07
Oct
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This post is part two of a two-part review of the IdeaTab A2109 and S2110. Accordingly, the intro and software sections apply here as well. For your convenience, I've copied them here.

For part one (the review of the A2109), please click here

There's no doubt the Android tablet market is heating up much like the phone market was a few years ago. Where before there were relatively few choices, manufacturers are now rolling out new models left and right - sometimes, it seems, with reckless abandon. It's almost like Newton's third law in action: for every great tablet released, an equal but opposite tablet is released. Not to spoil the reviews, but I'll tell you right up front: both the $300 9" A2109 and $400 10" S2110 fall under "the opposite" (i.e., they're bad).

Interestingly, what makes each one bad overall is remedied by the other. Where one has terrible performance, the other's is good. Yet the one with good performance also has a sub-par screen; inversely, the one with poor performance has a much better screen. Both devices are seemingly paradoxes of each other, as if Lenovo made one great device, then tore it apart and gave half the components to one device and half to another device, then filled in the gaps with whatever crap they had laying around.

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But enough vagaries; we've already established what shortcomings the A2109 has - now it's time to take a look at the S2110. (A tip to help you remember which is which: the A2109 is the 9" model, and the S2110 is the 10".)

The Specs

  • Price: $399 ($499 with optional keyboard dock)
  • CPU: 1.5GHz dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 (APQ8060A)
  • RAM: 1GB
  • Storage: 16GB
  • Display: 10" 1280x800
  • Battery: 23.4Wh
  • Cameras: 5MP rear, 1.3MP front
  • Speakers:
  • Android: 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich)
  • Connectivity: microHDMI, microUSB. Dock also includes 2 USB 2.0 ports and an SD card slot.
  • Dimensions:  7.01" x 10.23" x 0.34"
  • Weight: 1.28 lbs.

The Good

  • It's very thin and feels very light. Despite being more than two inches bigger in height and width, it's also just a tiny bit lighter than the A2109, and virtually on par with industry leaders like the Transformer Prime.
  • The screen is crisp, has beautiful, warm colors, and absolutely amazing viewing angles. 
  • As I said with the A2109, for some silly reason I like the UI. It's bloated and bogs down the hardware, yet for a reason I can't explain, I like it.
  • Battery life is very good out of the box, especially during idle. I complemented the A2109 for its battery life, and the S2110 seems to be every bit as good. Expect it to drain a few percent per 24 hours of idling, and 4 days of moderate use between charges would be a conservative estimate.

The Bad

  • The performance on the S2110 is worse than any I've seen from an Android device in the past 2+ years. At least. There wasn't a single time that I used the '10 and it didn't lag. I'm not talking about a slight stutter here or there, either; it's like streaming a YouTube video over 56k.
  • The build quality is terrible. The plastic feels unbelievably thin and cheap, and worst of all, it's very, very easy to bend and flex the whole device. I'm utterly bewildered by the fact that the build quality was so fantastic on the budget A2109 (in fact, it was almost the only good thing about it), and it can be so horrible on the more expensive S2110.
  • As I said in my Kindle Fire (SD) review, it's rare that tablet manufacturers get speaker placement right, let alone stereo speakers. For that reason, it's nice to see Lenovo put the stereo speakers in the best place possible: one almost at  the top of each side. Unfortunately, the sound is terrible, so it's all for nothing. I'd rather have a high-quality speaker in a bad place than have really well-positioned low-quality speakers.

Deep Dive

Build Quality

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Having a thin and light tablet is great, especially for extended viewing sessions. What's not so great is when it comes at the expense of quality.  It's apparent as soon as you pick it up by the feel of the cheap, textured plastic on the back, and then instantly compounded by the fact that the entire back flexes. Even worse, if you hold the sides with both hands, you can easily twist and bend the entire thing. In fact, it's so easy and obvious that if you gently push with both hands while the screen is on, you can see the image distort slightly and the liquid inside the display ripple from the sides bowing out.

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The S2110 has a mostly blocky design style, and is basically just a rectangular slab. That said the back has a slight curve into the corners, though is otherwise flat, as are the sides (obviously, the front is flat, too). At the top left is the power button (and behind it, the camera). The upper right side has a nicely clicky volume button above which is a speaker, while the bottom houses a microUSB charger flanked by dock connectors. Finally, the left side has microHDMI and headphone ports, as well as a speaker, from top to bottom.

Display

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Believe it or not, the IPS display is just about the sole strong point on the S2110. Although it sticks with the 1280x800 resolution (rather than bumping up to something much more substantial like 1920x1200, as in Acer and Asus's higher-end offerings), that's rather standard for this price range. And that's not really a bad thing; though more pixels wouldn't hurt, the image is still plenty crisp.

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What's more, just about everything else about the display is very good. Colors are warm and very natural, yet don't feel oversaturated like they tend to on AMOLED displays (though there are plenty of people who prefer that). Black levels are slightly above average, albeit certainly not the best I've seen. The best aspect of the display, though, is the viewing angles. You can view it from any angle and the display is barely distorted, much like on the HTC One X or Galaxy S III. It's stunning.

Software

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I very rarely like custom UIs. Sense is bloated, TouchWiz is ugly and bloated, Optimus UI is an ugly TouchWiz rip-off... the list goes on and on. Lenovo's UI is perhaps the most bloated of them all, and yet... I dig it. I'm not sure why, either - I tend to prefer simple, clean designs rather than image and effect-heavy ones, and yet I simply do. Let me try to put a finger on why.

Screenshot_2012-10-02-22-01-45_thumb[1] Screenshot_2012-10-02-22-01-59_thumb[2]

First, I just think it's nice to look at. As I said above, I find very, very few UIs attractive. As far as I'm concerned, stock Android is damn pretty and the less manufacturers try to cover it up, the better. Yet Lenovo's UI takes a completely different approach. The background is a collection of mostly tan rocks, whereas stock Android tends to stick with abstract shapes and colors. The widgets are uniform triangles with the top right and bottom left corners rounded - perhaps the consistency has something to do with why I like it. The folders are the exact same as widgets, but show as actual folders. I even like the swiping effect; rather than simply sliding to the side, the animation is of a rotating cube that has a slight bounce to it. It's rather charming.

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All that said, they certainly load it up with a ton of bloat: Accuweather, Amazon Kindle, App Shop, Documents To Go, ES File Explorer, Evernote, GameTanium, GO Keyboard, HW Backgammon SE, HW Euchre SE, HW Games SE, HW Hearts SE, HW Solitaire SE, HW Spades SE, News Republic, Norton Security, ooVoo, Papaya Free, PrinterShare for lenovo, rara.com, Shazam, Skype, Sugarsync, TruMedia, UI intro, Vendetta Online, and Zinio. The thing to note there is that's an absolute @#*&ton. A few can be useful depending on your tastes, but 28 pre-installed apps? Ridiculous.

In short: it's pretty, it's uniform, and it's visually differentiated. It's also bloated, poorly coded, and has way too much crap installed on it out of the box. Yet for some reason, I still like it.

Performance & Battery Life

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I recently reviewed the new MyTouch Q, which packs a single-core 1.4GHz CPU and Android 2.3 (Gingerbread), and its performance was worlds better than that of the S2110. The fact that an uber-budget phone manages to outperform a higher-end tablet is sad; that the tablet has twice the cores, higher clock speeds, tons of architectural upgrades, and a version of Android that is 18 months newer makes it all the more embarrassing.

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I'm not exaggerating, either. Swipe to the side and the entire system begrudgingly complies in small chops. What really boggles my mind isn't just how bad the performance is - it's that the Tegra 3 (found in the A2109) is out-benchmarked by the Snapdragon S4 CPU used in the S2110, and yet the 2109 offers a much better user experience. Take a look for yourself:

It's even worse in real life than it looks in the video.

As with the A2109, battery life - especially at idle - is remarkably good. The first four days I had the S2110, I used it very lightly (I was focusing on the A2109 first), yet the battery only dropped to 78%. Even in the past hour and a half of use, it has lost just a few percent. That's especially impressive considering that automatic brightness is actually bright enough (certainly a refreshing change from the norm).

Conclusion

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It's funny to me that Lenovo sells the A2109 as a budget tablet and not the S2110. Sure, your $100 gets you a bigger (and much better) screen with the S2110, but it has the most appalling performance I can imagine. A cheap Chinese knock-off tablet offers better performance, without a doubt. It boggles my mind. What makes it even worse is that they market the 2110 as a sort of work horse, and you can purchase a keyboard dock. With performance this bad, I don't even want to use it at all, let alone to get a little extra work done on the weekends or when I'm out of the office. Even if using the tablet wasn't so miserable, it's still so flimsy that I'd be afraid to throw it in a bag and take it out of the house.

In short: a good display, bad build quality, and terrible performance.

Aaron Gingrich
Aaron is a geek who has always had a passion for technology. When not working or writing, he can be found spending time with his family, playing a game, or watching a movie.

  • Balthazar B

    FWIW, the S2110 I bought for my wife seems pretty snappy, not at all the appalling performance you experienced with your test unit. I'd agree that the build quality is not up to that of an iPad3 (I daresay my Nexus 7 isn't perfect either), but it's also a lot less expensive, especially factoring in the corporate discounts Lenovo extends to so many companies. Compared with the competition from this summer, it was a very good value-for-cost purchase.

    • Stocklone

      After the embarrassingly poor review of the Note 10.1, I'm hesitant to trust any review on this site.

      • http://www.facebook.com/Zerounodos Manoleta Bocchia de Coussillan

        Don't judge a whole site for the judgment of a sole writer...just sayin'

        • Stocklone

          I'm judging the editors who let the review go live instead of telling the writer to redo it. AP does a great job covering Android in general though.

          • AaronGingrich

            When you're providing a review (in other words, buying advice) on a $400+ device, I think it's pretty important to provide accurate advice. It's something I used to struggle with when I started out: fighting the desire to be polite to manufacturers and PR people with whom you've developed a relationship, and providing an accurate review of a device so that you don't steer people the wrong way.

            Ultimately, I'd rather side with the consumer than the manufacturer. We write for the readers, not for the producers.

          • Stocklone

            Ron really shattered my trust with AP with the 10.1 review. Does AP have editors that look at reviews before they go up? Can you explain to me why nobody second guessed it?

          • AaronGingrich

            Yes, they're reviewed before posting. Nobody second guessed it because he's right.

          • Stocklone

            72% of reviewers on Amazon give the Note 10.1 a 5/5 rating. I guess us commoners are too stupid to realize how horrible it is. Praise be to jebus enlightened reviewers such as Ron can save us from enjoying what we bought.

      • HF

        indeed

  • Lee L

    I own the A2109 and do not have any performance lags, stutters or anything. The screen is also very nice, ya its no retina but good non the less. Also it is 3/8 inch thick device and not 1/2 inch and the weight is due to the solid metal back which I happen to think feels good in my hands. Where did the other 25 comments go in this discussion, scary.

  • http://www.facebook.com/CristiCo Cristian Cocos

    Dunno folks, but my S2110 feels pretty snappy. Also, build quality feels good to me. (No, I don't own an iPad.) Slimmer and lighter than an iPad 3. No complaints. Not sure when it'll get JB though. Might be worth rooting for CM10.

  • Ro

    It only lags because of thode animations. obviously, those dont work great when using the qualcommm processor snd can be disabled. however, the performance of the tablet is fsr from poor. use apps and its pretty snappy. the mobiletech reviewer has a nice review for viewers. true though, build quality could probably be better but even that is based on customers taste.

  • HF

    "Lenovo IdeaTab S2110 Review: Good Display, Bad Everything Else" WHAT???
    what did you just smoke man? LOOL
    This tablet has one of the best CPUs on the market right now. This is one of the best tablets I ever see and I am very demanding about tablets. I didnt know about Lenovo and I'm getting fan of this brand. They do "good" and "amazing" tablets and I will buy a good one soon, the A2109.

    once again - "In short: a good display, bad build quality, and terrible performance"I ask you one more time, what did you just smoke?

  • huskyz

    Just came across this review after owning s2110 a few months. I thought he was reviewing a different product. Though I don't think it is perfect, I disagree with most of his observations (such as 'feel', performance, "build quality", battery, even apps...some people want preselected apps and they can easily be deleted...sheesh) . "Bad"...maybe speakers are so-so (my guess is most tablets have this problem), cord provided should be longer, snap in keyboard is great but needs to be reseated to connect sometimes, etc)

    The review summary and headline don't even support the text written...

    So far it is a satisfying and useful device.

  • Tomari64

    I own a 2110 and find it much much quicker than the 10.1 which I also own ..... Sure it;s not a retina display but is still more than good enough especially within the price band. Mine doesn't lag, maybe your bandwidth was down at the time. Yes build quality could be better BUT there is nothing wrong with it, I don't find myself twisting the unit to distort the graphics when in use or thinking wish this weighed twice as much with a metal case. It's a tab not a brick ..... Ipads are good in fact great although they do cost a premium and it's taken at least three versions to have a well rounded unit ..... but what would I know, I am but a humble user who has been in the trade for too many years to mention. To be honest the tone of many of these reviews are biased. Not impressed