- Review Date: 03/07/2012
- Bottom line:
With both the Kindle Fire and the Nook Tablet available for $50 less, the Lenovo Ideapad Tablet A1, with its middling performance and low-quality screen, is a tough sell.
Phone apps look fine and work well. Decent battery life.
Subpar screen. Middling performance. Rapidly aging OS.
With the IdeaPad Tablet A1 ($249 direct, 16GB), Lenovo has attempted to make a fun and easy-to-use 7-inch tablet for the masses. Unfortunately for Lenovo, Amazon has already cornered that market with the Kindle Fire ($199, 4 stars), our Editors' Choice for small tablets. The IdeaPad A1 is not only $50 more, but it offers up a subpar, lower-resolution screen, an aging OS, and middling performance.
Design, Screen, and Connectivity
At 7.7 by 4.9 by 0.5 inches (HWD) and 14.1 ounces, the IdeaPad is neither the slimmest nor lightest tablet out there. Compared with the Samsung Galaxy Tab 7 Plus ($399, 3.5 stars), which measures 7.6 by 4.8 by .39 inches and 12.1 ounces, the A1 feels pretty chunky. Along the tablet's right edge, you'll find a volume rocker and orientation-lock switch. The Power button and 3.5mm headphone jack are up top, while the bottom edge houses a speaker grille, a microUSB port, and, behind a plastic flap, a microSD slot for cards up to 32GB. The A1 has a 0.3-megapixel camera above the screen and a 3-megapixel camera around back.
The rounded, glossy black plastic back panel of my review unit is reminiscent of the iPhone 3GS; the tablet also comes in white, pink, or blue. The A1's all-plastic body construction feels flimsier and less sturdy than the also-all-plastic Samsung Galaxy Tab 7, and there is a good deal of flex in the back. Three capacitive buttons sit below the screen, which only light up when touched, making them difficult to find in lower light. These Home, Back, and Menu buttons are necessary for Android 2.3 Gingerbread, but are far less useful than their on-screen counterparts in later-OS-version Android tablets.
The 1,024-by-600-pixel TFT display is disappointing. It is not nearly as bright or sharp as the Kindle Fire's 1,024-by-600 IPS LCD screen and looks poor next to the 1,280-by-800-pixel displays on the T-Mobile Springboard 4G ($429, 3.5 stars) and the Toshiba Thrive 7 ($379, 3 stars). Text looks a bit pixelated on the small screen and colors are not particularly vibrant either. The IdeaPad A1 is a Wi-Fi-only tablet that works with 802.11b/g/n networks. The A1 supports Bluetooth 2.0 + EDR and I was able to easily pair the tablet with Bluetooth headphones.
OS and Performance
Android 2.3 Gingerbread is a capable OS on a smaller screen, but at this point, it's becoming ancient with Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich already out there for months. Granted, the Kindle Fire and Barnes and Noble Nook Tablet ($249, 4 stars) run on Gingerbread, but both companies go to great lengths to customize and modify the software. Lenovo made some very modest tweaks on the A1, adding only an app launcher to the main home screen and replacing the phone icon with a shortcut to the company's curated app store. There are some pre-installed apps, like Docs To Go and the Kindle ereader app, which are useful, but can also be easily removed. The Lenovo App Store still doesn't make it any easier to find tablet-specific apps, but this is much less of a problem on the 7-inch A1, where phone apps scale up well. On a 10-inch tablet, this would be another story.
When you take a look at the specs for the A1, the choice to go with Gingerbread makes a little more sense. The A1 is powered by a single-core 1GHz ARM Cortex A8 processor, with 512MB of RAM and 16GB of internal storage. This is enough for smooth operation and reliable app performance in Android 2.3. However the benchmarks are pretty telling, as the A1 turned in an unimpressive 2,414 in our Antutu test, which gives an overall score based on processor, RAM, and graphics performance. This is less than half of the Kindle Fire's 5,052 score in the same test. The A1 is underpowered right now, and with a crop of quad-core tablets slated for release this year, the A1 is sure to feel ancient by year's end. The screen is responsive and accurate, but the capacitive buttons are fickle and didn't always register touches in my tests.
For video, the A1 was able to play 3GP, DivX, H.264, M4V, MP4, and WMV video at resolutions up to 720p. The lackluster screen, however, made even 720p video look just mediocre, lacking vibrant colors and sharp details found on higher-quality screens. The tablet supports supports AAC, OGG, WAV, and WMA audio files. It had some trouble recognizing FLAC files with the default music player, but I was able to play them using the included ES File Explorer app.
Camera performance wasn't very good, even by tablet standards. Shots from both the front- and rear-facing cameras were riddled with image noise. The rear-camera only shoots up to 480p video, and does so very choppily.
Lenovo claims that the A1's 3550mAh battery will last around 5-7 hours on a single charge. In our battery test, which loops footage with the screen brightness set to max, and Wi-Fi switched on, the A1 lasted 4 hours, 46 minutes. This is on par with the Kindle Fire, which lasted 4 hours, 55 minutes in the same test.
If you're sold on the 7-inch form factor and want an affordable, capable tablet, the Kindle Fire or the Nook Tablet, which is now available in an 8GB version for $199, are better (and less-expensive) bets. Below-average performance, an older OS, and a subpar screen make the A1 a tough sell.