The K1 comes with Android 3.1 on board, and though Lenovo has put its own spin on the OS, the customization is at least pretty moderate as far as skins go. The usual back and home icons are white, not blue, which looks alright by itself, but then you notice that the navigation bar doesn't match the clock in the lower right corner, which still glows blue.
Beyond that, the biggest cosmetic change is a five-way app launcher sitting smack dab in the middle of the home screen. By default, it includes shortcuts to email and the browser, along with more task-oriented icons labeled "Watch," "Listen," and "Read." Now, before you start getting resentful that Lenovo's trying to tell you what to do, know that you can customize those shortcuts so that "Watch" redirects to YouTube instead of, say, Gallery. Or, you can scrap those preset categories all together and add shortcuts to any other application instead. The concept kind of reminds us of what Dell was trying to accomplish with Dell Dock
, which seems to assume that a row of larger, glossier icons is easier to use than the Start Menu, the traditional Windows desktop, or even pinned programs in Windows 7. In either case, that extra option isn't annoying so much as superfluous.
That centerpiece also includes a shortcut to the tablet's settings -- another design choice aimed at low-tech users who'd rather not dig around the apps menu. Some
of us have parents who might prefer a dumbed-down tablet, though we're not convinced they'd know what to do in the settings once they got there, so this could be a moot point for some people. Regardless, Lenovo's skin is pretty harmless -- it's not like the company mucked around with the stock Honeycomb keyboard or loaded any widgets you can't remove. You can even delete that conspicuous launcher if you like, though you'll have to tap through an "are you sure?" dialog box first.
The launcher also offers the option of so-called Lenovo Messages, including tips for using the device and -- buzz word alert -- "special offers." Just heed our advice and don't enable them. What you'll see are ads, and who needs those in a product you are most certainly not getting for free?
By the way, when we talk about widgets, we mean AccuWeather, and also SocialTouch, an app created by Lenovo that at first glance looks like a skinned version of Google Calendar. Actually, though, it aggregates Facebook and Twitter updates, in addition to email and calendar entries. On the whole, it's nice to be able to scroll through it all at once, though we do have some suggestions: one, linking your Twitter account is probably a mistake -- at least if the luminaries you follow are as update-happy as the people in our circles. Also, SocialTouch has a demarcation indicating when you're crossing into emails / appointments / tweets / what-have-you from a different day, and at the top of each day's list there's a stack of calendar appointments. Since these appointments live in that specific place, you'll shove them off-screen as soon as you start scrolling. We think the software would have been smarter if the app kept these calendar entries locked in their own pane.
Look closer and you'll see a few more tweaks to garden-variety Honeycomb. For one thing, this take on the OS makes it easy to kill apps you forgot you had open. Lenovo added an "X" mark to the vertical, pop-up menu of open apps, allowing you to shutter them in a pinch. Also in that row, there's an icon that looks like a talk bubble but is actually yet another app launcher. This one presents a select few favorites in a carousel in the lower right corner of the screen -- a list that you can customize by dragging and dropping favorites.
Depending on your point of view, Lenovo either saddled this thing with bloatware or did you the thoughtful, generous favor of bundling apps you might actually find useful. Out of the box, you'll find AccuWeather, Amazon Kindle, Arcade by Kongregate, 4GB of free storage through ArcSync, the IM client eBuddy, Documents to Go 3.0, File Mgmt., Movie Story, Movie Studio, mSpot and mSpot Movies, Norton Security, ooVoo for video chats, PhotoStudio, PokeTalk, and a raft of games that includes Angry Birds HD
, backgammon, euchre, hearts, solitaire, spades, and NFS Shift
. As Toshiba did with the Thrive, Lenovo also threw in the excellent PrinterShare for printing web pages, emails, and photos using a WiFi-enabled printer on the same network.
The tablet also comes with Netflix pre-installed, which lets you stream movies over WiFi, of course, as well as play them on a larger set via the HDMI connection. Alas, if you'll recall, a previous report that certain tablets would be able to store these movies offline as DRM-protected files was untrue
And what tablet would be complete without its own proprietary app store? As it is, the K1 lets you install apps from unknown sources, but Lenovo has also bundled its aptly named Lenovo App Shop. What you'll find here is a curated experience, with selections dispersed across 13 broad categories (some, such as entertainment, have a bunch of subsections). As with other custom app stores, such as Toshiba's, the selection is limited, with just a single app in some categories. Still, the store is nicely designed, from a splashy home page with featured selections to a drop down menu of categories. The apps themselves look useful, too. A quick perusal brought us VLC Player and RpnCalc, a financial calculator. The thing is, you can download these in Android Market for the same price. The real benefit, as we see it, is that apps might be easier to discover in the App Shop -- a boon for people like our parents who don't have much experience researching and sizing up apps, and who might feel overwhelmed by Android Market's sprawling selection. Somehow, though, we don't think that describes the typical Engadget reader.
As an added twee touch, there's also a social component whereby you can see what your friends are buying, though in order for that to happen they'd also have to be happy Lenovo tablet owners with a penchant for monitoring other people's Golf Solitaire
downloads. Womp womp
Configurations and the competition
Although the K1 will soon ship with 16GB, 32GB, or 64GB of storage, as of this writing only that mid-range version is available. According to Lenovo, the 16GB and 64GB flavors will ship in three to four weeks for $449 and $599, respectively. The company's also been crystal clear that the K1 will eventually make its way to US carriers, though right now we don't know anything about pricing or availability.
And though we haven't reviewed it yet, we suspect the K1 will have some competition from none other than its big brother, the ThinkPad Tablet. This guy's more expensive, with a starting price of $479 for 16GB ($589 for 32GB), plus an extra $30 for the dual digitzer pen. Even so, geeks might prefer its more ThinkPad-y design, complete with a red-tipped stylus, as well as its full-sized USB port and accompanying case that has a USB-powered keyboard built in. Again, we'll reserve judgment for our full review -- for all we know, the ThinkPad Tablet could be a huge dud -- but if we're just talking hype, we can see diehard Lenovo fans getting more amped up about the ThinkPad. The K1 is a less expensive tablet more worthy of mainstream consumers, and according to conversations we've had with Lenovo, that's precisely the split the company was going for.
And then there's, you know, every other Android tab on the market. If Honeycomb is what you're after (and why wouldn't it be?) you'll certainly pay more for either the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1, though you'll get longer battery life and slimmer, more compelling designs. The 10.1, if you'll recall, costs $599 for the 32GB model -- a $100 premium -- whereas the 32GB ASUS Eee Pad Transformer
also costs $499 without the $150 docking station. (There's also a $399 16GB configuration.) If you're also considering an iPad -- and we suspect many mainstream consumers are -- you'll be making a similar trade-off as you would with the 10.1: it's $100 more expensive, but also offers battery life, along with more sex appeal.
But in addition to talking about our favorite tabs at the moment, we also feel the need to stack up the K1 against other relatively chunky models -- because admit it, you know you're curious. Long story short, the K1 does a half-hearted job of justifying its extra ounces. Its battery life is roughly on par with the HP TouchPad, another thick slate, which means both offer good-but-not-amazing longevity. It's not like either tablet is packing a battery so large it can surpass or even match the ten and a half hours we squeezed out of the iPad 2. Still, the K1's battery life is certainly an improvement over the Thrive's six and a half hours and
its build quality is more solid, too. We still say the Thrive is mainly worth it for people who are either sold on the $429 starting price or the fact that it has full-sized HDMI and USB ports and an SD slot. Unless you're dead-set on them, these sockets don't fully make up for its shortcomings. At the same time, when we reviewed the TouchPad we dinged it, in part, for offering a buggy user experience. That simply wasn't the case with the K1, although the TouchPad has since received an update
meant to boost both speed and performance.
The IdeaPad K1 is cute, (relatively) affordable, and easy to use, and we know it'll be a sensible choice for some shoppers. We're just not sure that's you, our dear, tech-savvy readers. See, the K1 has two big strengths: one, it's aggressively priced, starting at $449 for 16GB (granted, that version's not on sale, so if you buy today, it's going to be the $499 32GB model). The other major thing the K1 has going for it is simplicity. Lenovo's tweaked Android 3.1 so that settings are easier to find and apps are a cinch to kill. It also comes with an array of popular apps (or bloatware, if you're cynical). Factor in the attractive design, and we can recommend this, particularly for people with budget constraints, or those looking to give a techie gift to a not-so-techie person. Those things aside, the K1 is heavier than most tablets, and doesn't justify its heft with additional ports, extraordinary battery life or even zippy performance. If you didn't want ports anyway, and know your way around Honeycomb without Lenovo's help (thank you very much
), why not just get something thinner, faster, and longer-lasting? Or, you know, at least stick around and see how Lenovo's geekier ThinkPad Tablet fares.