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Lenovo IdeaTab A1000 review: A budget tablet that cuts too many corners

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The Good The Lenovo IdeaTab A1000's Dolby Digital audio enhancement features make almost any pair of headphones sound great, and the microSD expansion slot is a welcome addition.

The Bad The tablet's screen is unfashionably low-res, with washed out color and narrow viewing angles. Graphics-heavy games chug something awful, apps sometimes stutter when launched, and Netflix video doesn't play.

The Bottom Line The Lenovo IdeaTab A1000 is a meek 7-inch tablet that cuts far too many corners to reach its budget price.

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5.7 Overall
  • Design 6
  • Features 6
  • Performance 5

Even when compared to other sub-$200 tablets in its weight class, the Lenovo IdeaTab A1000 comes up short in features, performance, and screen quality. While the microSD storage expansion is welcome here, it's not reason enough to buy the tablet. There are plenty of other microSD-toting budget tablets with higher quality screens and more useful features.

Speaking of features, the tablet’s inclusion of Dolby Digital audio enhancement is its one possible saving grace. It's geared toward audiophiles, but due to its headphones-only functionality and a lack of user-friendly integration, it's not as easily accessible as it should be.

If you're looking for an inexpensive tablet, the $149 Asus MeMO Pad HD 7 is a better choice for an audio-enhancing budget tablet. Also, the Kindle Fire HD is currently available for a mere $159 and the Nook HD packs gobs of value into its $129 price. And if its $229 starting price isn't too much of a splurge, the Google Nexus 7 is the best way to go for a small low-priced tablet.

Design
The Lenovo IdeaTab A1000 is an unremarkable tablet with a simple design. It has a slim border that wraps around the bezel and is available in black or white. Our review unit was black but, in certain lights, the dark border looks like a deep purple with a glittery shimmer.

Tested spec Lenovo IdeaTab A1000 Asus MeMO Pad HD 7 Google Nexus 7 (2013) Amazon Kindle Fire HD
Weight in pounds 0.77 0.66 0.66 0.86
Width in inches (landscape) 7.8 7.8 7.8 7.7
Height in inches 4.7 4.7 4.5 5.4
Depth in inches 0.4 0.4 0.34 0.4
Side bezel width in inches (landscape) 0.8 0.9 1 0.9

If holding the tablet in landscape orientation, the left and right edges of the border slightly curve inward, allowing your thumbs to easily rest on the sides without smudging the screen or obstructing the front-facing speakers. The device cozily fits in one hand or both and is pretty comfortable to hold thanks to its curved edges.

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Although it lacks some style, its dimensions are similar to comparable 7-inch tablets. James Martin/CNET

The tablet also houses a front-facing 0.3-megapixel camera at its top left corner and has no ambient light sensor. The Micro-USB port, headphone jack, and power button sit on the top edge of the device, with the microSD expansion slot -- expandable up to 32GB -- and volume rocker around the corner on the right edge. The back side keeps it simple with an all black matte finish and no camera.

The smooth texture and flush design of the shiny power and volume buttons help them easily blend into the curvature of the tablet's edges, but it ultimately makes them difficult to locate without looking.

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The microSD card slot is located next to the volume rocker. Josh Miller/CNET

Features The IdeaTab A1000 ships with Android 4.1.2 and most of its special features lean more toward practical than spectacle; you can schedule when the tablet turns on and off, easily tune into FM radio, and change or customize audio profiles.

Audio profiles can be quickly changed via the easy access tray -- by swiping down from the top -- and include general, silent, meeting, and outdoor, with the option to create and customize your own. The audio profiles don't control the overall audio of the tablet, but their value lies in the ability to set different volume levels or ringtones for alarms and notifications.

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The audio profiles are somewhat useful, but the limited storage space is definitely not. Xiomara Blanco

Dolby Digital Plus
The Lenovo IdeaTab A1000 features Dolby Digital Plus audio enhancement, which includes a baked-in equalizer that can only be accessed through the settings menu. The equalizer functions for both movies and music and can only be utilized to its full potential when listening to audio via headphones.

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The tablet's best feature is its audio enhancing equalizer, but it's only accessible when using headphones. Xiomara Blanco

The equalizer menu is disabled until you connect a pair of three-pin headphones; four-pin headsets don't enable the menu but can still be used to listen to audio. The good news is that the feature overcompensates for low-quality earbuds and made even my cheap back-up pair sound great.

When it comes to music, the equalizer provides fuller, more balanced sound to all genres and successfully prevents some songs from sounding too screechy or tinny. However, sometimes it's too much, resulting in extraneous bass or muffling.

The wide variety of genre presets go beyond traditional pop, jazz, or classical options and selecting the right one can turn a cringe-inducing tune to a pleasurable ditty. With the right combination of song and setting, subtleties in the music are illuminated with melodic oomph and instruments or vocals that are too pronounced are equalized to meld better with the entire song.

After listening to a few albums with the equalizer and trying out each preset like a musical Goldilocks, I noticed that specific genre presets don't work well for every song of the genre and sometimes the default option sounds the best.

A difference in quality is also evident while using many of the movie audio settings.

In order to make the equalizer feature truly useful, it should have been better integrated into the tablet's interface. Instead, you're switching back and forth between the settings window and the app you're attempting to optimize to try out different sound profiles, all the while the tablet's sometimes slow performance isn't doing your frustration level any favors. Lenovo says the A1000 is optimized for music, so it would have been nice to have seen a more thoughtful integration of its sound features.

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The equalizer features more options for music than movies. Xiomara Blanco

The wide selection of music and movie genres is impressive but overwhelming and inconvenient to operate; I often found myself spending too much time trying to classify what I was listening to, or slowly switching between the equalizer and a video to ensure I was using the best setting.

The equalizer's ability to make audio sound sharp, clear, full, and balanced is great, but limited headphones-only functionality isn't. The Asus MeMO Pad HD 7 has a similar audio enhancing feature, but conversely is only usable through the tablet's speakers. The A1000 has a leg up though, with it's customizable option that allows audiophiles to manually adjust the equalizer to their nit-picky perfection.

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HD videos didn't pop on the tablet's dull screen. James Martin/CNET

Hardware
The Lenovo IdeaTab A1000 houses a 1.2GHz dual core MT8317 CPU, a single-core PowerVR SGX531 GPU, 1GB of RAM, and 16GB of internal storage. The tablet also features Bluetooth 4.0 and an accelerometer.

Performance
These days a 1,200x800-pixel resolution is average for a budget 7-inch tablet, but the Lenovo IdeaTab A1000 bucks the trend and embraces an even lower 1,024x600-pixel resolution screen that is plagued by bad viewing angles and washed out color.

Tested spec Lenovo IdeaTab A1000 Asus MeMO Pad HD 7 Google Nexus 7 (2013) Amazon Kindle Fire HD
Maximum brightness 369 cd/m2 353 cd/m2 570 cd/m2 394 cd/m2
Maximum black level 0.49 cd/m2 0.57 cd/m2 0.44 cd/m2 0.41 cd/m2
Maximum contrast ratio 753:1 619:1 1,295:1 960:1

Images are noticeably dull in sharpness and HD videos fall flat, lacking any visually stimulating qualities. Color is void of any vivid pop or vibrant saturation and there is a pervasive blue hue on the display that is most noticeable when comparing the screen to other tablets.

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This is what streaming Netflix on the A1000 looks like. Xiomara Blanco

Despite being able to download and open the app, the A1000 cannot stream Netflix video. However, I had no trouble loading videos elsewhere, including YouTube, Crackle, and Google Play.

The screen's responsiveness was consistent and mostly accurate, although my taps went unrecognized a few times. The tablet sometimes responded slowly when I pressed the power or volume buttons -- as if being startled from a daydream -- and the volume rocker's functionality does not switch according to orientation.

Simple activities were executed fine, although lagging and buggy flickering when launching apps was rather consistent. The tablet frequently had trouble syncing my Google account notifications and I would often get notified about e-mails I had already read on a different device.

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The IdeaTab A1000 allocates 1.5GB for apps. Xiomara Blanco

The Lenovo IdeaTab A1000's 16GB of internal storage is partitioned in a particularly odd way; only 1.5GB are designated for app downloads, with the rest allocate to "USB storage" for saving more content such as music, movies, and photos. During my time with the tablet I never filled the app storage -- it's called "internal storage" in the settings menu -- but it is a weird decision that could definitely put a damper on the activities of any app-addict.

Although the A1000's equalizer includes a gaming setting, the way the tablet performs while playing games would lead you to believe that Lenovo completely forgot about that function. Gaming performance for simple mobile games, like Candy Crush Saga or The Simpsons: Tapped Out, worked fine, but downloading, loading, and running more graphic-heavy games was nearly impossible.

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To be fair, it did warn me about the possibility of crashing before it actually did. Xiomara Blanco

While running 3DMark, the tablet continually crashed and couldn't finish the task. Eventually, it succumbed to the pressure of performing like a capable 2013 tablet and completely shut down, never to be powered on by me again.

I was able to play Riptide GP -- after receiving another testing unit -- and it ran smoothly, although the accelerometer wasn't very accurate and successfully navigating the courses depended heavily on exaggerated movements.

The tablet's 0.3-megapixel front-facing camera produces dark and grainy photos. There is a significant lack of color and detail that's extremely noticeable, especially in low lighting. Even in slightly dim environments, shadows were overemphasized and increased the darkness of the photo. Adjusting the white balance slightly helped with color accuracy, but it replaced the automatic settings' greenish tint with a degree of severe red hues.

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There is no ambient light-sensor for an automatic brightness function. James Martin/CNET

The front-facing speakers aren't particularly impressive for a device geared toward audiophiles and provide typical audio performance from a tablet. Although other small budget tablets don't go as loud, they do hold up a bit better at full volume, with less tinny moments during songs.

The tablet's battery lasted around 8 hours during casual but performed abysmally low during video testing. Here are our official CNET Labs-tested battery life results. More tablet testing results can be found here.

Video Battery life (in hours)
Lenovo IdeaTab A1000 4.6

Conclusion
The Lenovo IdeaTab A1000 scores points with its audio enhancing equalizer, but falls short in just about every other category. With comparable budget tablets in abundance that provide better video, gaming, and browsing capabilities, enduring the A1000's baseball-sized pixels and internal storage limitations just to save a few bucks is unnecessary.

The Asus MeMO Pad HD 7 is a comparable 7-inch tablet with similar audio-enhancing features and less performance hang-ups, but -- if not limited to a budget or committed to a device that prioritizes audio quality -- the Google Nexus 7 is the best small tablet to get.

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