Since the release of the first Android Honeycomb tablet (the Motorola Xoom), we've seen a parade of more or less identical devices. Some are thinner or sport better cameras or extra ports, but they all run the same software on the same 1GHz dual-core Tegra 2 processor.
The Lenovo IdeaPad K1 is no exception. Priced at $499 (32GB) and available in three color options (red, white, and black), Lenovo's Honeycomb (upgradeable to Android 4.0) tablet is neither the thinnest, the cheapest, the prettiest, nor the best equipped. Instead, Lenovo's tablet sits modestly in the middle of the pack.
Editors note: For the differences between Honeycomb and Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich) check out the Android 4.0 breakdown comparison on the Asus Eee Pad Transformer Prime review.Design and hardware features
If we had to pick the IdeaPad K1 out of a lineup, the two-tone design on the back would be the giveaway. Weaving a mixture of sturdy aluminum and glossy plastic, the tablet's back has a good hand feel that suffers only slightly from visible smudges.
The second telltale feature of the K1 is its dedicated home button, located on the right side of the 10.1-inch screen (when held in landscape orientation). Considering the onscreen navigation controls baked into Honeycomb, the physical home button is redundant. It's not pointless, though. Aside from fitting naturally under your right thumb while gripping the tablet, the physical button has a few cool tricks. For instance, holding the button down will capture a snapshot of the current screen. A downward swipe on the button will back you out of apps or menus. It's neat, though we have to admit that it was triggered accidentally on several occasions.
The rest of the design choices are all fairly predictable. On the left side you'll find a power button, volume rocker, screen orientation lock, and a microSD card slot. The bottom edge offers a Micro-HDMI port, a headphone jack, and a dock input that works both for charging and USB sync. Shutterbugs will also notice a 2-megapixel camera on the front and a 5-megapixel camera (with flash) on the back.
Lenovo's spin on Android
Android tablet makers are in a tough position. Android purists are always quick to criticize when a manufacturer monkeys with Google's code or bundles unnecessary software. But without these idiosyncrasies, it's nearly impossible to make a Honeycomb tablet that can stand out and showcase a company's brand.
For better or worse, the Android 3.1 installed on the Lenovo IdeaPad K1 is not for purists. It comes with more than 30 apps preinstalled, ranging from big names like Netflix and Kindle, to in-house productions, like SocialTouch (a messaging aggregator) and Lenovo App Shop.
The best of Android 3.1 is still here, though. You get the official Android Market, along with Google's mobile apps for Maps, Gmail, Navigation, Books, and Google Talk. The celebrated Honeycomb Web browser is located literally front and center on the IdeaPad's home screen, housed within an editable dashboard of common actions (watching videos, reading e-mail, listening to music, and reading books). Lenovo calls this central dashboard the "Lenovo Launcher," and though we thought it was a useful addition, you have the freedom to delete it if you choose.
Unfortunately, there is one Lenovo customization you can't change. On the bottom of the screen, positioned at the center of the navigation bar is an odd speech bubble icon that launches an overlay of your favorite apps. Lenovo calls this feature the "App Wheel" and as the name implies, you navigate through these apps by spinning through the overlay like a Lazy Susan. An additional icon at the center of the wheel allows you to add or delete apps from this quick list. We like the concept, but it ultimately ends up creating more clutter and confusion. With the standard app drawer accessible from the upper-right corner, and recently used apps accessible from the bottom-left corner, Honeycomb has no need for a third app menu in a third corner.
The worst thing we can say about the Lenovo IdeaPad K1's performance is that the screen isn't as bright or vibrant as on the iPad 2 or as on our current top Honeycomb tablet pick, the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1. Its resolution is crisp and the screen's responsiveness is right in line with its competition, but the overall viewing experience isn't the best.
Everything else, from the browser load time to the keyboard typing performance, is all right in line with the other Honeycomb tablets we've tested. It's to be expected, considering they're more or less all running on the same processor and memory configuration. Still, it's worth mentioning.
Lenovo rates the IdeaPad's battery performance at 10 hours of mixed use. Here are our official CNET Labs-tested battery life results. More tablet testing results can be found here.
|Video battery life (in hours)||Maximum brightness (in cd/m2)||Default brightness (in cd/m2)||Maximum black level (in cd/m2)||Default black level (in cd/m2)||Default contrast ratio||Contrast ratio (max brightness)|
There's a lot to like about the Lenovo IdeaPad K1, but it's tough to get enthusiastic about a tablet that strays so little from products we've already seen. Still, if you have your heart set on a Android tablet and you're not hung up on it being the thinnest or lightest, the IdeaPad K1 is a solid option.
Update, October 10 at 12:44 p.m. PT: CNET Labs' battery life test results were updated.