Lenovo's mid-sized IdeaPad A2109 Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich) tablet is loaded with features and very reasonably priced. Unfortunately, it's too heavy for its size and suffers from an anemic display.

Rick Lehrbaum, Contributor

October 15, 2012

11 Min Read

With 10-inch Android tablets costing about twice as much as 7-inch tablets, there ought to be a market opportunity for mid-size tablets--those that fall between the 7- and 10-inch in price but offer most of the features of the 10-inch models. This appears to be the idea behind Lenovo's new IdeaPad A2109, a 9-inch tablet running Android 4.0. Does it hit the mark?

The IdeaPad A2109 first appeared at the IFA show in Berlin last month as the first member a new "affordable" Android tablet series. It will be joined later this year by the A2107, a 7-inch model sharing many of the same features.

Lenovo's IdeaPad A2109: Android 4.0 on a 9-inch screen (click image to enlarge)

From the specs (see the table below), it's clear that the IdeaPad A2109 implements virtually all the features and functions we've come to expect from current-generation Android tablets. However, several concerns are worth mentioning. One is that the A2109 is surprisingly heavy for its size--at 20 ounces it's just one ounce shy of the 10-inch Galaxy Tab 2 10.1. Holding it with one hand, in portrait mode, which is commonly done with 7-inch tablets and eReaders, quickly becomes fatiguing. It doesn't help that the metal alloy casing is slippery and tapers at the edges, which makes hanging on to it with one hand a risky business. This is based on my experience, of course--I have medium-size hands--and your mileage might vary.

A greater concern is the A2109's lack of screen brightness compared with other current-generation tablets such as the Galaxy Tab 2, Nexus 7, Kindle Fire, and iPad. When placed side by side the different is remarkable: the A2109 looks about half as bright. Specs back this up: The screen of the Galaxy Tab 2 10.1 is rated at 450 nits, and the A2109's screen delivers just 260 to 290 nits. It's more than usable, provided you don't need to use it in direct sunlight.

Inside the A2109

The A2109 is powered by a quad-core NVIDIA Tegra 3 processor, accompanied by 1 GB RAM and 16 GB of flash storage memory. Other key features include its 9-inch 1280 x 800-pixel screen, dual cameras, stereo speakers, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS, and a beefy 6000 mAh battery. Lenovo says the tablet has a metal alloy "roll cage" case inspired by the ThinkPad's, but we didn't see any overt resemblance.

IdeaPad A2109 specs vs. the 7- and 10-inch competition

The table below compares the A2109's and specs to those of its most prominent 7- and 10-inch Android tablet competitors.

Google Nexus 7

Lenovo IdeaTab A2109

Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 10.1

Processor

1.3GHz quad-core

1.2GHz quad-core

1GHz dual-core

RAM

1GB

1GB

1GB

Internal flash

8GB or 16GB

16GB

16GB

microSD flash exp.

no

no

yes

OS

Android 4.1

Android 4.0

Android 4.0

Apps market

Google

Google

Google

Display resolution

1280x800

1280x800

1280x800

Display area

22 in2

37 in2

46 in2

Display brightness

~ 400 nits

~ 275 nits

~ 450 nits

Front camera

1.2MP

1.3MP

0.3MP

Rear camera

no

3MP

3MP

Video output

no

yes

yes

Wi-Fi

yes

yes

yes

Bluetooth

yes

yes

yes

GPS

yes

yes

yes

Battery

4325 mAh

6000 mAh

7000 mAh

Continuous Netflix (full brightness)

~ 5 hrs

~ 5 hrs

~ 5 hrs

Size (in.)

7.8 x 4.7 x 0.4

9.3 x 6.5 x 0.5

10.1 x 6.9 x 0.4

Weight

12 oz

20 oz

21 oz

Price

$199 (8GB) $249 (16GB)

$299 (16GB)

$399 (16GB)

From the specs it's clear that as the tablet sizes get larger, so do their battery capacity, weight, and cost. The graphic below indicates the relative size of the three tablets.

Comparing three Android tablet form factors.

Note that although the Galaxy Tab 2 10.1's screen area is about one-fourth larger than the IdeaPad A2109's, it weighs a mere 1 ounce (5 percent) more than the IdeaPad does. I'll have more to say about that shortly, but first let's check out the Lenovo tablet's user interface, home screens, and apps.

Using the IdeaPad A2109

Given that the IdeaPad 2109 runs a standard Android 4.0 OS and supports Google's full set of Android apps and services, there isn't much unique, from a software perspective, about what you get on the device. The screenshots below showcase the A2109's default user interface, home screens, folder function, and pre-installed apps.


Default home screens

(click images to enlarge)


Default folder function

(click images to enlarge)


Preinstalled Android apps

(click images to enlarge)


Default widgets

(click images to enlarge)


Tailoring the tablet

As with all Android tablets, the A2109 is highly customizable. You're free to modify the look and feel to a large extent, including adding or substituting functionality in numerous areas -- without having to resort to "rooting" the device.

For example, you can install apps from sources other than Google's Android apps market, such as Amazon's Android app store, or "side-load" apps obtained from your other Android devices. You can also add alternative home screen environments, folder functions, onscreen keyboards, and much, much more.

The screenshots below demonstrate the results of several mods I made to the A2109. The customizations included:

  • Setting the home screen wallpaper to my favorite nebula image.

  • Installing about 200 apps, mostly side-loaded from my growing stash of Android app "APKs".

  • Installing the Android Folder Organizer app (one of my all-time favs) and using it to create 15 folders on the primary home screen, making it easy to launch any app with one or two taps.

  • Installing my favorite alternative keyboard, the Hacker's Keyboard. Another alternative keyboard, the GO Keyboard, comes preinstalled on the A2109 and is also shown below, as is Android's excellent Google Voice Typing function.


Alternative folder function

These screenshots show the contents of the 15 folders I installed on the home screen:

(click images to enlarge)

Tweaked home screen and lock screen

The screenshot below shows the A2109's customized home screen, containing a combination of app launchers and folders (generated via the Folder Organizer app); I use mixed-case names for app launchers and upper-case names for folders.

(click image to enlarge)

The pair of screenshots below show the tablet's customized lock screen; I opted for the pattern-based unlock option in the tablet's configuration settings:

(click images to enlarge)


Alternative text entry methods

The screenshots below demonstrate various ways to enter text on the A2109, including...

  • The standard Android keyboard.

  • The GO Keyboard, which offers a nifty thumb-typing mode, among other interesting features.

  • The Hacker's Keyboard, my personal favorite.

  • "Google Voice Typing," which works amazingly well, but requires an active broadband data connection.

(click images to enlarge)

Although Google Voice Typing works extremely well, the most efficient way to get serious work done on this or any tablet is with a good quality Bluetooth keyboard, such as the ones available from Logitech and Zagg.

The bottom line

So, is there really a need for mid-sized Android tablets, positioned between today's popular 7- and 10-inch configurations?

Assuming typical price points of $200-250, $300-350, and $400-450 for 7-, 9-, and 10-inch models, based on my experience with the IdeaPad A2109 I'd say the answer is "yes." But please, Lenovo, upgrade that display!

Lenovo IdeaPad A2109 Android tablet

Name: IdeaPad A2109 (manufactured by Lenovo)

Lenovo's mid-sized IdeaPad A2109 Android tablet is loaded with features and very reasonably priced. Unfortunately, it's too heavy for its size and suffers from an anemic display.

Price: $399

Pro:

  • Quad-core 1.2 GHz processor

  • Rear camera

  • Hardware GPS

  • Video output port (micro-HDMI)

  • Wi-Fi Direct support

  • Beefy 6000 mAh battery

  • Backed by Lenovo

Con:

  • Poor display brightness

  • Too large/heavy/slippery for comfortable one-handed use

  • Overly recessed power button

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