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Lenovo A10 review: An affordable slate for audiophiles

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MSRP: $299.00

The Good The Lenovo A10 tablet starts at $250, houses an impressive pair of speakers and a microSD slot, and performs smoothly for most basic tasks.

The Bad There is no app tray and organization of menu screens can get tedious. The screen resolution is unfashionably low-res.

The Bottom Line The Lenovo A10's offerings are simple, but its smooth performance and solid speakers make it a compelling budget option.

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7.0 Overall
  • Design 7
  • Features 7
  • Performance 7

The Lenovo A10 is a portable and affordable 10-inch budget tablet with the rare perk of good audio quality. Bargain tablets usually cut too many corners to justify their price; however, the A10 skips the trendy aesthetics and pixel-packed screens to emerge as a simple slate with a rocking set of speakers.

It's cheaper than most 10-inch tablets, starting at $250, but its Dolby Audio stereo speakers sound like they belong on the most expensive tablet out there. With rich and full sound, paired with the Dolby app for fine-tuning, the Lenovo A10 is an audiophile-geared category of its own.

Tablets that come close to the A10's audio quality, like the Amazon Kindle Fire HDX 8.9 or Microsoft Surface Pro 2 , lack its affordable appeal.

The A10's downside is its averageness -- its screen and design are basic at best, and without the speakers, it would be another faceless release -- but if you don't mind passing up high-end specs in favor of a solid list of basics, the Lenovo A10 is an affordable option with unparalleled audio quality.

Design

Lenovo offers the A10 in a dark blue shade. The smooth back panel wraps around to the front of the rounded corners, making the tablet comfortable to hold in either landscape or portrait mode. The smooth matte finish shows fingerprints a bit, but its tactile appeal makes the inevitable smudge forgivable.

Lenovo A10 Asus Memo Pad FHD 10 Google Nexus 10
Weight in pounds1.21.241.24
Width in inches (landscape)

10.4

10.110.4
Height in inches6.97.26.9
Depth in inches

0.35

0.370.35
Side bezel width in inches (landscape)

0.9

0.90.9
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Most of the ports are on the left edge. Xiomara Blanco/CNET

The tablet is light, at 1.2 pounds, and though it's not iPad Air-sleek, it's still ultraportable. The top edge houses the slightly protruding power button, with the volume rocker, headphone jack, Micro-USB port, and microSD expansion slot on the left edge.

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The soft matte back feels nice, but smudges easily. Xiomara Blanco/CNET

Features

To offset the simple user interface, Lenovo packs in plenty of software goodies, including the Dolby app (more on that later) and its useful Doit suite of apps, which allow you to share data between devices without the need for an Internet connection and sync your contacts. Both the sharing and syncing apps worked quickly and smoothly as advertised, though it's too bad uninstalling them is not an option.

The Lenovo A10 also features a Smart Side Bar that gives quick access to recent apps and display optimization shortcuts. It can be summoned manually by swiping from the bezel to the center of the screen, or set on automatic. You can also turn off the feature, but I found it useful when jumping between different apps and activities -- like switching from reading an article to watching a streaming video -- especially on auto, when it pops up after you switch orientations.

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The Side Bar and the Dolby app are useful for getting the most out of the A10. Screenshot by Xiomara Blanco/CNET

The 10-incher ships with Android 4.4.2, with an OTA update to 4.4.3 rolling out. Instead of being in an app tray, apps are distributed amongst various home screens. The screens are easy to customize by holding a finger to any blank space in the home screen for a few seconds, or accessing the preview option in the menu that's accessible on the Android navigation bar.

The home screen customization options allow you to add menu pages, reorganize app shortcuts, and add widgets. If you don't organize apps into folders or additional menu pages, the various screens can get cluttered quickly. Widgets, though always a nice addition, tend to significantly reduce the number of app shortcuts allowed on the same menu page, and it's also difficult to fit more than two widgets per page.

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Organizing your home screen is a must-do. Screenshot by Xiomara Blanco/CNET

Hardware

The Lenovo A10 houses a 1.3GHz MediaTek 8121 quad-core processor, 1GB of RAM, and 16GB of internal storage. It also offers a microSD expansion slot, Bluetooth 4.0, and Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n.

Performance

The A10's 1,080x800-pixel resolution is one of its weak spots. App shortcuts on the menu appear pixelated, and when you hold the A10 next to the likes of the Amazon Kindle Fire HDX 8.9, the difference in quality is stark. However, HD video still looks sharp, with wide viewing angles, deep contrast, and balanced colors. It's not impressive, but the IPS screen gets the job done.

Tested specLenovo A10Asus Memo Pad FHD 10Google Nexus 10
Maximum brightness292 cd/m2287 cd/m2368 cd/m2
Maximum black level0.25 cd/m20.22 cd/m20.44 cd/m2
Contrast ratio1,168:11,304:1836:1
Pixels-per-inch133ppi224ppi299ppi

The 2-megapixel front-facing camera is decent for Skype-calling purposes, but don't expect any flattering selfies. Photos are usually washed-out and pixelated. There's a "beauty mode" that's supposed to help, but it makes you look like a futuristic anime character -- which is cool if you're into that type of thing.

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In addition to exposure and white-balance settings, the A10 also offers fun filters. Screenshot by Xiomara Blanco/CNET

The 5-megapixel rear camera isn't terribly impressive, with its lack of manual focus and fuzzy full-res photos, but the many customization options are its saving grace. With some tweaking, you can capture a photo with good color balance and decent exposure and contrast.

The dual front-facing speakers are the performance stars of the A10. Audiophiles who love to perfect how their media sounds will appreciate the thorough and detailed Dolby app that allows level tweaking to your heart's content. Once I got the hang of the app, switching up audio settings was quick, easy, and optimal for switching from "Star Trek" to Coltrane.

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Low-end screen, meet high-end speakers. Xiomara Blanco/CNET

Tablets aren't known for their speaker quality, so the Lenovo A10 is a great surprise and a very welcome addition to the scene. I was continually surprised by how full, rich, and detailed movies and music sounded -- I looked like a confused puppy tilting its head every time I was impressed (but less cute).

Performance was surprisingly smooth, with few hiccups here and there. The tablet performance slowed while downloading large apps, but they downloaded quickly with a high-speed connection.

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Photos look best on the A10's screen, with animated options for the panoramic and multiangle modes. Screenshot by Xiomara Blanco/CNET

Large apps and graphic-heavy games load within a few seconds, a rare feat for a budget tablet. They also performed smoothly, as long as there weren't many apps open in the background.

Simple mobile games like Riptide ran smoothly, even with other apps open. Large games would sometimes lag and take a long time to load in between levels, but closing all open applications usually took care of the problem.

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The 5-megapixel rear camera is decent at best. Xiomara Blanco/CNET

Lenovo says the A10 has an 8-hour battery life, and I found that the tablet lasted a long time on a full charge with consistent use -- about a day and a half. Our official test results from the CNET Labs came out consistent to that, at 8.4 hours.

Conclusion

The Lenovo A10's design, screen, and performance may not be high-end, but when you close your eyes and listen to its speakers, it definitely sounds high-end. The 10-inch tablet is one of the few with speakers that won't make you cringe in horror when they're at full blast.

If the A10's interface, screen, and design were better, it would be comparable to the Asus Memo Pad FHD 10, which offers a few audio customization options of its own. It rocks a sharper, 1,920x1,200-pixel-resolution screen, has a comparably comfy design, and can be found in the same price range as the A10. However, if you're an audiophile on a budget, the A10's shortcomings can be quickly forgiven, considering its $250 starting price and unparalleled powerful speakers.

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