There are high-end tablets with the latest specs and a price tag to match, like the New Apple iPad ($499, 4.5 stars), and then there are low-end tablets that offer a compelling combination of price, performance, and features, like the Google Nexus 7 ($199, 4.5 stars). The Lenovo IdeaTab S2109 ($399/8GB, $449/16GB direct) is neither, offering only middling components at a price that seems at least $100 too high. It's a decent tablet that will suffice for most apps and tasks, but with more feature-rich options like the Asus Transformer Pad TF300 ($379, 4 stars) available for less, the IdeaTab S2109 just doesn't make much sense.
Design and Features
The IdeaTab S2109 measures 9.7 by 7.3 by 0.35 inches (HWD) and weighs 1.28 pounds. It's slightly thinner and lighter than the Transformer Pad TF300 (10.4 by 7.1 by 0.38 inches, 1.39 pounds), but it's also featuring a slightly smaller 9.7-inch screen to the TF300's 10.1-inch display. The IdeaTab S2109's rounded plastic body feels sturdy, and the "gunmetal" gray finish looks nice. Along the edges are Power and Volume buttons, a 3.5mm headphone jack, micro USB and micro HDMI ports, and a microSD card slot. The four speaker grilles on the back corners are one of the S2109's few unique features, as that's more than the one or two found on most tablets. The grilles carry SRS logos; Lenovo touts the IdeaTab S2109's SRS Trumedia audio enhancements. The speakers actually get really loud by tablet standards, and don't sound quite as tinny as most offerings. They still aren't going to replace a good set of speakers or headphones, but they deliver nearly room-filling sound—good for sharing those latest viral videos with a group of people.
The 9.7-inch 1,024-by-768-pixel display is bizarre for an Android tablet, although it exactly matches the iPad and iPad 2's size and sharpness. 1,280-by-800-pixel resolution has been fairly standard for large-screen tablets to begin with. Compared with the New iPad's 2,048-by-1,536-pixel Retina display and the Asus Transformer Pad Infinity TF700's ($499, 4 stars) 1,920-by-1,200-pixel display, the IdeaTab S2109's screen looks pretty bad. It's the same resolution as the more affordable Coby Kyros MID9742 ($200, 2.5 stars), and as such, its 4:3 aspect ratio is unusual for Android tablets and could affect compatibility with third-party apps. When held at arm's length, text looks ok, but any closer and you'll start to see the pixelated edges.
Above the screen is a 1.3-megapixel front-facing camera. There is no rear-facing camera, but given the typical quality of tablet cameras in this price range, this is probably a non-factor.
This is a Wi-Fi only tablet that connects to 802.11b/g/n networks on the 2.4GHz band only. There's also Bluetooth 3.0 and GPS on board, both of which worked fine in my tests. There are two storage capacities available, 8GB ($399) and 16GB ($449), and the microSD slot accepts cards up to 64GB.
Software and Performance
The IdeaTab S2109 runs Android 4.0.4 "Ice Cream Sandwich," and with relatively few customizations. The most notable, aside from the aforementioned SRS audio enhancements, is a custom virtual keyboard. The on-screen keys are actually smaller than usual; I found typing on it less comfortable than on the stock Android tablet keyboard. There are also some fairly useless extras like voice notes, smiley faces, and a handwriting input option built into the keyboard. These extras can be toggled via icons at the top of the keyboard. Some of the more useful pre-loaded apps include AccuWeather, Docs To Go, and Sugarsync. Lenovo also includes Lenovo App Shop, which offers a mundane selection of apps, but only some of the apps are tablet optimized.
Powering the S2109 is a dual-core 1GHz Cortex A9 processor with 1GB RAM. It's underpowered compared with the quad-core Nvidia Tegra 3 chip found in the TF300 and the Nexus 7 . Still, swiping through home pages and scrolling through websites is smooth on the IdeaTab S2109. Apps opened quickly, and switching between multiple running apps didn't cause any hang-ups. Gaming performance was decent, but the S2109 just can't hang with the newer Tegra 3 powered tablets. In our Nenamark graphics benchmark the S2109 notched only 29.5 frames per second, a good deal worse than the TF300's nearly 60 frames per second—and the TF300 also has a higher 1280-by-800-pixel resolution.
Media playback was good on the S2109, with support for Xvid, DivX, MPEG4, H.264, and AVI videos at resolutions up to 1080p. MP3, AAC, FLAC, OGG, WAV, and WMA audio files all played fine.
Lenovo rates the 24.8Wh battery of the S2109 at up to 10 hours of video playback. In our battery rundown test, which loops a video with screen brightness set to max and Wi-Fi on, the S2109 lasted 5 hours, 48 minutes. The TF300 lasted 7 hours, 53 minutes in the same test.
The Lenovo IdeaTab S2109 isn't terrible, but it just isn't nearly as good as some of the similarly priced or even cheaper alternatives. At the low end is the $199 Nexus 7, which features better specs in nearly every way at half the price. The $379 Asus Transformer Pad TF300 also bests the IdeaTab S2109 in pretty much every single category. There's also the Coby Kyros MID9742 , which is similarly equipped, but costs only about $200 at most retailers. It doesn't have access to the Google Play app store, though, so the IdeaTab S2109 will still make a better tablet for most consumers. If it were priced $100 lower, I could see some real use for the S2109, but as it stands I really don't see any reason to choose the S2109 over the TF300 or Nexus 7.
|CPU ARM Cortex A9|
|Processor Speed 1 GHz|
|Operating System Google Android 3.0 or higher|
|Screen Resolution 1024 x 768 pixels|
|Screen Size 9.7 inches|
|Battery Type Supported Rechargeable|
|Storage Capacity (as Tested) 8 GB|
|Dimensions 9.7 x 7.3 x 0.35 inches|
|Weight 1.28 lb|
|Networking Options 802.11b, 802.11g, 802.11n|
|Email Access Dedicated email app|
|Web Browser Yes|
|Flash support Yes|
|Camera(s) 1 front-facing|
|Video Chat Yes|
|Music Playback Formats AAC, FLAC, MP3, WAV, WMA|
|Photo Formats BMP, JPEG, TIFF, PSD, PNG, GIF, RAW|
|Video Formats AVI, DivX, MPEG4, H.264, XVid|