The Lenovo IdeaTab S2109 is the Chinese manufacturer's latest Android tablet offering. A 10-inch, Android 4.0.4 (Ice Cream Sandwich) device, the S2109 is powered by a dual-core, 1 GHz processor and has a 1024 x 768 resolution. It's available with 8 GB, 16 GB, or 32 GB of storage, though it is also expandable thanks to a microSD card slot. It has only a front-facing, 1.3-megapixel camera, and other features include micro USB and micro HDMI ports and SRS-enhanced speakers. So is it worth your money, or, as tablets make the shift to quad-core processors, does the S2109's dual-core processor make it the last of a dying breed?
Build & Design
When it comes to the build of the IdeaTab S2109, I feel like a lot of users will either love it or hate it. The thing is, I'm a big fan of sharp angles and edges, and the S2109 basically has none, so I definitely fall into the latter category. I can, however, recognize that it's entirely a matter of preference, so its shape may not be as big of a deal for other users.
The way it's built certainly doesn't have any effect on comfort or portability, I just dislike the rounded corners and tapered back on an aesthetic level; it gives the whole thing an almost oval-like look. But it's perfectly lightweight, weighing in at 1.28 pounds (580 grams), and while it's no Toshiba Excite, it's on the relatively thin side too, measuring only 0.35 inches thick. Per my preference, I wish that Lenovo had used some sort of textured material on the gunmetal-colored backing of the device, but instead the PC/ABS material is quite slick and extremely prone to fingerprints. Thankfully, in a very generous move, the S2109 ships with a rubberized case, so that helps ameliorate the problem.
Button and port placement is mostly standard, though Lenovo did design the ergonomics from a practical standpoint. Working under the assumption that people are usually holding larger tablets like the S2109 in landscape orientation, the branding is on the bottom of the long side, while the power/standby switch is on the left side so it can be easily tapped with a finger while holding the tablet horizontally. Meanwhile, the micro USB, micro HDMI, and headphone ports are all on the right side, along with a microphone and covered microSD card slot. The volume rocker resides on the top edge.
On the flip side, Lenovo recognized that most people hold their tablets in portrait orientation when video chatting, so the front-facing, 1.3-megapixel webcam is centered on the left short side, thereby placing it on the top edge of the tablet when held vertically. Yes, it seems a little bold for Lenovo to have made a general assumption about how people hold their tablets when performing certain tasks. But on the other hand, I think Lenovo's pretty accurate in its assumptions, and it's certainly a good fit for this user.
The 9.7-inch, 1024 x 768 display of the S2109 won't blow you away with its sharpness, but the IPS screen does have a respectably wide viewing angle. I find its great viewing angles even more impressive in light of the fact that the display isn't even all that bright, even at maximum settings. Color quality, however, is decent.
The speakers of the S2109 are definitely a high point. Though they are all rear-firing -- I loved the idea of having front-firing speakers lining the screen of the Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 10.1, so I think it's a shame that isn't really catching on -- the S2109 sports four speakers with SRS sound enhancement that are not only powerful, but also of good quality (at least for tablet speakers). Two of the speakers are bigger than the others, and Lenovo states on the spec sheet that the speakers have "powerful dual bass," suggesting that those two are bass-enhanced. It's a feature that you can hear, albeit only slightly, when you crank the volume up to the max. But the fact that you can hear the slight thud of bass at all on tablet speakers is an achievement in and of itself, in my opinion.
The only issue with the speakers is that, with four of them on the edges of the tablet's rear, you're bound to be covering up at least a couple of them at any given time when holding it.
Somewhat disappointingly, the Lenovo IdeaTab S2109 is powered by a dual-core processor, which seems like an odd choice unless it's meant to be a budget tablet, which it's not. It's certainly not the most expensive tablet out there, but it's far from the cheapest, too, when you consider the fact that you can pick up a Kindle Fire for $200. But the point is, tablets are making a shift towards quad-core processors, so this seems like a step backwards for Lenovo to put slightly dated hardware in the S2109. At the very least, it's a poor way to future-proof a device; it's already mediocre, so I don't see this tablet aging very well, as it will quickly become obsolete in the face of devices like the upcoming Nexus 7.
Quadrant measures CPU, 3D, and memory performance. Higher numbers are better.
As you can see from the charts, the processor's Quadrant benchmarks are unimpressive, putting the S2109 right below the middle of the pack. It does perform decently for a dual-core processor, as I found that while running certain apps that I've run on other Android devices, I actually noticed that some ran a little smoother on the S2109. But at the end of the day, it's still just a dual-core chip that can only be pushed so much before performance starts to suffer; I often found myself manually shutting down processes and apps that were still running in the background in an attempt to fix stuttering and slow load times.
And while the S2109 didn't do very well with the Sunspider benchmarks either, I would like to make a quick note about the tablet's connectivity in general: I have been having so many problems with the Wi-Fi on Android tablets recently that I was beginning to think that there was some sort of issue with the OS and my work/home wireless networks. But the S2109 worked just fine in both scenarios, switching networks seamlessly as I moved between locations and never dropping a connection. I shouldn't have to laud a tablet for not arbitrarily dropping connections or randomly switching between available networks on its own accord, but c'est la vie.
The preloaded apps on the S2109 have a couple of highlights, including a 30-day free trial of Norton Security ($2.99 value), a surprisingly well-designed video editing app called Movie Studio, and useful office apps like PrinterShare and Docs to Go. I was also very intrigued by the inclusion of Go Keyboard, an app that lets you use a customizable keyboard instead of the stock Android one, with the ability to adjust the size of the keyboard (and the keys themselves); customize theme, sound, input, and display settings; and even input Chinese characters (my guess is that the character input is specifically Chinese on account of the fact that Lenovo is based in China). A lot of people may not find it useful, but at the very least it's something new and different when compared to the standard haul of preloaded bloatware found on tablets these days.
That being said, the rest of the selection definitely is run-of-the-mill stuff in that they can either be downloaded easily for free from the Google Play store, or they're just straight-up useless. These include AccuWeather, Evernote, Adobe Flash Player, News Republic, ooVoo (video chat app), Lenovo People Hub, Skype, SugarSync, Voice Note, YouTube, and Zinio. Also preloaded is the Lenovo App shop, which, like all other branded app shops, is absolutely pointless, as all of its content can be found in the Google Play store. Unless the tablet is one that doesn't have certified access to the Google Play store, there is no need for a separate app store with all of the same content, yet this is something that most tablet makers do (e.g. Samsung has their own branded app store as well), and I'll never understand why.
The S2109 runs a skinned, albeit very lightly, version of Android 4.0.4 (Ice Cream Sandwich), so using it is a generally unfettered Android experience. In fact, I couldn't tell that the OS was modified at all; I had to look it up to confirm. I can definitely appreciate the fact that Lenovo kept its interference to a minimum, as it runs fairly smoothly when navigating and sifting through home screens despite the tablet's underpowered hardware.
If you're a big fan of taking pictures with your tablet, you're out of luck with the S2109, as it doesn't actually have a rear-facing camera; it only has a 1.3-megapixel front-facing camera. I personally don't care about the omission, but I know that may be a con for some people. The webcam is easily a high enough resolution to serve its primary purpose as a means to video chat, but in the grand scheme of things, it's horrifically poor quality, so don't bother using it for much else.
The battery on the S2109 disappointed with its performance, especially because I was hoping that the weaker dual-core processor and the absence of any excessive skin/UI processes running in the background would make it more efficient. This was unfortunately not the case, as a single charge consistently lasted less than a work week with email push on.
For one of these charges, I wanted to see how long I could make it last, so I literally only used the tablet to periodically play Scramble With Friends -- though, granted, push was still on -- and yet it still only lasted me four days. On the other side of the spectrum, my attempts to drain the battery as fast as I can could take the thing down in under seven hours. It pales in comparison to just about every other major tablet out there, including ones with data connections.
The Lenovo IdeaTab S2109 is an approachable device. It doesn't have any sort of cluttered or clunky interface laid on top of Android, it has appealing design features (even if I personally don't care for its shape), and it's very much on the affordable side for a 10-inch tablet. At the time of this writing, Lenovo's website has both the 8 GB and 16 GB models listed at prices below their MSRPs; oddly enough, the 16 GB model is currently cheaper at $349.00, while the 8 GB model is going for $389.00. Bizarre, but still a decent deal.
But here's the "but" you've been waiting for: just because it's approachable doesn't mean it's a high-quality device. Its battery life is poor, the display quality is mediocre (even if it does have a nice, wide viewing angle), and it's extremely underpowered. Tablets are very much entering the quad-core generation, so the S2109 seems a little behind on the times with a dual-core chip that very clearly underperforms.
It's especially disappointing to see that when you consider the fact that very soon, consumers will be able to purchase the Google Nexus 7 tablet, a quad-core device, for a mere $250 -- a hundred dollars less than this device -- making the S2109 seem even less relevant. While it's fair to say that you can do worse than the S2109, it's probably more accurate to say that you can do better.