequent freezes, even over a strong Internet connection. Audio was a little clearer when we conducted two calls on two different networks using Gtalk, but on one call we kept hearing our own voice repeated back to us, and on another our friends' image wasn't even transmitted. We experienced similar problems with Gtalk on other Android tablets we've tested such as the Toshiba Thrive.
With its 1-GHz Nvidia Tegra 2 CPU and 1GB of RAM--the same specs as every other Android tablet--the Lenovo IdeaPad K1 offers similarly strong performance that's good enough for gaming, playing videos, or whatever we threw at it. Even when we were playing a game of the intense space-shooter Galaxy on Fire 2 at high detail, the action was smooth and sharp.
On the synthetic benchmark Linpack, the IdeaPad K1 scored a solid 34.5, higher than the 28.7 tablet category average and the 30.5 offered by the Galaxy Tab 10.1, but a little behind the ASUS Eee Pad Transformer's 42.4.
The IdeaPad K1 scored a strong 7,524 on the An3DBench graphics test, better than the 6,822 category average and about on par with the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1's 7,526. However, the ASUS Eee Pad Transformer did better, at 8,579. What the scores don't show is that the K1 was sometimes unresponsive. Sometimes apps crashed, and on one occasion the tablet locked up, forcing us to reboot.
The IdeaPad K1 lasted an all-day-strong 8 hours and 3 minutes on the LAPTOP Battery Test, which involves continuous web surfing over Wi-Fi on 40-percent brightness. That compares very favorably to the tablet category average of 6 hours and 43 minutes and the Toshiba Thrive's 6-hour and 35-minute time. It's also just a few minutes behind the Galaxy Tab 10.1 (8:23). The K1 takes more than 2 hours to fully charge, so you'll want to make sure you plug it in when it's not in use.
The K1 comes with a back-facing 5-MP camera, which includes a flash, as well as a front-facing 2-MP camera for video calls. When shooting photos of a cityscape and some plants with the back camera on an overcast day, we saw clear pictures, but hues were muted.
The 5-MP camera also shoots 720p video. A clip of skyscrapers and cars moving down the street was smooth and sharp, but not too colorful.
The IdeaPad K1 includes over 30 bundled apps. A lot of it is trialware, but some programs are quite useful. Among our favorites is the full Documents To Go 3.0, which allows you to not only view but edit Word documents, PowerPoint presentations, Excel spreadsheets, and PDFs, while syncing with your PC or Google Docs. ArcSoft Movie Story allows you to trim videos and combine your clips with background music, transitions, and other special effects. ArcSync enables users to store 4GB of files in the cloud. A free 90-day trial of Norton Mobile security is included to secure you against malware.
As mentioned above, the IdeaPad K1 also has a number of multimedia apps, from mSpot music and mSpot movies to Netflix. Bundled also are Zinio for magazine reading and Amazon's Kindle app, though both of those are available for free to anyone with the Android marketplace.
The IdeaPad K1 comes with a large number of games. The full version of Galaxy on Fire 2, a space shoot 'em up, comes pre-loaded, but Need for Speed Shift HD is just a trial version. Vendetta Online, an outerspace-based multiplayer online game, also comes as a free trial. Kongregate Arcade is a series of casual, online flash games. Hardwood Backgammon, Solitaire, Hearts, Spades, and Euchre are simple card or dice games. Then there's the strange but kid-friendly Talking Tom.
If the bundled apps aren't enough for you, Lenovo includes the Android market and its own Lenovo App Shop with the IdeaPad K1. Like the official Android Market, the App Shop has its own selection of Android applications, sorted by categories such as Business, Games, Health & Fitness, and Social. Though the store has free applications, you must give Lenovo your credit card information before you can sign up and download anything. Most users will probably be happy with the comprehensive selection in Google's market, and third-party markets such as Amazon are always available for download.
Though it doesn't come with the tablet, Lenovo.com has a very useful application called LeTools available for download. Once we had installed LeTools on our Windows PC and connected the IdeaPad K1 by USB, we were offered the opportunity to not only sync our documents and media files but to transfer the contents of our clipboard over to the tablet.
As soon as we hit the "paste to device" button on the PC, text from our clipboard appeared in an alert box on the IdeaPad K1, which offered us the opportunity to either share the text via SMS/e-mail or copy it to the tablet's own clipboard. When we had an image in our Windows clipboard, the alert box showed us a preview and let us decide whether to save it to the K1's internal memory. However, when the item in our clipboard was a video file, the alert box simply showed a progress bar as it automatically started copying to the tablet.
For $499, the IdeaPad K1 offers a strong mix of style, performance, and uniquely compelling enhancements to the Android 3.1 UI. You also get a lot of handy software for your money. Unfortunately, the lackluster speakers and relatively heavy weight are turn-offs. We were especially annoyed by the ads, even if some will find the offers of interest. Those looking for a slimmer Android slate should opt for the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1, and bargain hunters should go for the $399 ASUS Eee Pad Transformer. However, if you're looking for a better interface than stock Honeycomb and want more storage for less money, the IdeaPad K1 is a pretty good deal.