Since buying IBM’s computer business in 2005, Lenovo has slowly crept its way into the U.S. market by staying on top of computer trends and delivering reliable devices with the old, brick-like styling IBM made famous. Not anymore. With the blooming of the tablet market, Lenovo is spreading its wings a bit. The IdeaPad K1 is the manufacturer’s first Android Honeycomb tablet, and one of its first aimed at the casual user. Though it has some interesting, albeit light, UI modifications, the K1 completely blends in to the pile of Honeycomb devices on shelves today, for better and worse.
Design & Feel
The first thing you’ll notice when you look at the K1 is that it’s big. This isn’t the largest 10.1-inch Android tablet out there, but it’s high on the list with large rounded corners that bring its total dimensions to 10.4 inches long, 7.4 inches tall, and 0.5 inches thick. It’s also pretty heavy at 27.2 oz, or a couple ounces heavier than the Toshiba Thrive, HP TouchPad, and Acer Iconia Tab A500. We’d like to say that appearances and weight are deceiving, but this tablet feels as heavy and large as it is. If there is ever an IdeaPad K2, we hope it sheds some excess fat.
Causing much of this weight is a heavy metal frame with a spray-paint-like sparkly silver coating on it, somewhat resembling the metal on the original iPad. On the back of the tablet is a plastic shell – we haven’t figured out a way to remove this, but it certainly feels flimsy and cheap. Lenovo sells the K1 in multiple colors (ours is red). This plastic back also attracts some fingerprints, but it’s nowhere near as bad as the HP TouchPad’s back or the screen of the Toshiba Thrive.
Like all Android Honeycomb tablets, the K1 can be held in landscape or vertical orientations, but Lenovo’s placement of key objects on the tablet show that it favors landscape. The front-facing camera is centered if you hold the tablet in landscape mode and the rear camera is hardly usable unless you’re holding the device horizontally (it’s in the bottom right corner if you hold it vertically). The charging port is also on the bottom of a landscape orientation.
Although Honeycomb does not require it, Lenovo has opted to include an iPad-like face button on the K1, exactly where the iPad’s is (center, bottom in vertical orientation). This button is mostly useless, but we do like how it’s touch sensitive. If you swipe your thumb over it to the left, it works as the Back button. This is more useful when in landscape as your thumbs naturally land right about where the button is. We accidentally backed out of a few webpages before we realized what was going on, but once we understood it, the button worked nicely to our advantage.
Finally, let’s get to the buttons. Most of the controls are on the left side of the tablet, if held in landscape mode. Starting from the top, the built-in microphone hole, power button, volume rocker, screen orientation lock switch, and microSD slot cover the side. We didn’t have much trouble using these controls, though the power button and volume keys are somewhat small. On the bottom is a big proprietary charging/docking port, an audio jack, and a Micro HDMI port. We’re not sure why the audio jack is on the bottom, but it’s an odd, if inoffensive location. The charge port bothers us though. Its location is fine, but there is no snap or hold to the charger. So when you plug in the tablet to charge, it has no grip on the charging connector. This sounds minor, but it’s also a minor thing that Lenovo has no business messing up. Users want to know for sure that their tablet is charging when they plug it in. Having a firm lock to the port is a basic thing. Come on, Lenovo. Also, why is there no microUSB or full-size USB port? Connecting this thing to a computer will be tough.
Specs & Power
This section will be brief because the IdeaPad K1 runs on the exact same specs that every Android Honeycomb tablet seems to run, from the Motorola Xoom through today. The K1 is powered by a 1GHz dual-core Nvidia Tegra 2 processor, has 1GB of RAM, 32GB of internal storage, operates on Android 3.1 (Honeycomb), has a 5MP rear camera, has a 2MP front camera, and its 10.1-inch IPS LCD capacitive touchscreen has a resolution of 1280×800 pixels. In other words, it’s completely ordinary.
Operating System: Android 3.1 (Honeycomb)
Lenovo is one of the first manufacturers to really tinker with Android Honeycomb, though its modifications are, well, modest. Sadly, these modifications have already delayed the implementation of Android 3.2 on the device. Every time a manufacturer messes with Android to add their own styling, it takes them time to fix up their modifications whenever Google releases a new version of Android. This results in delays for users that often last many months.
Lenovo has changed the style of the Back, Home, and multitasking buttons and added its own: a favorite’s button that brings up a touch carousel of six apps that you select. While the carousel works well enough, it’s a bit awkward and unneeded, as any favorite apps you have can easily be put on one of the five home screens. It also looks hideous because most apps don’t have the images to support it, instead showing a gray box with a tiny “Netflix” (or whatever app) icon. Strangely, Lenovo didn’t restyle the default Honeycomb clock, creating an inconsistent look to the tablet.
The other big changes Lenovo made were in the area of widgets. There are a half dozen or so new widgets–some helpful, others ugly. The big home screen widget is the most visible of them. It allows you to choose one app for each category of consumption–email, book, audio, and video—and open them at your leisure. It also has a big browser and a volume toggle. While we like the idea of this widget, we didn’t end up using it much because it’s a bit unintuitive and operates a bit strangely. Lenovo’s social widget is in a similar boat.
Other tiny changes are sprinkled around like how the multitasking tray now has an X over each item, allowing you to easily exit old apps to clear memory. The modified keyboard is also much nicer than Google’s.
Apps & Web
Like all Android Honeycomb tablets, the IdeaPad K1 has access to the hundreds of thousands of Android Market apps, though the selection of tablet-specific apps is still quite limited. Still, there is plenty to tinker around with. The selection of apps pre-installed onto the K1 is impressive. These aren’t just bloatware; they are usable apps and if you don’t like them, you can actually uninstall them – a luxury smartphone owners don’t get these days. Angry Birds HD, Galaxy on Fire 2, Drawing Pad, an e-reader bookshelf app, a file manager, Documents To Go, Amazon Kindle, Accuweather, ArcSync, Netflix, Slacker, mSpot, PrinterShare, and a bunch of simple card games by Hardwood including Spades, Backgammon, Euchre, Hearts, and Solitaire. Lenovo’s App Shop has some decent productivity apps as well.
Lenovo has stuck with the standard Android browser for the Web, which is good and bad. It’s a decent tablet browser, but it loads many Websites in mobile mode and doesn’t handle Adobe Flash particularly well (though, what does). We hope Google plans to let the Chrome team make an Android browser soon. There are some other browsers on the Android Market, like Firefox, but most have their own sets of flaws.
Lenovo has packed a 5MP rear camera and 2MP front-facing camera, which is pretty standard. The K1 also uses Google’s default camera app, which does the job, but has no frills. Its autofocus is slow and you cannot select what you’d like to focus on before you snap your picture. Expect some fairly washed out, drab pictures. Still, with Google+ Hangouts now supporting mobile devices, we look forward to actually using our tablets for some video calls, so it’s nice that the front camera is up to the task.
We are also pleased that Lenovo has included an LED flash on the rear camera. It’s not going to revolutionize your night photography, but it could help out in a pinch. And if you’re taking pictures or video (the K1 can record at 720p) with your tablet, you really are in a pinch. Get a real camera, if you can afford it. Or use an HTC/Samsung phone if you can’t.
Lenovo claims that its 7400 mAh lithium ion battery can achieve a battery life of about 9 hours, which is mostly in line with our experience. We did not drain down the battery to get a hard number, but estimate that you should be able to get 6-8 hours of use on a regular charge and more time if you use the standby mode. This is pretty average for Android tablets, but still a bit lower than the Apple iPad, which leads the pack on battery life.
If you’re looking for an affordable 10.1-inch tablet, the Lenovo IdeaPad K1 is not the cheapest tablet, but at about $450, it does come in at less than most other 32GB models. The K1 is a bit too heavy and large for its own good, and Lenovo’s Android modifications are a mixed bag, but there is nothing particularly offensive about the design, specs, or operation of the device. It’s just nothing special, which might be the biggest knock against it. Everything is merely OK. Except, of course, for the silly charging port; we really wish it snapped in better.
Good pre-loaded apps
Good price for 32GB of storage
Lenovo App Shop good for productivity apps
Physical Back button works well
Heavy & big
No microUSB port
Crappy charging port
Android UI modifications are ugly
Plastic backplate is hollow & attracts fingerprints