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7/20/2011
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Lenovo's 3 New Tablets Pack Some Surprises

Lenovo jumps into the tablet wars with Android and Windows 7 devices--hearty competitors with a few special features.

Lenovo Takes On 7 Rivals: Tablet Faceoff
Slideshow: Lenovo Takes On 7 Rivals: Tablet Faceoff
(click image for slideshow)
Lenovo announced three new tablets on Wednesday: two into an increasingly crowded Android tablet market, and one into the catatonic Windows 7 tablet arena. In addition to offering choices (a first in the still nascent tablet category), Lenovo points to differentiators like Launch Zone (its Honeycomb overlay), Netflix certification for the Android tablets, pen-based input, a host of pre-loaded Android apps, including security features, and a special Lenovo-approved App Shop that can also serve as a hub of private corporate applications.

On the surface, these seem like excellent tablets--not necessarily stunning in any way, but all of the requisite boxes are checked, and each tablet includes a pretzel-like twist or two. While many tablets have emerged from companies that have traditionally produced mobile smartphones, these come from one of the recognized leaders in laptops.

If anything will stand out for buyers in a market where the closest thing to iPad-like success happens during developer conference give-aways, it might be the resonance of a brand like Lenovo, its healthy sales channel, and whatever good will it has earned through its service and support. But let's not be overly generous; that is a wait-and-see situation.

The IdeaPad Tablet K1 and ThinkPad Tablet are Lenovo's Android devices. The former is aimed at consumers and the Thinkpad is aimed at the enterprise. Both run Android (Honeycomb) 3.1, both include the NVideo Tegra 2 processor running at 1.0 GHz, and both offer configurations for 16 GB, 32 GB, and 64 GB of storage. Both support 1 GB of DDR2 RAM. In short, those specs add up to good, solid, screaming-fast devices.

Both are 10.1-inch devices with screen resolutions of 1280 x 800 (full HD); both tablets measure in at a thin 13.3mm and weigh about 1.65 pounds. Pretty standard fare here; by comparison, the iPad 2 and Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 are lighter and slimmer. Size-wise, the Lenovo tablets are about on par with the HP TouchPad (a hair slimmer and a tad heavier).

Finally, both Lenovo tablets include front- and rear-facing cameras (2 megapixels and 5 megapixels, respectively), the full fleet of Wi-Fi and Bluetooth options, and low-power graphics processors.

The differences between the IdeaPad K1 and the ThinkPad look fairly subtle on the hardware side. For one thing, the K1 doesn't have as many input options as the ThinkPad. The ThinkPad includes a USB 2.0 port; the K1 doesn't. The ThinkPad has a full SD card reader; the K1 has micro SD. Both support HDMI out, but the Thinkpad uses micro-HDMI, whereas the K1 uses mini-HDMI. But who's counting?

The ThinkPad display is an IPS (in-plane switching) display for 178-degree viewing angle, and has Corning's Gorilla Glass. The K1 doesn't, but the K1 is a 10-point multitouch display, meaning that when applications support that level of multi-touch, you can use all 10 fingers. Yes, I'm serious. Lenovo tried to get 12-point multi-touch so you can use a couple of toes, but that feature just wasn't ready in time (now I'm kidding). The ThinkPad Tablet is a 6-point multitouch device.

The K1 actually has two 5w speakers, while the ThinkPad has only one; the K1 also has a separate jack for microphones, whereas the ThinkPad combines its mic and headphone jack. The K1 also lets you take in sound intravenously. (Kidding again.) The point is that the K1 is meant to be more of a personal entertainment device.

The ThinkPad also comes with an optional digitizer pen, and accepts pen-based input, thanks to a partnership with N-Trig, and handwriting recognition software called Notes Mobile. You can export notes as a PDF, or for editing.

From a hardware standpoint, then, with a few minor exceptions, the K1 and ThinkPad tablets are standard Android hardware. But Lenovo has made a big point about software differentiation. Both devices support a range of software options, including what Lenovo calls Launch Zone. This is the Lenovo flavor of Android extension (think HTC Sense and other similar fare), and it creates five different (and customizable) zones: one to read, one to listen, one to watch, one for email, and one for the Web. It sounds a bit like Windows Phone 7 hubs, but we'll have to wait and see when units are ready to test.

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