Lenovo IdeaPad K1 £369
27th Jul 2011 | 12:45
Can this Android tablet impress like some of Lenovo's laptop offerings?
Lenovo IdeaPad K1: Overview and design
Lenovo is going on an all-out assault on the world of tablets, creating a new division specifically for them and announcing a new range.
The Lenovo lineup includes the Windows 7-running IdeaPad Tablet P1 and two Android 3.1-powered tablets, including the business-focussed ThinkPad Tablet, and the consumer-focussed IdeaPad K1 which we have here.
As Android tablets go, it's fairly typical when it comes to specs. The screen is 10.1 inches, with a resolution of 1280 x 800, while the processing and graphics power is provided by a Nvidia Tegra 2 chip, running at the usual 1GHz. There's also a nice 1GB of RAM to provide plenty of memory for multitasking.
There's 32GB of built-in storage, with a microSD card reader for adding more, and a micro-HDMI port for playing video on your HDTV. There's also a five-megapixel rear camera, complete with LED flash, and a two-megapixel front camera.
As we mentioned, Android 3.1 is the OS of choice here, and Lenovo has jam-packed the IdeaPad K1 with additional software, which we'll cover on the next page.
Unusually for Android 3.0 tablets, there's actually a physical Home button, which even has gesture recognition in order to act as a Back button, too.
The front of the IdeaPad K1 is nothing special - shiny and black. There's a massively chunky bezel around the 10.1-inch, 16:10 touchscreen, which house the Home button and the front-facing camera. The camera is designed to be used in landscape orientation, while the Home button seems meant to be used in portrait.
Around the edge of the K1 is a silver rim, which is where you'll find the Lock/On/Off button, the volume control and an orientation lock.
On another side, you'll find the microSD card slot, the HDMI port, a headphone jack and a docking connector, which you also use for charging and connecting to a USB port.
The back of the IdeaPad K1 is mostly plastic, with a honeycomb effect that makes it nice and grippy. The plastic isn't very sturdy, flexing easily under even a light grip. It sounds hollow and loose when tapped, but we doubt it would actually be much of a liability in use – it just feels cheap.
There are stereo speakers on the back, too, and that rear-facing camera with flash. At 13.3mm thick and 750g, it certainly feels chunkier and heavier in the hand than the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 or the iPad 2.
It's actually a good deal larger than the iPad 2 – it's slightly wider, and a few centimetres longer. This is pretty much totally attributable to the size of the bezel.
The IdeaPad K1 comes in black and silver, white and silver, or a funky red and silver. You can expect to pay £369 for it.
Lenovo IdeaPad K1: Features
The main way the Lenovo IdeaPad K1 stands out from the Android competition is with its range of apps. You like apps? Lenovo's got 'em! More than 30 of them, in fact, all included on the K1 out of the box, and that's before you get to the standard Android Market apps.
There's a range of games, including 3D action titles and card games, a radio app, a movie store, several music apps, a drawing app, ereading apps, instant messaging, video calling, printing, mobile security, the full version of Documents to Go, and… ah, you get the idea.
On top of that, you've got the Android Market and Lenovo's own App Shop (though the K1 is restricted to Android Market installations only initially, so you'll need to change that to use Lenovo's store.
In many cases, all of this means that there's a doubling up of apps. There are two gallery apps (both called Gallery, helpfully), two apps named Music (and third for accessing cloud music storage), two places to buy apps, two movie editing apps (Movie Story and the Android Movie Studio), two photo editing apps, two email apps and several ebook apps.
When you're first trying to explore what's on offer, it's ridiculously confusing and overwhelming. Don't get us wrong – we're all for a wide choice of apps, but having so many preloaded, and with identical names to the built-in ones, is a bit much.
A more elegant solution to do something like this is to have an appealing app that offers you the option of downloading them – specifically, the way HTC does on Windows Phone 7 handsets, such as the HTC HD7.
You could argue that the Lenovo App Shop is the IdeaPad's version of this, but the HTC Hub in Windows Phone 7 is a nice, appealing place to explore. The App Shop is an assault of adverts and low-res graphics.
Screengrabs take forever to appear, and are usually dull when they do arrive. Different content tabs can be frustratingly slow to load. On top of that, the selection doesn't really seem to be exhaustive.
But lets be clear, many of the apps added by Lenovo do add some value. It's nice to have a few games to play out of the box (including Angry Birds, so there's one box ticked), and the card games in particular are good, even if performance when loading is a bit iffy.
The mSpot Movies app is included for renting films when on the go, which fills a gap in Google tablet offering.
Speaking of media, we popped a microSD card in the provided slot that was filled with music and movies, and they appeared without issue. Both Music apps found all our music and album art where possible, and the galleries apps had no problem playing back 1080p videos (we saw a few stutters here and there, but it was perfectly acceptable overall).
There are several video formats accepted, but MKV files are out, so you may find it easier to stick with MP4 and H.264.
There's a USB cable in the box that provides a way to transfer files onto the 32GB of storage. It worked fine on Windows 7, but wouldn't mount on any Macs we tried it on.
The web browser is the standard Android 3.1 version, complete with Adobe Flash 10.2. This means tabbed browsing, the single search/URL bar, pinch to zoom, text reflow, incognito tabs, bookmarking and all of that. We'll go into how well it works on the next page.
Lenovo IdeaPad K1: Performance
All of those apps the IdeaPad K1 comes with might have sounded good, but this is the page where the wheels come off, we're afraid.
Now, we're used to Android having a few rough edges on tablets. That's OK. We recognised them in our reviews of tablets such as the Motorola Xoom and Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1, but found them to be great tablets regardless.
There are more than a few rough edges on the Lenovo K1. In fact, a cheese grater covered in sandpaper has fewer rough edges.
Every time you pick up the IdeaPad K1, it's a gamble as to how long it'll be before you're able to use it. You pick it up and hit the lock button (you can't turn it on with the Home button, which everyone will try to do), and it may well just not turn on.
We had it happen to us several times (including twice in one 10-minute period) where the K1 just wouldn't come back from sleep. We had to turn it off and on again to get it to work.
When the screen does turn on for you, you're give the Lock screen.This is where you drag the padlock circle out of the other circle. Maybe.
Perhaps it'll all go fine, and you'll unlock it first time. Or perhaps you'll drag your finger and nothing will happen. In fact, nothing will continue to happen no matter how many times you poke, until the screen eventually locks itself again.
It can take several minutes before the K1 deigns to allow use it. This happens often – far, far too often – but not everytime. There doesn't seem to be any rhyme or reason to it. You just take your chances.
Once you're in the Home screen, it runs fairly smoothly. Unless it freezes in operation. As it did on us several times, requiring a restart. Again. Sigh.
No matter, you can turn the K1 back on fairly quickly. It's at this point you might notice just how dim the screen actually is. When you have the IdeaPad on its own, you won't necessarily notice that the 10.1-inch display isn't very bright, but place it next to an iPad 2 and it becomes immediately obvious.
We criticised the HP TouchPad for the same thing, and this comes off slightly worse because of Android 3.1's dark theme.
And this is all compounded if you take it into sunlight. It's massively reflective and picks up smears like nobody's business (although it's hardly alone in the tablet world for having this problem).
In any case, you're happily back in and using the K1 (perhaps in a dark room), and you fire up the web browser. You'll now notice that web pages are a little slow to load. And once they are loaded, they're often extremely sluggish to respond to scrolling gestures, and particularly pinching to zoom. The delay can be a few seconds.
The culprit is our old friend Flash, predictably. Having some Flash elements in a page totally crippled the browser's responsiveness.
That said, Flash video generally played fine, though not without caveats. It was often slow to load, and some controls would act iffy, such as a button to make the video fullscreen just removing the rest of the page and leaving the video the same size.
We mentioned before that the screen is a bit too dark, but otherwise, it's actually quite good. Colours are natural, making video appealing. The lack of brightness does let the viewing angles down, but the colours stay accurate.
The main issue for watching videos is that the twin speakers are surprisingly wimpy. The iPad 2's single speaker outperforms them, and the HP TouchPad's twin speakers easily best them. This isn't such an issue if you're using headphones, but we were still a little disappointed.
Of course, the good parts of Android 3.1 are still great (when they're all working at full speed). The keyboard is very easy to type on in landscape mode, making writing an email or something in Documents to Go a breeze.
The customisable Home screens let you fill them with widgets or apps or whatever you like, which is one of Android's strengths.
Of course, those rough edges have come through, too – particularly the issue of apps that aren't optimised for tablets. Many say that Android phone apps scale up better than iPhone apps do on the iPad, and this is true.
But they're usually still woefully inadequate for the big screen, leaving acres of empty space, or just wasting the opportunity to have more information available.
The most surprisingly offender is the Google+ app, freshly released from the same company who developed Android 3.1. And yet, install it on the Lenovo and most of what you'll see is white space. We need more Android Honeycome apps, we need them fast, and we need a way to filter them from the main results.
The rear camera on the IdeaPad K1 is barely worth mentioning. It was almost impossible to get it to focus on a normal scene on a bright sunny day. This is the best we managed, and it's appalling.
One reasonably bright spot for the K1 is battery life. It's quoted at 10 hours, and with fairly light use, you should be able to hit that.
It also lasted well on standby, using very little power, so you can expect it to still have some juice when you pick it up after a while. We've seen some Android tablets, notably the Hannspree Hannspad, struggle with this.
Lenovo IdeaPad K1: Verdict
The Lenovo IdeaPad K1 packs: the power and flexibility of Android 3.1; good specs in its 10.1-inch screen and Nvidia Tegra 2 processor; a wide range of pre-installed apps, many of which fix gaps in the basic apps of Android; a fairly good price tag, coming in cheaper than the iPad 2; and some nice features, including the microSD card slot and USB host connector.
Yet, we wouldn't recommend it over the other options. Certainly not when compared to the Asus Eee Pad Transformer, Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 or iPad 2. Or, indeed, a great deal of the other tablets we've reviewed.
The Lenovo IdeaPad K1 does have good specs. Tegra 2 should provide plenty of power, the 32GB of on-board storage is great and it's got a big, high-res screen. For under £400, that's not bad value for money.
We also like, in principle, that Lenovo has taken such an aggressive approach with apps. Many are superfluous, but having a full version of Documents to Go is a genuinely great thing to have on a tablet right from the start.
And though many people will find having a Home button on an Android 3.1 tablet pointless, some people will find it appealing. At least, it makes the Lenovo stand out.
Performance was inconsistent, but we can just about put up with that. The screen is a bit dim, but we can put up with that. Many of the included apps are confusing, and named the same as the (often better) built-in apps, but we can put up with that.
We can't put up with a tablet that happily locks you out of it so often. Whether the lock icon is refusing to budge, or whether you just can't turn the screen on at all, it's frequently impossible to use the IdeaPad K1. And that's not remotely good enough for a device that costs £400.
It crashed on us, it locked us out, it ran slowly for no apparent reason, parts of software (Flash particularly) wouldn't behave correctly – we just got sick of not knowing if we'd be able to use it or not.
On top of that, it's larger than the competition, and heavier. It may be cheaper than an iPad 2, but it comes in at about the same price as the Eee Pad Transformer, which strongly suggest you check out instead.
Lenovo's IdeaPad K1 is a tablet with some bright ideas that can't manage to complete the basics. The strength of tablets is that they're computing without the friction or hassle – straight onto the web or email in seconds from picking it up. If the tablet doesn't reliably turn on, or if the web pages won't scroll properly, what's the point in a tablet?
The problems with the IdeaPad K1 could possibly be fixed with an update, but as it stands, we can't recommend it. Look at the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1, the iPad 2 and the Asus Eee Pad Transformer instead.