Lenovo IdeaTab S2110 review: a competent Transformer competitor running Android 4.0
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It’s taken nearly half a year for Lenovo’s transforming IdeaTab S2110 to go from CES reveal to retail shelves and it’s arrived barely unchanged. But despite the initial fanfare, the company chose to slip this slate into the marketplace quietly, ahead even of its official launch at IFA. In that time, ASUS managed to announce and ship a new hybrid tablet of its own, the Transformer Pad TF300 — a keyboard-optional rival offering the same 10-inch, 1,280 x 800 IPS display and Android 4.0 experience, along with a quad-core Tegra 3.
While Lenovo’s offering may not come with four cores or an unskinned version of Ice Cream Sandwich, there is a very contemporary dual-core S4 inside, clocked at 1.5GHz and buffered by 1GB of RAM. Alongside that, the tab’s also outfitted with a 1.3-megapixel front-facing shooter and 5-megapixel rear camera capable of 1080p video capture. Other specs include radios for WiFi and Bluetooth 4.0, a battery rated for up to 10 hours of browsing (augmented to 20 hours when connected to the dock) and either 16GB or 32GB of built-in storage. At $430 for the base model alone, it’s already positioned as a higher-priced alternative to the TF300. Add the dock and full storage, and you’re looking at a cool $580. So, will this be a case of “too little, too late” for Lenovo? Can the S2110 lure undecided customers away from cheaper similarly specced offerings? Read on as we attempt to answer all that and more.
Lenovo IdeaTab S2110 review
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The S2110 can best be described as uncomplicated. You won’t necessarily bond with the hardware, but that doesn’t mean it’s flawed. On the contrary, the tablet’s anonymous looks belie a relative lightness and rigidity. Put simply, Lenovo’s slate appears as if it’d be heavy, but actually surprises with a slim 0.34-inch-thick (8.69mm) chassis weighing 1.28 pounds (580g) — a package more compact than the TF300, which measures 0.38 inches thick and weighs 1.39 pounds. It even beats out Samsung’s Galaxy Tab 2 10.1, coming in with a profile that’s just 0.01 inches thinner. That should be good news for any consumer who intends to make this tablet an integral part of the living room, as it should be easy to pick up and use casually.
As far as industrial design goes, this slate sports the equivalent of a crew cut. Its business-like front perfectly matches the utility of its back. There’s a generous amount of bezel surrounding the 10-inch screen that should keep your thumbs comfortably where they belong. As for ergonomics, however, well, they’re largely absent. The pleasing, textured backplate ends abruptly on the edges instead of continuing to curve gently up to the front face, forming hard lines that dig into your palms. It’s a nuisance that becomes much more pronounced when you’re using it in portrait mode, but thankfully this is a tablet primarily made to be held in landscape or used with the dock. Down at the base of the device is where you’ll find the micro-USB port flanked on either side by rectangular slits for the optional keyboard dock. Above this, and centered just beneath the display, is Lenovo’s logo, while the 3.5mm headphone jack, mini-HDMI and covered dummy SIM slot (barren for US models) occupy the tablet’s left. The volume rocker is on the opposite side and the power button sits nearly flush with the tablet’s frame on the upper-left corner.
Flip the tab onto its belly and you’ll come face-to-face with the grippy, hard plastic that plays host to an extraneous bit of Lenovo branding and the slate’s 5-megapixel camera module. If you’re wondering where the S2110′s speakers are in all of this, they’re placed rather discreetly on either edge of the tablet — mere slits located just atop where your hands would rest in landscape. We’d have preferred to see this dual setup facing forward, and thus directing sound toward the user, but as is, volume doesn’t suffer much.
The S2110 has an IPS display that’s accompanied by excellent viewing angles. Yes, there’s glare on that 1,280 x 800 panel and it attracts a good amount of unsightly finger grease, but it’s not as overpowering as on other slates we’ve seen of late. You’ll have to bump brightness up to max to make out the screen’s contents when in direct sunlight, but even then it’s advisable to seek shade for full clarity.
While its closest market rival, the TF300, treats users to a vanilla take on Android, Lenovo’s banking on consumers picking up the S2110 for its brand, and the custom experience that affords. Building on that is LeLauncher: a collection of rectangular widgets arranged in a 4 x 2 grid encompassing catch-all areas like Life, Social, Games, Media, Tools, Business and a few more. Mostly, they function as larger-sized, customizable folders for grouped apps that, when tapped, expand. Truth be told, it doesn’t add much beyond ICS’ native folder functionality, though it does make for a neater and clearer presentation. Arguably, too, it’s a lighter spin on Android than what Lenovo tried on its earlier Android tablets.
What does get in the way, and you’ll note this almost immediately, is the 3D cube animation Lenovo employs across the OS. Every transition is marked by a slow, almost staccato-like transition that makes the tablet feel crippled. It’s unnecessary and could even be ignored were it not also used in the app drawer. Unfortunately, there’s no option to disable it from within settings, so if you buy this tab, you’re stuck with it.
When we mentioned a “custom experience” earlier, we were really speaking tech code for fluff. Crapware. Filler. Whatever you’re inclined to call it, the S2110′s filled with it. Perhaps the company sees this inclusion of 28 pre-loaded applications as a way to add value. One third of these apps are games — not compelling PS Mobile-certified titles, but things like Solitaire, Hearts and Vendetta Online. The rest are a hodgepodge mix comprised of Zinio, AccuWeather, SugarSync, Shazam and News Republic to name a few. (Curiously, the company’s also kept the Lenovo App Shop pre-installed despite shuttering that service late this past September.) Somewhat frustratingly, these cannot be uninstalled, only disabled and hidden from sight.
It’s hard to not expect the worst from a convertible tablet’s keyboard dock, especially when the screen size is only 10 inches — even 11 inchers tend to offer a little more deck space. All that said, this particular dock comes as a welcome surprise. Similar to the tablet itself, it’s plain and workmanlike, but the design language is at least holistic, with the grooved plastic of the tab’s back matching that of the dock’s bottom. Seen closed, you could easily mistake this for a sturdy netbook. The only clue that it’s not is the lip which secures the tablet about an inch deep. Adding to the array of networking options on the S2110 itself, are two ports for USB 2.0, one for micro-USB, as well as a full-sized SD slot up front. The dock also packs an extra two-cell battery (6,340mAh), doubling longevity to a claimed 20 hours.
We’ll get to its actual usability in a moment, but first we have a bone to pick with Lenovo. Since the S2110 looks like a netbook when it’s shut, logic would follow that it should open like one too. But it doesn’t. The depression beneath the trackpad doesn’t leave enough space for fingers of any size to easily slide in, resulting in a clumsy two-handed maneuver to actually pry both halves apart. And that’s really our main gripe with the dock’s functionality.
To Lenovo’s credit, the keys are quite solid and bounce back with a softness we’ve become accustomed to on laptop layouts (especially Lenovo’s). There’s not much here to find fault with — we were continually surprised by how easy it is to type with the dock. One area that did give us a bit of trouble was the size of the function keys — they’re just too small and our fingers are trained for a different arrangement. In time and with dedicated use, you could probably adapt to this cramped spacing, but it does get in the way of fluid typing.
The trackpad also works rather well, but its surface is a bit too tacky for our tastes and doesn’t allow for one’s finger to glide as smoothly as you might hope. There are also occasions, infrequent though they may be, when the onscreen cursor lags behind or simply flies across the screen way too quickly. With most traditional setups, you can adjust the cursor speed, but not here, so get used to it. Scrolling through home screens can either be handled by paging left and right or by placing the cursor at the far edge of a page and tapping on the trackpad. Similarly, to access the capacitive navigation buttons, you can either select them using the cursor or use the dedicated keys present on the physical layout.
Performance and battery life
We won’t ding the S2110 for being slow — it’s not. The tablet’s actually quite responsive when opening and closing apps, but we will stop short of calling it snappy because of those ridiculous transition animations which are, undoubtedly, bogging it down some. That bothersome quirk aside, the tab hasn’t posed any performance issues, humming along smoothly and steering clear of the pesky forced closes we saw so often on that other slimmed-down ICS slate, the Xperia Tablet S. As you’ll note in the table below, browser performance is brisk and scrolling keeps pace with our rapid swipes, but full desktop pages do take about 30 seconds to load completely. Pinch-to-zoom also works well, resizing selected text and images rapidly though there is some white-spacing to contend with from time to time.
|Lenovo IdeaTab S2110||Sony Xperia Tablet S||ASUS Transformer Pad TF300|
|SunSpider 0.9.1 (ms)||1,675||1,608||2,120|
|GLBenchmark Egypt Offscreen (fps)||56||68||N/A|
|SunSpider: lower scores are better|
As we’ve seen in the past, processing power doesn’t necessarily equate to real-world use. But here, the S2110′s 1.5GHz dual-core S4 stacks up with scores that mostly place it in a stalemate against its Tegra 3 competition. Raw performance, as evinced by its Quadrant and Vellamo results, are solid, but Lenovo’s tab falls short in graphics and browsing, with an average frame rate below Sony’s Xperia Tablet S and a SunSpider time that clocks in as marginally slower. Head-to-head with the TF300, however, the S2110 emerges as the clear winner.
|Lenovo IdeaTab S2110||
8:07 / 15:11 (keyboard dock)
|Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.7||12:01|
|Apple iPad 2||10:26|
|Acer Iconia Tab A510||10:23|
|ASUS Eee Pad Transformer Prime||10:17 / 16:34 (keyboard dock)|
|Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1||9:55|
|Apple iPad (2012)||9:52 (HSPA) / 9:37 (LTE)|
|ASUS Transformer Pad Infinity TF700||9:25|
|Toshiba Excite 10||9:24|
|Motorola Xoom 2||8:57|
|Sony Xperia Tablet S||8:31|
|ASUS Transformer Pad TF300||8:29 / 12:04 (keyboard dock)|
|Acer Iconia Tab A700||8:22|
|Acer Iconia Tab A200||8:16|
|Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus||8:09|
|Amazon Kindle Fire||7:42|
|Galaxy Tab 2 7.0||7:38|
|Acer Iconia Tab A500||6:55|
The S2110′s got battery life and then some… if you tack on that dock. Set apart from its keyboard, the tab lasts a middling eight hours and seven minutes, putting it toward the bottom of our list — somewhere between 7-inch slates and two of Acer’s 10-inch, Tegra-based tabs. Combined with the additional 6,340mAh cell inside the dock, however, you’ll get about 15 hours of uninterrupted use. Now, keep in mind, these results stem from our standard rundown test, which involves looping a video in playback. As an everyday casual use device, it should last you a few days, and that’s based on our tests with Twitter syncing every 15 minutes, one push email account active, brightness set to 50 percent, as well as active WiFi and GPS radios.
There’s nothing special about the 5-megapixel camera affixed to the S2110′s back. It’s serviceable and takes decent photos. And, though the UI is fairly stock and user-friendly — you have the usual scene modes, exposure, flash and autofocus settings — we noticed one recurring issue after a day’s worth of photography — accidental shots. The lag between pressing the onscreen shutter button and the actual capture of an image is considerable and caused us to collect way more inadvertent shots of our feet and the street than we cared to take. On the whole, images are crisp, if not a little washed out and display a good depth of field. Panorama mode posed some difficulties, if only because it requires a very, very slow panning movement.
Lenovo IdeaTab S2110 sample photos
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The slate’s 1080p video quality, on the other hand, is nothing short of abysmal and you can definitely see what we mean in the sample below. Not only is the audio extremely crunched, muffled, peppered with distracting ambient noise and completely out of sync, but the frame rate just chugs along and it’s extremely apparent. It’s disappointing for sure, but as we don’t know too many people that use tablets primarily for their cameras, we’re not that incensed. Still, this is an issue the company needs to address.
So, what are the alternatives? Well, first up is the obvious choice: ASUS’ Transformer Pad TF300. As we’ve been showing you all along, that’s the one convertible tablet specced evenly enough to go head-to-head with the S2110. For the TF300 alone, you’ll have to shell out $380, but that gets you 32GB of storage, a comparable display, a Tegra 3 CPU and vanilla ICS. Tack on an extra $120 and you can include the dock which also boasts additional battery life. Compare that to $430 for a 32GB S2110 and $580 for that same model plus dock and, well, the economical choice is clear.
If you’re not so keen on optional docks and want to go the straight tablet route, there’s always Acer’s Iconia Tab A510, another 10-inch Tegra 3 slate with a 1,280 x 800 resolution display, 32GB of storage and Android 4.0 onboard — this one for $420. And, on the chance you’re looking for an OS that’s not Google-made, Apple’s WiFi-only iPad 2 can be had for $400, bringing with it 16GB of storage, a 9.7-inch 1,024 x 768 display and access to the curated App Store.
Should you get the IdeaTab S2110? That depends on how much typing you expect to do — and whether you have a real preference for the Lenovo brand. As we’ve outlined above, there are other tablets, convertible and otherwise — that offer the same (if not better) specs, perform just as well and come in at a lower price. Add to that the company’s rather superfluous skinning, its widgets and a trove of pre-loaded applications and it just seems to be a case of add-ons for add-ons’ sake. Whereas a media giant like Sony can cram its content ecosystem onto the Xperia Tablet S as a differentiator, Lenovo doesn’t have anything nearly as compelling.
Does that make it a poor purchase? Not at all. It’s well-built, free of performance hiccups and boasts one of the best tablet keyboard docks we’ve seen. Our issue comes mainly down to pricing. As it stands, you’re better off spending your money on less expensive rivals or simply holding off until this gets a discount.
By Joseph Volpe