As part of Amazon’s Boxing Day specials I managed to get hold of a Lenovo IdeaPad A1 Android tablet. Normally £200, I got mine for £150. Yes, it’s been a while since I got it but I’ve been too busy enjoying it to get around to completing the review (4 months in the writing!)

The tablet comes with minimalist, but still stylish, packaging. A black box is opened to review the tablet on top (in a plastic bag), with 2 further boxes underneath. One (I’m guessing this is the bit they swap out for each country) contains a USB mains charger (and a fast charging one too!), the other a brief guide to getting started and a USB cable. And that’s it.

The tablet itself is gorgeous, I have to say. The satin metal sides and connectors look remarkably like those on an Apple device, especially the speaker grill at the bottom. The rear is a shiny plastic (with only the camera breaking this up) but behind it is a magnesium alloy roll cage. The front shows off a 7″ Gorilla Glass screen, a front facing VGA camera and 3 lit touch sensitive buttons. It’s quite weighty, but in a nice way (it feels rugged and not flimsy). The sides has a lovely curvature to them which sets it aside from the more conventional rounded or square sides. The rear sports another camera, this time 3mp.

Button and connection wise, the bottom has a Micro SD slot , micro USB port and a speaker. On the right is the volume control and an orientation switch. The top sports the power button and headphone socket. It’s relativity minimalist, but has the essentials.

The version I’ve bought has 16GB of internal memory, along with 512MB of ROM. It has a single core 1GHz processor powering it all. The screen is 1024×600 pixels, which makes it 170 pixels per inch (ppi). This ppi value makes the display sharper than even that of the Apple iPad 2. Text and apps that take into account the pixel density look superb, but many of the standard graphics look fuzzy and washed out as a result. The screen is particularly bright (and, thankfully, has an option to be set automatically) but has poor viewing angles.

Connectivity wise you get b/g/n wi-fi, Bluetooth and GPS. Android 2.3 (Gingerbread) is on-board BUT (and essentially) it has full Google connectivity, including the Android Marketplace, which many similar tablets lack. It’s not on Honeycomb or ICS because of it’s relatively low specification.

The rear camera is okay. Not brilliant. There’s no flash and images were often dark and noisy. The front camera is quite sufficient for Skype, though, and I think people look a little stupid holding up a camera to take a picture so the average quality of the rear camera is not an issue for me.

Battery wise, it seemed to last for ages initially, but then I had problems with syncing and wifi not working with the tablet in standby. Recent firmware upgrades have resolved this and battery life has plummeted. Never-the-less, except to only have to recharge every few days with light use 1. Sadly, the battery is not replaceable.

Boot time is sluggish and the default launcher is equally so – I’d recommend installing a 3rd party launcher and front-end. There’s little “crapware” installed though – a Lenovo shop app and a front screen widget which provides quick shortcuts to 5 applications. They have, however, installed a number of apps that are freely available from the Marketplace to get you started – all of these can be uninstalled if needs be.

However, there are a few cut corners…

  1. The aforementioned Android 2.3 – the processor is a single core 1Ghz version and you get very little in the way of graphical oomph. The result is not sluggish but it explains why a higher (and more powerful ) level of Android is not available.
  2. The capacitive screen lacks a little in the way of sensitivity – it’s no Galaxy S2 in terms of response.
  3. The GPS is rubbish. At first I thought it was broken but then I read in forums that everybody else was experiencing the same issues, with locks outside taking up to 8 minutes each time. A recent firmware upgrade has made it better but it’s still very slow.

There were also a few problems I came across, but many have been fixed with recent firmware upgrades. If you buy one of these make you sure update it as soon as you can!

However, there is an outstanding issue with the rather “buggy” (the words of a developer!) causing the tablet to reboot every-so-often. I’ve also had a number of instances of the device not wanting to come out of standby. The screen didn’t want to come on and plugging in the power cable didn’t cause the charging light to come on either. When it first happened I thought it was a dud and I was going to have to replace it – after a short while, though, I realised that holding the power button down long enough causes it to, eventually, power off. You can then restart it and will boot back up as normal.

One final niggle – the 3 touch sensitive buttons at the bottom (menu, home and back) aren’t permanently lit and only come on when pressed (and then all 3 light up). This is at odds with when you do need it to be lit – when you’re looking for where you need to press! And you have to be precise with where you touch as well to get them to light – it would have been far better for them to light whenever anywhere on that bottom bar was touched.

I think it would also be remiss of me not to mention the fact that Lenovo in the UK appear to have no interest in this product – they don’t sell it and they don’t have any support information about it on their site. I find it best to visit the US site for further information. Indeed, this is probably the biggest issue, as apart from a few firmware upgrades, don’t expect many of these bugs to be sorted and it’s certainly almost certain that the tablet will not receive Android 4 (Ice Cream Sandwich).

[review]An incredibly well built tablet with a superb resolution screen at a bargain price. A lack of long term support and a number of niggling bugs is the only let-down[/review]

  1. the official battery life is 7 hours of normal use. CNET got 4 hours out of it playing video[]
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