The market is full of 10 inch Android slates and rarely we stumble upon (!) one that makes our day, both in terms of design and functionality. We all know (and some love) Lenovo for their business oriented gadgets, and maybe we would reluctantly pick up an Android tablet from the Chinese manufacturer.

But the IdeaPad K1 is a very pleasant surprise, and for a debut Android tablet, Lenovo outdid themselves and deliver a great looking design and also a fresh approach on the UI on top of Honeycomb, a move only a few manufacturers out there really embraced.

Also, quite unlikely for a Lenovo product, the K1 has a decent asking price of $499 for the 32 GB version, which is 100 bucks under the Galaxy Tab 10.1 and the iPad 2. Stay tuned for this review of Lenovo’s IdeaPad K1 10 inch Android slate.

The red finish on the back is a stroke of design genius

The red finish on the back is a stroke of design genius

Specs

The internals and features on the K1 are similar to the setup we have on most 10 inch Honeycomb slates. Interestingly, the K1 doesn’t have a USB or mini USB port, maybe in order to keep the profile thinner and lighter. Everything else seems to be in place, although a 3G module would have been nice, even as an option. Full spec list below.

  • Processor: Tegra 2 dual core CPU, 1 GHZ
  • System memory: 1 GB
  • Storage: 32 GB Flash
  • OS: Android Honeycomb 3.1
  • Connectivity: WiFi, Bluetooth
  • Cameras: 5 MP rear facing camera, 2 MP front facing
  • Ports: microHDMI, microSD
  • Size: 10.4 x 7.44 x 0.52 inches
  • Weight: 1.6 pounds

Build and design

The IdeaPad K1 is heavier and thicker than both the iPad 2 and Galaxy Tab 10.1, but doesn’t seem necessarily too bulky when held. That’s the case with slates that have slightly tapered edges, which are easier to hold with one hand and thus feel less heavy. The edges and part of the back have a chrome finish, while most of the rear panel is covered in a splendid, dark red finish. Unfortunately, we can’t say the same about the bezel, which is glossy and after just a couple of minutes of use, looks like a smudge free for all. The same goes for the screen, which is also glossy and gets dirty quite fast.

Display

The IdeaPad K1 has a 1280 x 800 display with a glossy finish. This means that the screen will attract ambient light and using the slate outside might be a drag. These issues aside, the screen behaves great when it comes to brightness and sharpness, although colors could have been “livelier”- you can fool around with the settings and find a calibration that works for you. As for input, the screen is very responsive, feeling snappy for both single and multi touch gestures.

Ports and buttons

On the left side of the slate you’ll find the power button, volume rocker, screen lock and a microSD card reader, which is protected by a tiny metal hatch that’s very difficult to open. On the bottom, you can find a miniHDMI port, a audio jack and a docking port. You’ll get a couple of cables out of the box, namely port to AC adapter and port to mini USB, which you’ll have to guard closely, as without them you won’t be able to charge the slate or transfer data. Buttons wise, you get a physical home button on the bezel, which is a nice blast from the past, from pre Honeycomb ages.

Software and apps

The IdeaPad K1 comes with Android 3.1 and a bunch of customizations in terms of UI. Instead of the stock electro blue interface you get on Honeycomb, you get a painting like skin, which shows a wheat field and that kind of bombastic sunset you usually see in Steven Soderbergh movies. In the middle of the screen, you get the Lenovo Launcher widget, which has four buttons- one for videos, one for email, one for the e-reader app and one for music.

The four button Lenovo Launcher gives access to the most important functions of the slate

The four button Lenovo Launcher gives access to the most important functions of the slate

Each button has a preset app to launch, but you can customize which app to launch by pressing the settings button on the left of the widget and change everything you want from there. The status bar is home for the App Wheel button, which shows you your favorite 6 apps. It kind of looks like a wheel, as swiping up and down creates a transition animation that enlarges or shrinks an icon, giving the impression of a turning wheel of apps.

The K1 comes with 30 preinstalled apps, most of them being trial versions. Still, there are a couple of very useful fully featured apps, like Documents to go, which lets you view and edit Office and PDF docs. ArcSoft Movie Story is a little video editor that lets you add some effects to a clip and synch it with a song.

Media playback wise, you get a couple of video and music players/market apps, including mSpot Movies and Music and also a Netflix app. The tablet also has a couple of games, sadly most of them trial versions- NFS Shift HD, Vendetta Online, but also the full version of Galaxy on Fire 2. For more apps and games, you can access Android Market and Lenovo’s own App Shop.

Hardware and performance

The K1 has the same, Tegra 2-1 GB of RAM setup we virtually have on every Android Honeycomb tablet out there, and thus delivers good performance, may it be video playback, gaming or anything else. Playing the included Galaxy on Fire 2 on high detail was smooth. Tests like Linpack and An3DBench, which test overall performance and graphic performance, placed the K1 above the category average and just a little behind the Eee Pad Transformer, which is a synthetics test extraordinaire.

Cameras

The K1 comes with two cameras, a 5 MP rear facing camera and a 2 MP in front. The one in the back, as long as there’s not much detail or movement in the frame, will deliver decent photos, albeit color saturation is nothing too impressive. The same goes for video- there’s no obvious pixel humping anywhere, but you won’t lose yourself in sheer contemplation for the colors it captures.

Battery

The battery of the K1 lasted for more than 8 hours when threw in the heat of battle against a LAPTOP battery test, which loops a web page every minute, with WiFi on and 40% brightness. Considering that most 10 inch Android tablets last for a maximum of 7 hours on a single charge, the ThinkPad K1 is definitely a winner when it comes to autonomy, but still way behind iPad 2’s 11 hours mark.

Prices and availability

[easyazon-link asin=”B0051OKCHG”]The WiFi, 32 GB Lenovo IdeaPad K1 is available for $499[/easyazon-link], and that’s kind of the only available configuration, at least in the US. The slate comes with a one year warranty, but for an extra $79, you can buy an additional warranty year. Lenovo’s official shop also offers some accessories, like a screen protector and charger dock.

Documents To Go 3.0 is on board

Documents To Go 3.0 is on board

Final thoughts

For a debut slate, the K1 tablet is a nicely crafted device, with a great rear panel finish and fresh UI. Still, the glossy bezel and screen are something we found particularly annoying, alongside some unjustifiably difficult to access ports.

Also, while the tablet runs smooth most of the time, it becomes unresponsive once in a while, and rebooting it remains the only option. Still, there are more positive stuff to say about this one, other highlights being the great battery life, decent dual camera system and the solid app selection.