Among tier one brands, budget 7" tablets don't abound. Sure, Amazon and B&N each offer a dual purpose LCD ebook reader/limited function Android tablet, but they lack the cameras, GPS and full access to the OS experience and Android Market for apps. So Lenovo decided to hit the duo where they live with a $249 7" Android tablet. Sounds great, right? The problem is, the Lenovo A1 is dated out of the box. It's as if they designed the tablet to be released in June 2011, but waited until February 2012 to sell it. In fact, the Kindle Fire and B&N Nook Tablet have better specs in the CPU department with dual core CPUs, while the Lenovo IdeaPad A1 has just a single core 1GHz CPU. Single core CPUs are pretty rare among tier one tablets, and that's not good. The A1 runs Android OS 2.3 Gingberbread; the phone version of Google's mobile OS. Yikes. We see Android 2.x on bargain brand Android tablets, but we're truly shocked to see it here on a Lenovo. Forget about waiting for Android OS 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, this little guy won't even get 3.2 Honeycomb according to Lenovo.
Now that we've gotten the bad news covered, let's look at the good points: Lenovo loves discounts, and they often have a few colors on sale for $209 (the tablet is available in black, white, pink and blue). The IdeaPad has a sturdy build with Lenovo's signature magnesium alloy inner roll cage. The casing is plastic, but the faux metal edging looks so good, you might be fooled. There's a real GPS inside, and it works offline without a WiFi connection.
Design and Display
The IdeaPad A1 isn't a bad looking tablet, though nothing distinguishes it from the army of slabs on the market. We like that it's available in four colors and it feels strong and well made. It weighs 0.88 lbs., so it's no featherweight, and it's just under a half inch thick. The tablet has a 3.5mm headphone jack up top, sculpted volume buttons on the side and a microSD card slot under a cover on the bottom edge (when held in portrait mode). There's a single speaker on the bottom edge and a micro USB port for charging and syncing. The tablet has a rotation lock switch on the side just above the volume controls. There's no HDMI out, but with a single core CPU and 512 megs of RAM, this tablet doesn't play 1080p video.
The tablet has WiFi 802.11b/g/n single band 2.4GHz and Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR with a full set of profiles as per usual for Android. It uses the Broadcom BCM-4329 combo WiFi and Bluetooth chip. The GPS is Broadcom's BCM4751. There is no 3G/4G.
The display runs at the common lower resolution 1024 x 600, and it has an ambient light sensor and an accelerometer to handle automatic screen rotation. The LED backlit LCD is decent but not super impressive: sharpness is good enough for reading, but the 250 nits of brightness won't combat outdoor light and it isn't nearly as bright as the Kindle Fire that has the same resolution. Lenovo says the panel has a good 700:1 contrast ratio, and it supports 2 points of multi-touch. Viewing angles aren't IPS-level 180 degrees, but things look good up to 30 degrees and are passable at 60 degrees. It's certainly better than the Acer Iconia Tab A100 with its seriously limited viewing angles, but it's not as good as the Samsung Galaxy Tab 7 Plus, Nook Tablet and Kindle Fire.
Performance and Horsepower
The Lenovo IdeaPad A1 runs on a 1GHz TI OMAP 3622 single core CPU. It uses the PowerVR SGX530 GPU for 2D and 3D graphics acceleration. In our tests, the Lenovo did decently with popular 2D and 3D games and 720p high profile video, but it refused to play 1080p video. Netflix and YouTube streaming work well over WiFi.
Lenovo's first IdeaPad tablet and even their ThinkPad Tablet came loaded with too much bloatware. But Lenovo has cut that down significantly for the A1, and we applaud this. We noted that bloatware bogged down those 10" tablets, and we can't imagine what it would do to the A1 given its slower CPU. Lenovo includes their widget for quick access to the web browser, settings and the video, email, music and ebook apps of your choice, and we like it quite well. Lenovo's App Shop, mSpot Movies (movies for rent and purchase), Lenovo's excellent multi-lingual Go Keyboard and NavDroid are on board. NavDroid provides for navigation and maps that are locally stored so you don't need a data connection. This free version allows you to download the map for one US state, so interstate travel requires further investment or a different offline navigation solution like CoPilot (not included). NavDroid isn't the slickest navigation app and they do warn you that map data comes from public sources and may be wrong. Our advice? Give it a try and see if it meets your needs. If it doesn't, check out other solutions on the Android Market.
GPS and Cameras
The GPS worked quite well in our tests with Google Maps and Navigation (we used our smartphone's mobile hotspot feature to provide the tablet with a data connection). It also worked well with NavDroid and the maps were accurate for our corner of the Dallas metroplex.
The IdeaPad A1 has a front VGA video chat camera that's a bit dark and noisy. The rear 3MP camera takes passable photos but not the kind you'll be dying to upload to Flickr or Facebook. Still, it's better than nothing and beats the camera-less Kindle Fire and Nook Tablet. The rear camera can shoot 480p video.
The A1 has a 1 cell, 3550 mAh Lithium Ion battery that Lenovo claims is good for up to 7 hours of use when web browsing over WiFi. We averaged 5.5 hours with brightness set to 50%, WiFi on and use that included web browsing, playing several YouTube videos, email and an hour of ebook reading.
The Lenovo IdeaPad A1 tablet is by no means a bad product; in fact it's a good alternative to those no-name tablets we see at Fry's and MicroCenter (Azpen, ChinaMart, even some Coby's aren't so hot). But the tablet's OS and CPU are already dated, and that means you'll get no future-proofing here. In fact, the Kindle Fire and Nook Tablet, products that are primarily marketed as color ereaders, have a better CPU and a real reason to run Gingerbread (it's hugely customizable and both Fire and Nook use highly customized UIs to make them more turn key for the causal buyer who's into ebooks, web and video watching). But if you want cameras, a GPS (off-line GPS at that) and unfettered access to the Android Market, and your budget is $200 to $250, the IdeaPad A1 does surpass the Fire and Nook Tablet in those potentially important respects.
Display:7" capacitive touch screen. Resolution:
1024 x 600, supports both portrait and landscape modes via accelerometer. Has an ambient light sensor.
Battery:3550 mAh Lithium Ion rechargeable. Battery is not user replaceable.
Performance: 1GHz single core TI OMAP 3622 single core CPU with PowerVR SGX530 GPU. 512 megs RAM, 16 gigs internal storage.
x 4.9 x 0.47 inches. Weight: 0.88 pounds.
GPS: Has GPS with offline capabilities (no need for WiFi if you download maps before traveling). Broadcom BCM4751 GPS chipset.
Camera:VGA front camera and 3MP rear camera that can shoot 480p video.
in speaker, mic and 3.5mm standard stereo headphone
WiFi 802.11b/g/n and Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR. Broadcom BCM-4329 combo WiFi and Bluetooth chip.
Software:Android OS 2.3 Gingerbread. Adobe Flash Player included. Standard suite of Google Android applications including web browser, email, gmail, YouTube, Maps, Navigation, Gtalk, Search and the Android Market.