DNP Lenovo IdeaTab A1000 review how important is audio quality in a budget tablet

It's not easy being a 7-inch tablet these days. With relatively inexpensive devices like the ASUS MeMo Pad HD 7 and the refreshed Nexus 7 offering a whole lot of bang for your buck, budget tablet makers are facing stiffer competition than ever before. Lenovo hasn't had much luck thus far delivering mobile devices that impress and, indeed, the company's latest offering -- the 7-inch IdeaTab A1000 -- has its work cut out for it. With the 16GB model priced at $160 (currently on sale for $130), the petite IdeaTab prioritizes sound quality over its other functions, perhaps in the hopes that its above-average performance in that area will woo picky buyers. But does the A1000 have what it takes to compete in a crowded market? Read on to find out.

Lenovo IdeaTab A1000 review

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Lenovo

IdeaTab A1000

Pros

  • Sturdy design
  • Good sound quality

Cons

  • Subpar display
  • Software update unlikely
  • Sluggish performance, some hiccups
Summary

With the IdeaTab A1000, Lenovo focused on audio quality, but the device's poor performance and disappointing display are a letdown.

Hardware

DNP Lenovo IdeaTab A1000 review how important is audio quality in a budget tablet

The IdeaTab feels remarkably sturdy for a budget device. At 12 ounces, it has a pretty significant heft to it, though we didn't find it too cumbersome to hold. The dimensions -- 7.8 x 4.8 x 0.4 inches -- make for a device that's easy to hold and guarantees typing will be a comfortable affair. The Lenovo logo is emblazoned on the back in silver, though the effect looks somewhat cheap against the scratch-prone plastic backing. The branding fun doesn't stop there, either. On the tablet's face, along the bottom edge of the black bezel, you'll find another Lenovo logo. We can't say we're huge fans of its placement there as it disrupts the IdeaTab's otherwise clean lines. And besides, it's not like you need to be constantly reminded that you're holding a Lenovo product in your hands.

The power button is situated on the top of the tablet, toward the right-hand side. As we found in our testing, it has a tendency to be a bit temperamental. To wake the device from sleep, we occasionally had to press the button more than once for it to register. Along the right side, above the volume buttons, lies a covered microSD card slot, which can accommodate up to 32GB of additional memory, though the little door was a bit frustrating to close once you've popped it open. Flanking the top and bottom of the display are two speaker grilles, the benefits of which we'll discuss later. Lastly, to the upper-left corner of screen is the only camera onboard: a front-facing 0.3MP shooter.

The IdeaTab feels remarkably sturdy for a budget device.

The top of the device is home to a 3.5mm headphone jack and the micro-USB port. The two are situated a little too close together, so if your headphones have a chunky plug like the Panasonic ones we used, having both the USB cable and the headphones in will be a tight fit. But uncomfortable squeeze aside, you'll be happy to know that USB On-The-Go is enabled, so you can use compatible peripherals like keyboards and flash drives to your heart's content.

Display and sound

DNP Lenovo IdeaTab A1000 review a budget Android tablet that fails to impress

While we were impressed with the IdeaTab's durability, we can't say the same about the display. It is, to put it kindly, abysmal. Considering that the device comes with a paltry 1,024 x 600 resolution (that's a pixel density of 170 ppi), we weren't expecting to be blown away by its visuals, but the low pixel count was far from Lenovo's greatest sin. That rather dubious honor goes to the screen's construction. It seems that the LED display is set just a tiny bit too far from the glass, causing a headache-inducing glare. We strongly suspect this also influenced the tablet's severely limited viewing angles. Once the device is angled away from the viewer, it's almost impossible to make out what's on screen. Even looking at it head-on, the colors are significantly washed out; whites never appear truly white, and blacks are, at best, a very dark gray. Dark text on a light background was difficult to read due to the poor resolution as well as the inexcusable glare. The combination of elements means that this disappointing display is nearly unusable outdoors during the day.

What the IdeaTab lacks in image quality, it attempts to make up for in the sound department. Though videos may not look their best on the IdeaTab, the front-facing speakers ensure that, at the very least, they sound decent. While it would be folly to expect too much from a tablet in terms of sound reproduction, Lenovo has put in a respectable effort with the A1000's dual speakers. There's some mild distortion at maximum volume (which is impressively loud), but the sound quality is arguably the tablet's strongest selling point.

DNP Lenovo IdeaTab A1000 review how important is audio quality in a budget tablet

We put the IdeaTab through its paces with a few different music genres to see how it performed. Stravinsky's "The Firebird" (as performed by the Vienna Philharmonic) played well considering our low expectations for a tablet's speakers to be able to handle orchestral works. Regina Spektor's "How" wasn't as lucky as the piano proved to be difficult for the IdeaTab to handle. And lastly, Pharrell Williams' vocals on Daft Punk's "Get Lucky" weren't too shabby, although the bass was nearly nonexistent.

Plugging in a headset will enable the Dolby Digital Plus equalizer in the settings menu. It's a beefed-up version of the EQ settings you might expect, and it comes with two options: music and movies. The most noticeable effect of the various customizable audio profiles available (you can also design your own "user" profile) is an amplification of the bass, which might be useful to you.

Lenovo IdeaTab A1000 screenshots

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Software

DNP Lenovo IdeaTab A1000 review a budget Android tablet that fails to impress

The A1000 comes with Android 4.1.2, which is, now that 4.3 has rolled out, two versions old, and the company currently has no plans on upgrading. Considering that competitively sized devices are now shipping with Android 4.3 (like the new and improved Nexus 7) or are likely to see an upgrade to it in the near future (like the MeMo Pad HD 7), it's hard to justify purchasing a similarly priced device that's significantly outdated right out of the box.

In terms of modifications to the OS, Lenovo has evidently subscribed to the if-it-ain't-broke-don't-fix-it school of thought. The standard Google set of apps -- Gmail, Chrome, YouTube, etc. -- dominates the IdeaTab's software lineup, as is expected. The nearly stock version of Android isn't bogged down with many supplemental bells and whistles, and the additions Lenovo has made don't provide many added bonuses to the Android experience. If you've ever yearned for a scheduled power on and off setting (there must be at least one of you out there), you'll find it on the IdeaTab. Additionally, there are four stock audio profiles to choose from -- general, silent, meeting and outdoor -- that allow you to easily toggle your device's ringer and vibration settings on the go. ES File Explorer comes preloaded on the device for those of you who want to fiddle with your tablet's files. While it isn't unique to the IdeaTab, it's still a useful feature to have.

Camera

DNP Lenovo IdeaTab A1000 review a budget Android tablet that fails to impress

There's not much to be said about the A1000's camera, as there's only one. The 0.3MP front-facing camera is nothing to write home about, but it serves its purpose. The picture is, unsurprisingly, pretty grainy, and the colors don't exactly pop off the screen. Outdoors, on a partly cloudy day, the camera performed relatively well considering its modest specs. Indoors, it wasn't nearly as useful, though if you've got bright enough light, it might suffice for very basic video chatting. When snapping pictures, there is a bit of a delay from when you press the button to when the picture's actually taken, but that's not an uncommon occurrence on Android devices. We suppose the camera will do in a pinch if you're really into subpar selfies.

In the grand scheme of things, the lack of a rear camera is perhaps not the greatest loss (you know how we feel about tablet cameras), but it's a notable omission considering that its nearest competition offers one. The Nexus 7, Hisense's Sero 7 Pro and the ASUS MeMo Pad HD 7 all pack 5MP rear cameras, though only the Sero comes with a flash. While a tablet might not be our first choice for on-the-spot photography, it's always nice to have the option.

Lenovo IdeaTab A1000 sample shots

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Performance and battery life

Lenovo IdeaTab A1000 ASUS MeMo Pad HD 7 Google Nexus 7 (2013) Hisense Sero 7 Pro HP Slate 7
Quadrant 3,419 3,393 6,133 4,251 N/A
Vellamo 1,337 1,460 1,597 1,692 1,426
AnTuTu 7,258 12,723 19,755 12,883 11,698
SunSpider 0.9.1 2,189 1,382 602 1,868 1,848
GFXBench 2.5 Egypt Offscreen (fps) 2.5 3.7 40 11 12
CF-Bench 6,342 11,694 15,366 11,322 6,790
SunSpider: lower scores are better

As you can see from the chart above, the IdeaTab consistently lands at the bottom of the pack when it comes to benchmarks. Alongside similarly priced devices, the A1000's modest processor can't quite compete. Still, while benchmark results aren't always indicative of real-world performance, the 1.2GHz MediaTek MT8317 dual-core CPU is every bit as inadequate as the numbers would have you believe.

Everyday use was not without its flaws. The accelerometer often took a few seconds and several shakes to register when the device was tilted, and when it did, it took another handful of seconds for the icons to load properly. When browsing the internet, pages in Chrome were slow to load, even with mobile-optimized sites. Once websites were up and running, zooming in and out was relatively painless, and we encountered little to no tiling for the most part. GIF-heavy sites like Tumblr proved to be too much for the IdeaTab; they were slow-loading at best and crash-inducing at worst. On both mobile and full sites, there was also significant stuttering while scrolling through text.

On the whole, games ran much more smoothly. We tried out Temple Run 2, Candy Crush Saga and Tetris, all of which put in a good show. None of those titles are particularly demanding, so if you're a casual gamer, the IdeaTab is a serviceable option. The only game where we noticed some latency was Robot Unicorn Attack 2, though it wasn't bad enough to hinder gameplay.

Tablet Battery Life
Lenovo IdeaTab A1000 7:34
Apple iPad mini 12:43 (WiFi)
Apple iPad (late 2012) 11:08 (WiFi)
Apple iPad 2 10:26
ASUS Eee Pad Transformer Prime 10:17
ASUS MeMo Pad HD 7 9:56
Apple iPad (2012) 9:52 (HSPA) / 9:37 (LTE)
Nexus 7 (2012) 9:49
Microsoft Surface for Windows RT 9:36
Apple iPad 9:33
ASUS Transformer Prime Infinity TF700 9:25
Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 10.1 8:56
Sony Xperia Tablet Z 8:40
Hisense Sero 7 Pro 8:28
Galaxy Tab 2 7.0 7:38
HP Slate 7 7:36
Nexus 10 7:26
Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0 7:18
Nexus 7 (2013) 7:15
RIM BlackBerry PlayBook 7:01
Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 10.1 6:55

With the brightness set at 50 percent, we played a 1,270 x 720 video on a continuous loop until the battery gave out and died, and the results were nowhere near the most impressive we've seen. The A1000's seven hours and 34 minutes of battery life places it firmly near the bottom of the table above. In the 7-inch budget Android tablet niche, the IdeaTab's numbers are somewhat more respectable. While the 3,500mAh battery's performance isn't the worst we've seen, it's a far cry from the 10 hours of juice you get out of the MeMo Pad HD 7. It was even bested by the HP Slate 7's end result by a whopping two minutes. However, it did outshine the refreshed Nexus 7 by nearly 20 minutes. During everyday use, you'll be able to squeak out a bit more time from the IdeaTab. Depending on how much you rely on your tablet for web browsing, videos, music and social media, you can probably expect something in the ballpark of eight or nine hours with conservative use.

The competition

DNP Lenovo IdeaTab A1000 review how important is audio quality in a budget tablet

As we mentioned earlier, it's not an easy time to be a 7-inch Android tablet. A low price tag simply isn't enough to wow buyers in a market where they can afford to be picky. The IdeaTab A1000 can't hold a candle to the competition, particularly when it comes to devices like the 2013 Nexus 7. While the $160 retail price might catch one's eye, it's still too much for such an underperforming tablet.

The IdeaTab A1000 can't hold a candle to the competition.

While the Nexus 7 is more expensive at $230 for the 16GB WiFi model, the fact that it comes with Android 4.3, a quad-core 1.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro processor and a 1,920 x 1,200 (323 ppi) display should be enough to convince you to save up your hard-earned cash. Likewise, the ASUS MeMo Pad HD 7 blows the IdeaTab out of the water in terms of performance. Considering that the MeMo Pad retails for $150, it's impossible to justify spending more on an inferior device.

Even devices we've been hard on, like the HP Slate 7 and the Hisense Sero 7 Pro, outperform the IdeaTab. While the former failed to impress, it still put up a better fight than Lenovo's offering, though we can't say we would suggest buying either product. Hisense's $150 tablet has a vastly superior 1,280 x 800 display, and while it had its own flaws (like headphone compatibility issues), the Sero 7 would be a much wiser buy. It's worth noting that all of the devices mentioned in this section come with rear cameras and -- with the exception of the Slate 7 -- ship with Android 4.2 or 4.3. When compared to the competition, the IdeaTab simply doesn't measure up.

Wrap-up

DNP Lenovo IdeaTab A1000 review how important is audio quality in a budget tablet

The only thing Lenovo's IdeaTab truly has going for it is its emphasis on audio quality, but when all is said and done, that's not enough for us to recommend it. The unforgivably shoddy display was far worse than we would have expected even at this price. Even if we were able to look beyond that obvious shortcoming, the tablet's poor performance would have been the final nail in its coffin. Browsing the internet was far from pleasant, and we ran into too many problems with apps freezing or crashing. While stuttering might be a fairly common issue in Android tablets, it was especially noticeable with the A1000. Overall, we can't, in good conscience, recommend adding this device to your gadget collection. With heavy hitters like the Nexus 7 and MeMo Pad HD offering far better performance at a similar price, you'd be better off looking elsewhere.

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