It feels like Affordable Technology Week around these parts, doesn’t it? We kicked it off Monday with our full review of Motorola’s Moto G smartphone, kept the ball in the air Wednesday with a review of the same company’s Moto Pulse Bluetooth headphones, and we debated the sanity of “settling” for affordable mobile technology in this week’s podcast.
Now it’s time to take the cheap talk to tablet town with a look at a product from Motorola’s parent company, Lenovo. Having answered the question of whether you can survive on a $200 smartphone, we now turn to the question of whether you can do the same on a $200 tablet. The complete answer will come in our full review – but after 24 hours, we’ve got enough experience for a sneak peek. Here are some first impressions from a day with the Lenovo Tablet 2 A10.
There are only so many ways to make tablet hardware interesting (it’s a rectangular slab, after all) but Lenovo does a better job than some. Like its smaller sibling, Our Tab 2 A10-70F model comes with a blue-gray back cover coated with a comfortable soft-touch finish. The speakers are located along the top edge of the back panel, their existence called out by a prominent “DOLBY” logo but their actual outlines hidden behind a unique pixelized grill pattern that gives the Tab 2 A10 a distinctive look. Also on the back: a MicroSD card slot good for up to 64GB of memory expansion, a welcome addition to this 16GB tablet.
Up front is a 10.1-inch IPS display with acceptable pixel density (224ppi) and double-tap-to-wake functionality so you don’t need to reach over to the edge-mounted power/standby button to unlock it. The cover glass seems especially prone to fingerprints, but Lenovo has gone the extra mile by including a free shammy in its own branded container right in the box. It’s little touches like this that make the difference between just-another-budget-tablet and something special, and we’re glad Lenovo has made the effort here.
Also in that category: some bundled features that you don’t see on every Android tablet. The Lenovo Tab 2 A10 comes with custom Dolby software for precision management of headphone audio, complete with custom modes for different kinds of media. Quick toggles for some sound profiles are also included in the drop-down notification center, along with handy toggles to make the platform’s alert system a little more bearable as we wait for the Android M overhaul. And while you’ve got those headphones plugged in you’ll also be able to grab nearby terrestrial broadcasts using the onboard FM radio. Lenovo’s viewfinder software for the 8MP/5MP primary and selfie cameras includes fun modes like Picture-In-Picture shooting, if you’re into tablet photography. And App Permission Management is pre-enabled out of the box, so you can keep an eye on which apps are using which system components and when, or get alerts when an app tries to use a new permission. For security-conscious consumers, this is a big deal.
Lastly: we always love a solid power pack, and the embedded 7000 mAh battery here seems to handle the tablet’s loads well. After 18 hours off the charger and nearly 5 hours of screen-on time, we still had 45% power remaining on our first charge. Most of that screen-on time was spent in Chrome, by the way, which runs pretty smoothly on this hardware.
That hardware is built around a MediaTek MT-8165 processor on our WiFi-only review unit, and while it seems to handle day-to-day swiping and tapping pretty well on this Android build (5.0.1), it’s not hard to bog down its associated T-760 GPU. The point-and-shoot game Smash Hit isn’t the world’s most demanding title, but even on Medium graphics, frame drops are more prevalent than on more powerful devices.
That game is also useful for illustrating the Lenovo Tab 2 A10’s other significant handicaps: weight and audio. Its 509g mass doesn’t sound like all that much, but holding the tablet one-handed (as is necessary to keep your other hand free for actions in Smash Hit and many other games) quickly gets tiring no matter how much time you spend at the gym. And while Smash Hit has a really nice atmospheric sound profile that’s well suited for this tablet’s Dolby audio suite, half the time it’s hard to tell the game has any music at all. The speakers seem ridiculously underpowered: even when turning the tablet upside-down so the drivers were pointed right at us, the Lenovo Tab 2 A10 was easily drowned out by a Moto X smartphone playing the same audio. The speakers are so quiet, in fact, that this tablet is not suitable for use as an alarm clock unless you’re a very light sleeper (as we discovered this morning).
Other aspects of the Tab 2 A10 are just a little wonky. Lenovo’s skin is fairly light, but its custom icon pack is a strange mix of EMUI and iOS, and there’s plenty of bloatware here to go along with more useful apps like File Manager. Whether we have that bloatware to thank for the tablet’s occasional trouble connecting to WiFi access points has yet to be determined … but whatever the cause, it’s annoying.
We’ve got a lot more to test on the Lenovo Tab 2 A10 before we decide whether it’s a solid investment at its current sale price of just under $200 at Best Buy. Among other things, the jury’s still out on camera quality, headphone audio performance, WiFi reception and high-intensity 3D gaming; if there’s something specific you’d like us to test for you, let us know down in the comments.
For now, we’ll admit to being intrigued. A sub-$200 10-inch Android tablet isn’t the rarest thing in the world, but you don’t often see one offered by a brand with Lenovo’s cachet. If the Tab 2 A10 pans out, it could mean great things for Android tablet shoppers – so stay tuned for our final verdict in the weeks ahead!