|Lenovo IdeaPad Tablet K1 Specs and Video Demo|
If you were looking for a 10-inch Android tablet just a few short months ago, you'd be hard-pressed to find them for sale and Android 2.2 was the only game in town. However, with the release of Google's Honeycomb OS in late February, the floodgates began to open. Now you can't swing a USB cable and not hit one of these things and many are built on very similar, if not identical platforms. As such, it's rather difficult for manufacturers to differentiate their product in this market space, though some have had more success than others.
In the notebook arena, if there's a manufacturer that has been able to carve out a niche' for their brand name over the years, it would have to be Lenovo with their ThinkPad line of products that cater mostly to the business professional and road warrior. Lenovo's consumer-targeted IdeaPad has been less prolific in this regard, however. Recently Lenovo announced Honeycomb tablets from both ThinkPad and IdeaPad camps, though today we're taking a look at only their new IdeaPad Tablet K1.
The IdeaPad Tablet K1 is Lenovo's first Honeycomb tablet to hit the market, though the more industrial strength ThinkPad Tablet is expected to arrive in the next couple of months. The K1 is billed as a media consumption and entertainment device built for portability and performance on the go. Honestly, that sounds like a lot of the Honeycomb tablets we've seen to date. So why should Lenovo's IdeaPad Tablet K1 grab your attention? We'll see if we can determine that for you in our hands-on experience and performance evaluations on the pages that follow.
If you were looking for something in the above specifications list or with respect to Lenovo's bundle, that jumps up and screams "pick me," you'll likely be left a bit flat. Make no mistake, though this is a well made 10-inch Android Honeycomb slate, it's based on the same NVIDIA Tegra 2 dual core 1GHz processor and 1GB of RAM configuration that so many others are built on. The obligatory 2MP front-facing and 5MP rear-facing cameras are there, as well as 802.11n, Bluetooth, mini HDMI and a micro SD card slot. What's perhaps at least a little eye-catching is the IdeaPad K1's $499 MSRP for the 32GB model, which prices it a full $100 less than Samsung's Galaxy Tab 10.1 and Apple's iPad 2 and right in line with the Asus Eee Pad Transformer. Let's take a look around and see what else there is about this device that makes it unique...
|IdeaPad Tablet K1 Design|
|It might not be as thin as the iPad 2 or Galaxy Tab 10.1 but Lenovo's design has a high quality fit and finish to it that is distinctly IdeaPad-esque. The almost pewter color frame of the IdeaPad Tablet K1 feels rigid and strong in the hand, more-so even than the Asus Transformer. The tablet is a bit on the hefty side though, at 1.5lbs, but that's still pretty light, so you'll live.
The back of the K1 unit that we received wasn't the glossy, colored version that you may have seen. Instead we got a flat black rubberized surface on our K1, which made it completely resistant to fingerprints back there, as well as "zero skid" on a desk or coffee table. We're actually quite fond of the backing on this slate, and the dual stereo speakers residing on the back bezel, feel (and sound) relatively well placed as well. If you're considering a K1, we'd suggest going with this finish as it will wear far better than the glossy painted surfaces that are available on other models. We should note that the backing of the K1 is not removable like Toshiba's Thrive and its battery is not user serviceable.
Though the K1 may be .5 inches thick at its thickest point, Lenevo designed its casing with tapered edges all around, so it actually doesn't look as bulky as you might think. Overall the feel is decidedly less bulky than that of the Toshiba Thrive, though the K1 is only .15 inches thinner. The K1's design is fairly minimalistic with only micro HDMI, headphone, speaker and a docking port available beyond its micro SD card slot. There is a screen orientation lock switch available on the K1, which is a nice addition. However, what's perhaps most interesting is the K1's screen capture button on the front face of the tablet on the right side of its bezel (left-hand shot, top of this page). Pressing and holding this button down a couple of seconds provides a perfect screen capture of whatever is on the tablet at that time.
A few tablets have this capability as a function mapping off already dedicated buttons but this was the first time we've seen a dedicated button for the function and it was a welcome feature to use. It helped immensely in preparing screen captures for the following page of software and user experience coverage that we have for you next.
|User Interface and Camera Performance|
|Interestingly enough, the software side of things is where Lenovo also decided to add some special sauce to the IdeaPad Tablet K1. Though the device is configured with a stock Android 3.1 installation, Lenovo tweaked the UI slightly in a couple of key areas to provide additional utility over what comes standard with Honeycomb currently.
Widgets and home screen functionality are similar with the K1, though Lenovo places a large featured apps widget right in the middle of the home screen. Dubbed "Lenovo Launcher," this 5 zone customizable widget gives quick access to your most often used apps. Lenovo also places a couple of custom quick control widgets on the home screen for things like audio mute and system lock. But the widget customization doesn't stop there. The K1 also sports a multi-app widget (middle shot above) that will display calendar, gmail, email and social networking updates in a single pane. You'll also note that the standard Honeycomb Home, Back and App Layers icons have been customized a bit so they're a more bold and visible flat white. And as the saying goes, "but wait, there's more!"
Left, Center and Right: Installed Apps, App Killer and App Wheel
You've also probably noticed the App Wheel widget in the middle of the taskbar. It looks like a conversation bubble with six small boxes in it. Tap the App Wheel icon and on the right side of your screen will show a jog wheel of favorite apps that you can easily flip through. You can also edit the App Wheel to add or subtract apps showing in it. The other nice feature built into the K1 UI is Lenovo's red App Killer Xs that can be seen in the top right corner of any app being shown in the Android App Layers pane. Just click a red X and that application will no longer be running in the background. Google, why didn't you think of this? Well done, Lenovo. Thank you.
The K1 also has a few other customized apps, like Lenovo's image gallery, which is definitely slicker than the stock Android app. In addition, Lenovo's file manager offers organized access to on-board and removable storage, with a custom-built interface. Finally there are other bells and whistled bundled in with K1, like Lenovo's Draw app. All told, Lenovo did a real nice job of equipping the K1 with a lot of useful tools and utilities.
In the entertainment area, Lenovo bundles trial versions of Galaxy on Fire 2 HD and Need For Speed Shift HD. These are solid, fun game titles and graphically they're fairly impressive, in terms of what can be rendered on a slate PC these days.
Galaxy on Fire 2 HD and Need for Speed Shift HD
Prince of Persia: Sands of Time - via Netflix
In other top billing for Lenovo, is the fact that the IdeaPad Tablet K1 comes bundled with Netflix. The K1 is actually the first tablet, according to Lenovo, to ship with Netflix and it's setup to run cleanly right out of the box. Lenovo claims the K1 has "hardware-enabled DRM" capabilities for streaming protected content from anywhere. We actually logged in to our existing Netflix account and fired up a movie we had remaining in the queue. Prince of Persia: Sands of Time played rather well and looked good too, in HD format over 802.11n WiFi. We did notice an occasional pause or two for buffering but overall the experience was satisfying, frame rates were good and image quality was respectable, though not perfect.
Android 3.1 Camera App and Snoozy K9
And finally there's the K1's camera hardware and camera app, which are standard fare these days for Honeycomb slates. The K1's camera performance was about on par with what we've seen with other tablets, though the addition of a flash on the rear- facing camera is something that even Toshiba's decked-out Thrive tablet can't claim.
Next, we'll take a look at how the Lenovo IdeaPad Tablet K1 compares to other tablets by running a few common benchmarks that are currently available in the Android Marketplace. The first two tests are general purpose computing type benchmarks.
Linpack measures floating point compute power of the Android operating system and the processor driving it. Here, all of our Tegra 2 based competitors running Android 3.1 appear to be pretty much on par with each other. However, the Lenovo IdeaPad Tablet takes the lead spot by a hair.
An3DBench is a benchmarking tool based on an Android port of the jPCT 3D engine. The app runs 7 tests in total that look at graphics processor fill rate with complex rendering workloads and scenes. We also were able to run some tests with An3DBenchXL, which is a newer version of the app that is significantly more demanding
Once again, in both versions of this 3D graphics benchmark, the Lenovo IdeaPad Tablet K1 puts out scores that are on par with competitive Honeycomb-based solutions like Motorola's Xoom, Samsung's Galaxy Tab 10.1 and Acer's Iconia Tab. That said, the K1 does tend to fall into the middle of the pack, rather than rising to the top tier. Perhaps Lenovo could use an update to the NVIDIA graphics driver used in their Honeycomb build, or it's possible (though not likely) that some of their UI tweaks are utilizing just a tad more resources in the background. Regardless, between all of these Honeycomb slates, there are no major stand-outs, though the Asus Eee Pad Transformer appears to be the one to beat overall, at least performance wise.
|Battery Life Test|
|In an attempt to quantitatively measure the Lenovo IdeaPad Tablet K1's battery life in a controlled benchmark environment, we ran a test in which we set up a webpage with a mix of graphics, Flash media and text. The page automatically refreshes every three minutes and we also setup a screen lock utility that keeps the display from sleeping during the test (if the tablet doesn't have this setting already available). Battery life is then measured down to the minute the tablet finally shuts down. The WiFi radio is enabled in this test, to simulate battery life in real-world web browsing over an 802.11n wireless connection.
For this test, we set the IdeaPad Tablet K1's display to 50% brightness, which is still plenty bright and easy on the eyes. The K1 was able to last just over 7 hours untethered before it powered down.
As you can see, as far as 10.1 slates go, battery life with the IdeaPad Tablet K1 falls on the upper end of our performance spectrum, showing it to be within striking distance of Acer's Iconia Tab but a full two hours behind the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1, which is our top battery life contender. Regardless, 7 hours+ of untethered uptime is respectable for the Lenovo IdeaPad Tablet K1.
|Performance Analysis and Final Thoughts|
Performance Analysis: Performance-wise, there were no real surprises with the Lenovo IdeaPad Tablet K1. This tablet is based on NVIDIA's Tegra 2 reference design for Honeycomb, so it performed within a few percentage points of other, similarly configured Android 3.1 slates. This is not a bad thing by any stretch, however. NVIDIA's dual-core Tegra 2 offers great general purpose performance, as well as a robust graphics engine. Where the K1 shined was in regard to Lenovo's user interface tweaks. With simple features like those little red app kill Xs and Lenovo's App Wheel, users will find fewer high-level interface commands are required to complete a function or to control apps, utilities and other system resources.
Though Lenovo's IdeaPad Tablet K1 isn't exactly a stand-out product, versus what we've seen from the competition, it does provide a few key optimizations that deliver tangible value to the consumer. Lenovo's subtle UI tweaks and enhancements definitely improve upon the Honeycomb experience. Furthermore, the K1 has a healthy assortment of pre-installed applications, utilities and games that aren't just bloatware but provide key functionality and features for an out-of-the-box experience that is as good as it gets these days for 10-inch Android slates. It may not blow the doors off other tablets (though it will keep pace), offer a razor-thin profile or feather-weight construction but what it does, it does rather well.
The IdeadPad Tablet K1 also offers a level of refinement that will provide even novice tablet users the ability to get things done with a shallower learning curve. Finally, though we wish it had a few more IO port options on board (even a fulls-sized SD card slot would be a big plus), the Lenovo IdeaPad Tablet K1 drops in at a price point that is much more in line with where we think tablets should be these days. At $499 for a 32GB version, its price point is on the cusp of allowing prospective consumers a guilt-free purchase decision, knowing that a mainstream multimedia notebook can be had for not a lot more. Tablet manufacturers may cringe but we've just got to say it again; prices have to come down for tablet PCs, especially when you consider current thin and light notebook alternatives. Thanks to Lenovo for "keeping it real," or so to speak. For the price, we have no qualms recommending the IdeaPad Tablet K1 for a little bit of coffee table Honeycomb convenience at your fingertips.