Lenovo's IdeaTab A2109A is a 9-inch Android tablet running Android 4.1.1 Ice Cream Sandwich. It's a useful size for those for whom a 10in tablet is too big, and a 7in slate too small, and attractively priced at £199. But do the extra couple of inches of screen space make it a better buy than the £40 cheaper Google Nexus 7?
In a word: no. But, of course, that's ignoring the fact that Google's tablet (and similar low-cost slates from the likes of Amazon and Barnes & Noble) are subsidised to encourage Android uptake and content sales. In the case of this Lenovo you get what you pay for. Fortunately, at £199, there's plenty to recommend.
The design is stylish enough, with nicely rounded edges and a silver-grey aluminium rear panel that feels more robust than most. Lenovo claims a roll cage has been fitted, and there's zero creaking or bending in the chassis when pressure is applied.
As you might expect of such a tough tablet, though, it feels very heavy - something that isn't helped by its chunky 11.6in profile. At 570g, it's no lightweight; this Lenovo is nearly as beefy as the 603g Nexus 10, 652g Apple iPad and 587g Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 10.1. That's a shame, because its smaller dimensions otherwise make it much more comfortable to hold up in the hand for extended periods.
At the top left is the power button, while the volume rocker is found on the tablet's left side. Also here is a rotation-lock button and an audio jack, while Micro HDMI for output to a large screen and a MicroUSB charging port are found on the Lenovo's right.
On the rear is a thin strip that houses better-than-average twin SRS-enhanced speakers and the tablet's main snapper, a paltry 3Mp model that offers lousy photos, but can handle 1080p video. Rumour has it a microSD slot is also hiding behind this panel, but good luck getting to it. It's not listed in the documentation, and we couldn't get at it without worrying we'd break the tablet. You also get a 1.3Mp camera on the front, which is more in line with those of its rivals, but it really struggles in low light.
The screen might be usefully large in comparison to Lenovo's 7in rivals, which should make it the better tablet on which to consume media, but it's not a great panel. With 1280x800 pixels, it matches the HD resolution of Google's Nexus 7. Stretch out images by an extra couple of inches, though, and its resulting 168ppi is noticeably low-res against the Nexus 7's 216ppi. It's a perfectly usable and sufficiently responsive display, but text has noticeably fuzzy edges, colours lack impact and viewing angles are dire.
In other specifications, the IdeaTab is not at all unlike the Nexus 7. Both tablets pack a 1.3GHz nVidia Tegra 3 quad-core processor, 1GB of RAM and 16GB of internal storage. This is good news in terms of performance.
We ran the Lenovo IdeaTab through our usual benchmarks and witnessed a reasonable turn of pace. In Geekbench 2 we measured 1,375 points, which falls short of the Nexus 7's 1,452, but is faster than the 1,124 of the Kindle Fire HD, 1,199 of the Barnes & Noble Nook HD and 752 of the iPad mini. When compared to the larger tablets, it's significantly slower than the Nexus 10 (2,505) and iPad (1,769), but faster than the £100 more expensive Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 10.1 (908) and budget models such as the GoClever Tab R974 (1,178).
We also measure graphics performance using GLBenchmark 2.5, and in this test the Lenovo managed 15fps. That puts it behind the iPad mini (24fps) and Nexus 7 (20fps), but ahead of the Kindle Fire HD (8fps), Barnes & Noble Nook HD (14fps). Again, the larger tablets offer better performance here.
Lenovo says the battery lasts up to eight hours and, from our own testing, we'd second that claim.
The Lenovo IdeaTab is preinstalled with Android 4.1.1 Ice Cream Sandwich. This isn't Google's latest mobile platform (it's since released Jelly Bean 4.1 and, more recently on the Nexus 7 and 10, 4.2), but it's standard for an Android tablet.
Lenovo has tweaked the interface only very slightly. The first place in which this is noticeable is the lock screen, from which you can directly access the Camera app or begin a Google search.
On the Home screen apps are arranged into Social, Games and Media folders, and there are widgets for such things as the weather, and calendar and clock apps, plus a sticky notepad. A GameTanium app offers a free trial with unlimited access to more than 40 games (many of which you'll also find in Google Play).
Lenovo has preinstalled a handful of apps, including Zinio (from which you can buy digital editions of PC Advisor and our bookazines, including TabletWorld and The Complete Guide to Windows 8), Amazon's Kindle app, Skype, ooVoo, Evernote, SugarSync, Documents To Go and a trial version of Norton Security. There's also Lenovo's PrinterShare app, which enables you send documents and images over the web for output on a compatible printer. With full access to Google Play you can, of course, delete any of these apps and install those you need.
Lenovo's IdeaTab costs just £199 and, unlike other cheap tablets, isn't subsidised to encourage Android platform uptake or content sales. As such, we were pleasantly surprised with its performance and sound quality. This tablet is also very solidly built, just not with the best components: both the screen and cameras are a let-down.