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Lenovo's IdeaPad K1: Just a Pretty Face?

written by: Jordan Salvi•edited by: M.S. Smith•updated: 10/31/2011

With the explosion in variety of tablet computers over the past year, is the Android-based Lenovo IdeaPad K1 just another "me too" device? Or can it actually stand out among such stiff competition as the Samsung GalaxyTab 10.1 or the venerable iPad 2?

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    Lenovo is a long-time maker of PCs and other computer systems, but more recently they've ventured into the tablet arena. First with convertible Windows-based laptops such as the ThinkPad X-series, and now with Andoid-based ThinkPads, and the consumer oriented IdeaPad. The model we're looking at, the IdeaPad K1, is Lenovo's first tablet built for a consumer audience focused on multimedia consumption and web browsing, like most Android tablets available today.

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    Form Factor

    The IdeaPad K1 sticks to the tried and true 10.1 inch form factor of the majority of new Android tablet devices today. This size is nearly perfect for web browsing, gaming, and watching video, though some prefer Apple's 4:3 aspect ratio of the iPad for looking at documents and reading eBooks. Unlike the Samsung GalaxyTab and Apple iPad 2, the IdeaPad trades sleek, thin minimalism for unique Lenovo style, making it slightly bulkier and heavier than other tablets.

    A 10.1" 1280x800 LCD, also fairly standard among today's tablets, provides sharp picture quality and and good viewing angles, but still lags behind the iPad and GalaxyTab displays. In this respect, it's more akin to the Motorola Xoom: Not bad by any means, but the color accuracy could be a bit better, and the glossy screen makes viewing in sunlight or bright ambient lighting a challenge.

    At nearly 1.7 pounds, the IdeaPad is also on the heavier end of the tablet spectrum, but the unique form factor and balanced weight distribution make it fairly easy to hold, though it can get tiresome after a while. Instead of a smooth contoured back like the Xoom or iPad, the K1 has an aluminum and plastic shell, which sounds cheap but looks impressive and comes in multiple colors, such as red or white.

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    The K1 is powered by an nVidia Tegra 2 T20 CPU running at 1GHz, and has 1GB of DDR2 ram. The Tegra 2 / 1GB RAM combo is fairly standard among Android tablets currently on the market, and this means performance is generally similar as well. The K1 comes with either 16, 32, or 64GB of SSD storage.

    The front of the device sports a 2 megapixel camera, while a beefier 5MP camera resides on the rear. The K1 has relatively few connectivity options, but it does include a micro-HDMI port and SD-card slot, as well as a proprietary dock connector. WiFi and bluetooth come standard, with optional 3G support included as well, depending on the model.

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    Lenovo has made multiple optimizations to the stock Android 3.1 firmware for the IdeaPad K1. The most noticeable difference is the Lenovo Launcher, which is the first thing you'll see after booting up the tablet. Basically, this is a quick-launch bar divided into what Lenovo thinks will be the most common uses for the device: Watch, Listen, Read, and Email, surrounding a central globe for the browser. By default, these buttons take you to preloaded applications, but they can be customized to open anything you'd like. Most other 'optimizations' consist of widgets and buttons on the home screen and menu bar that represent commonly accessed items, such as settings, which does improve usability quite a bit for those unfamiliar with Honeycomb.

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    One thing Lenovo has done to differentiate the IdeaPad K1 from its competitors is to preload it with a wide selection of popular games and apps. The K1 boasts over 30 apps ready to go out of the box, including such staples as Angry Birds, Amazon Kindle, Netflix, and Documents to Go. Whether its office productivity, or just idle entertainment, the selection seems to have a bit of everything covered. With Documents to Go, the tablet can be used for the creation of documents, spreadsheets, and even powerpoint presentations. A full suite of media editing apps from ArcSoft allow the modification of pictures, music, and video as well. The nVidia Tegra 2 hardware driving this device make sure that gaming is a smooth experience as well, and fully 3D games such as Vendetta Online and Need for Speed: Shift are included to show off that power.

    Of course, you'll want to get your own apps too, and besides the default Android Market, Lenovo includes its own App Shop which includes a more tablet-tailored selection of apps approved by Lenovo.

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    Running on nVidia Tegra 2 hardware, the IdeaPad is snappy and responsive for the most part, though it can get bogged down when lots of apps are running in the background, or with some of the more intensive widgets and home screen animations. Performance in games is particularly good, though not yet on par with the iPad's video hardware.

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    The IdeaPad K1 is a solid, though not exactly outstanding, tablet. It has performance and specifications on par with nearly every Android tablet since the Motorola Xoom, with a few points of differentiation in Lenovo's customization of Android 3.1. What makes the K1 an attractive buy, however, is it's price: $399 for the basic 16GB version make this $100 cheaper than similar devices. Overall, if you're on the market for a new tablet today, the IdeaPad K1 is a great choice. Not only for it's hardware and price, but the selection of pre-loaded apps, and Lenovo's user interface optimization is excellent for the first-time tablet user, and gives a great out-of-box experience.