There’s a palpable sense of déjà vu in the PCMag Labs these days. New tablets come in, but they all seem vaguely familiar, as if we’ve seen them before. The Lenovo IdeaPad Tablet K1 is no exception: on the outside and inside, there’s not a lot about this tablet that is unique. Lenovo offers a few tweaks that might make it more compelling than some other Android-based tablets, but it’s more or less your typical Honeycomb tablet. Like many of its Android 3.0 brethren, it’s fast and offers strong multitasking, but it’s no match for the reigning tablet king, the Apple iPad 2 ($499-$829, 4.5 stars).
The K1 comes in three color models—black and silver, red and silver, or white and silver—and costs $499.99 for a 32GB, Wi-Fi-only model ($519.99 for the black and silver model with a leather cover). That’s $100 less expensive than the same-capacity iPad 2, and is on par with the lower-cost Honeycomb tablets—the Asus Eee Pad Transformer TF101 (3.5 stars) is also $499 for 32GB, while the Wi-Fi Motorola Xoom goes for $599. 3G models of the K1, as well as other size options (16 and 64GB) aren’t available yet, but should be soon, according to Lenovo.
The IdeaPad K1 looks like nothing you’ve ever seen. Unless, of course, you’ve ever seen any other tablet on the market, in which case it looks a lot like all of those. The K1 is a glossy rectangle with rounded corners, measuring 7.4 by 10.4 by 0.5 inches (HWD) and weighing 1.61 pounds. It’s relatively thick as tablets go, but not quite at the level of the Toshiba Thrive ($429.99, 3.5 stars), and it’s heavier than most tablets but not problematically so.
The K1’s closest visual analog is probably the original Apple iPad; they’re almost exactly the same thickness, and virtually the same width. The K1’s a little taller, though, and has a noticeably larger bezel. The large bezel makes it appear to be wider than it is—the screen is a 16:10, 10.1-inch, 1280-by-800 LCD, just like you’d find on the slimmer Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 ($499.99, 3.5 stars) or Motorola Xoom ($599, 3.5 stars).
There are some unique design elements in play on the K1, and they’re mostly good things. The colored back, along with a small bump on the bottom where the speakers are, provides a nice punch instead of the sleek-but-boring all-black look. The Volume and Power buttons, which are too-close to one another, are on the left side of the tablet when held horizontally, along with the SD card slot and rotation lock switch. Their location makes them easy to reach when you hold the tablet in landscape mode. There’s a headphone jack, HDMI port, and proprietary charging connector on the bottom panel.
There’s also a single hardware button on the right side of the screen, which we haven’t seen before on a Honeycomb tablet. That button, actually, is my favorite feature of the device. (That sounds odd, I know, but bear with me.) Honeycomb builds the Home, Back and Multitasking buttons into a black bar at the bottom of the screen, and that works fine, but the buttons move when you rotate the device, and you have to look for them to find them. One hardware button, always in the same place near where you’re holding the device, is a nice touch. Plus, this one has a few tricks up its sleeve. Tapping the button takes you Home; Swiping left, across the button, (if the button is at the bottom of the device, held in portrait mode), navigates backward; swiping right opens the menu; and pressing-and-holding the button takes a screenshot—a feature sorely lacking in Android otherwise. Unfortunately, it doesn’t wake the device from sleep—you’ll still need to hunt for the Power button.
The rest of the K1’s hardware reads like a Honeycomb requirements checklist: Nvidia Tegra 2 processor, front and rear cameras (2 and 5 megapixels, respectively), Bluetooth and Wi-Fi b/g/n. Lenovo says the battery will last up to 10 hours; our tests, which consist of turning Wi-Fi on and playing video non-stop, yielded battery life of 7 hours, 39 minutes.