Amid the attempts of off-brand tablet manufacturers to try their chances at competing against the iPads and the Kindle Fires of the world, there occasionally comes a device that catches the eye for its combination of cost and performance. The Lenovo IdeaPad A1 certainly matches the first requirement of competitive cost, but is it capable of stacking up against the Kindle Fire and other high profile tablets with respect to performance? Here, we take a peek under the hood of the Lenovo A1 Android tablet, which we've dubbed the "budget brand-name tablet," to determine if it's a hit or a miss.
Build & Design
The Lenovo A1 offers nothing new by way of build and design that you haven't already seen if you've been paying attention to the comings and goings on the tablet market. This is especially disappointing in light of the vision its designers displayed with respect to some of the tablet's other features (more on that below). The A1 has a glossy black backing that practically screams "HANDLE WITH CARE!". Fortunately, it's lighter than the Amazon Kindle Fire by nearly a full ounce and its 7.68 x 4.92 x 0.47 (inches) dimensions (which make it a hair wider, longer, and thicker than the Fire) still make it easy enough to palm without fear of dropping. But accidents do happen, and the plastic backing doesn't look like it would fare well for long without the help of a shock-absorbent exoskeleton.
The saving grace of the Lenovo's exterior design comes by way of three things: front- and rear-facing camera lenses, a screen orientation lock switch, and a volume rocker - the latter two which can be found on the tablet's upper right edge. The tablet's power button is located on its top edge, right next to the perfectly positioned 3.5mm stereo headphone jack that makes listening with earbuds a less painful experience than other tablet designs - the Kindle Fire included - that insist on placing the jack on the bottom where it's most likely to get in the way during portrait orientation viewing or listening. The Lenovo IdeaPad A1's bottom edge is where you'll find the tablet's single speaker, in addition to a microSD card slot for expansion up to 32GB and a microUSB port for charging and connecting to other USB devices.
Screen and Speakers
Billed as a 7-inch tablet, actual viewing space on the Lenovo A1 screen is roughly 3.5 x 6-inches. Nothing worth complaining over, as these dimensions precisely match those of the A1's stiffest competition, the Kindle Fire. The Lenovo IdeaPad A1's capacitive multi-touchscreen delivers 1024 x 600 pixel resolution with 170 ppi (pixels per inch) which, when compared against the Kindle Fire's 169 ppi, make it worthy of eliciting spasms of joy from among the videophiles in the audience, until you consider that the new iPad features a 264 ppi.
The tablet has three Android navigation buttons on the bottom border of its front face - Menu, Home and Back - that only light up when touched. This presents some navigation difficulty for the novice user, as they're impossible to see until you've actually tapped one, and a single mislaid finger has the potential of accidentally backing you out of videos or applications. This is a major oversight on the part of the designers and a point of confusion that makes you wonder why they even bothered backlighting the buttons in the first place. Another unfortunate thing about the A1 is the fact that the home screen is automatically locked into portrait orientation, which makes for an awkward user experience if you're in the middle of using landscape and are forced to turn the tablet right side up each time you toggle back to the main screen.
The A1 has a single 3/4-inch speaker located on its bottom edge that's capable of achieving relatively high audio levels, but its performance suffers from the same thing far too many tablet speakers suffer from: tinny audio that's served far better by donning a pair of earbuds.
Lenovo IdeaPad A1 tablet specs:
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